Originally conceived for utilitarian purposes, the field jacket was created specifically for military practicality. And like all things functional and genuinely useful, there is longevity. The military’s influence on modern menswear is wide ranging; the trench coat, bomber jacket, and cargo trousers are fine examples. As is the military field jacket. Best known is the M-65, identifiable by its two hip and two chest pockets, often in olive green.

Ape Recommended Reading: You and Whose Army – How the Trench Coat entered Sartorial History


The original US military design was crafted under the MIL-C-43455 standard, with the M-1965 field jacket (abbreviated to M-65) boasting a straight front design and water-repellent fabric. The M-65 was inaugurated into US military service in 1965 replacing the M-51 field jacket which itself was an improvement on the M-43 field jacket used in WWII. Key advancements included snap closures for pockets and a zip, the latter replacing buttons (to stop snagging on obstructions whilst crawling), tougher fabrics, a built-in hood that could be rolled up into a pouch on the back and velcro fasteners on the sleeve and collar. Other identifiers include shoulder epaulettes and a drawstring around the waist.

field jacket
Elvis Presley wearing an M-51 field jacket, whilst based in Germany serving in the US Army

The M-65 field jacket earned its stripes during the Vietnam War where is was widely used by U.S. Forces. It was ideal for the cool weather conditions following monsoonal rains. It remained in service until late 1980, when it was replaced by a similar iteration as part of the U.S. Army’s Battle Dress Uniform (BDU). The BDU was issued until 2005 when it was replaced by the Army Combat Uniform worn today.

Present Day

The field jacket, despite having its roots firmly embedded in military history was equally popular with the civilian population. As to why, the questions remain unanswered. Some believe it stood as an ironic icon of peace whereas others, less romantically believe it was because of an army surplus after the Vietnam War. The field jacket was also popularised in common culture by celebrities including Elvis Presley, and Robert De Niro in the 1976 film Taxi Driver. We believe it became an icon of menswear through a mixture of all three points but mainly because it’s so practical, and so damn useful as an everyday jacket. There are a plethora of convenient pockets available to stow wallets and phones (formerly ammunition and such like), and its medium weight cotton construction makes it perfect for the transitional months in-between seasons.

The Alpha Industries M-65 classic US military field coat – manufactured to military specifications

Companies like Alpha Industries still produce a standard issue grade M-65 today but many of your favourite fashion brands have reinterpreted it. Tweaks with fabrics, fit and colour have evolved the field jacket for modern day tastes – ensuring this ‘highly decorated’ military legend lives on beyond the battlefield.

How to Wear The Field Jacket

The field jacket is best worn casually with a pair of sturdy denim jeans, sneakers and a crew neck t-shirt under a chambray shirt (open or buttoned up). A form of layering. Add a beanie knit for easily added extra warmth, or equally lose the shirt for warmer climbs. A typical field jacket is often cut in a relatively roomy fit, meaning an extra layer such as sweater can be included if required.

Ape Recommended Reading: The Rail: Mid-Season Warmth

A modern-classic: The Aspesi ‘Pure Cotton Jacket Minifield Cot in Dark Green’, £428 >

Drake’s Blue Chambray Regular Fit Cotton Shirt with Spread Collar, £135 >

Sunspel Pima Cotton T-Shirt in White, £75 >

MR P. Slim-Fit Selvedge Denim Jeans in Blue, £180 >

C.QP Racquet Sneaker in White, £240 >

As the popularity of the field jacket continues to grow, smarter versions in suede and slimmer fits have been paired with suits and blazers. However, we feel this is perhaps a step too far for there are other pieces of outerwear more suited for smart-wear. And after all, the field jacket is a masterpiece of military utilitarianism – created for the battlefield, not the boardroom.