Menswear, as with many other industries, has a lot to thank the military for. Wars, as awful as they are, have always driven innovation, and much of the clothing we wear today found its origins in military garb. A lot has remained true to the original iteration, too – after all, they were designed with functionality in mind, stripped back of embellishments and superfluous details, leaving only the purest form of garment.
Think of the parka and the peacoat, or the flight jacket and the bomber – all outerwear silhouettes that have stood the test of time. Sure, fabrications have changed over the decades, as well as palettes, but the rudimentary details of those items have stayed the same. Why? Because at their core they project a sense of strength and rigour, two attributes you definitely want your outerwear aligned with.
It also helps that these silhouettes were given a cultural platform like no other when they were making the transition from battlefield to civvy street: icons such as Humphrey Bogart in his trench coat, Marlon Brando in his Perfecto motorcycle jacket, and Steve McQueen in his Harrington jacket, all immortalising these rugged shapes on screen.
Today, scan through the collections of any luxury brand and you’ll find iterations of military classics, but there’s one British brand based in Manchester that has dedicated its raison d’etre to the pursuit of crafting timeless military-inspired pieces with the finest fabrics, and it has a heritage that none of the others can match.
That brand is Private White V.C., and right now, it is the premier producer of luxury, masculine outerwear. And here, we’ve cherry-picked our favourite jackets from its most recent collection.
The Bomber Jacket
While ‘bomber jacket’ and ‘flight jacket’ are often used interchangeably, most of us associate the modern bomber with the original MA-1 silhouette. This was the jacket that came into use in the 1950s when the prominence of the jet engine meant that USAF pilots no longer needed thick shearling jackets such as the A-2 and B-15 in the modern fighter cockpit.
Quite the opposite – the jacket was specifically designed to be a lighter and more practical garment for high-altitude flight in modern jet aircraft. It also came with a bright orange lining that enabled it to be used as an emergency signalling device.
While the silhouette of the bomber jacket has changed over the decades, the materials used have – as evidenced by Private White V.C’s stunning collection of bombers, spearheaded by its moleskin style.
Meticulously made in its Manchester factory, this jacket is cut in a super-soft brushed cotton moleskin, to which 2% elastane has been added to get just the right stretch. The moleskin has been finished with an exclusive Ecoseam® water-resistant fabric finish too, ensuring it can handle all that the elements can throw at you.
For an even more luxurious expression of this military icon, Private White V.C has also produced a stunning reversible suede style in collaboration with a sartorial don, Simon Crompton of Permanent Style, as well as a pure new herringbone wool version.
The Motorcycle Jacket
There have been several different motorcycle jacket styles that have captured the zeitgeist over the decades, from Schott’s iconic Perfecto to the Cafe Racer styles of the 1960s and 70s, but the original motorcycle jacket most likely dates back to leather jackets worn by German WW1 despatch riders.
These eventually evolved into four-pocket ‘Twin Track’ coats, which were crafted from wax cotton and made them extremely durable for riding in all conditions. Private White V.C’s Twin Track is a perfect contemporary iteration of the classic. The Manchester label has been producing it for 15 years, updating and fine-tuning it season after season, hence the 2024 style is as good as it gets.
The four bellow-pocket jacket is crafted from 100% wax cotton woven in Scotland and is fully lined with 100% virgin wool. Military-grade copper hardware from RIRI of Switzerland creates a slick contrast against the black cloth, while the undercollar has been made from an ultra-fine needle cord.
As weatherproof outerwear goes, it’s peerless.
The Harrington Jacket
Private White V.C. knows a thing or two about the Harrington jacket – after all, the company made over 150,000 G9s in its Manchester factory through much of the mid-century. The Harrington blouson is a menswear classic, and as versatile a cropped jacket as there ever was.
Originally designed as a working man’s short rain jacket by James and Isaac Miller in Manchester in 1937, the G9 quickly garnered cult status after being worn by James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause in 1955, and was subsequently appropriated by both mods and skinheads throughout the 1960s.
Private White V.C.’s version is a true homage to the classic, rendered in a beautiful waterproof Ventile® cotton and featuring raglan sleeves for a sporty aesthetic, together with its classic zip front, slanted side pockets and tab collar.
It’s not complicated, but it is exceptional.
The Flight Jacket
The flight jacket is the very epitome of masculine outerwear, originally worn by fighter pilots dicing with death at freezing altitudes. Hence the old jackets were typically constructed from dense shearling. It was only when the jet engine was invented that flight jackets morphed into lightweight bomber styles.
Private White V.C. has crafted a beautiful iteration of one of the most stylish flight jackets ever created – the G-1 – which took to the skies throughout the Second World War. It has been expertly handcrafted using the finest UK woven doeskin wool, which is a medium-weight merino fabric with a short nap and tight weave. Softer than melton wool but still hardwearing, it has a nice textural quality and is water resistant too.
The jacket comes quilted as well, ensuring optimal warmth in winter. With military-grade copper hardware from RIRI of Switzerland and a real shearling collar for a luxurious finish, this might just be the flight jacket that grounds all others.
The peacoat has always been thought of as a British naval coat and it was indeed adopted by the British Navy throughout the 20th century, but its origins are believed to be Dutch. The name comes from the 18th-century Dutch term pijjekker, which describes a coarse twilled cloth.
These days, modern peacoat styles are crafted from softer wools for a more luxurious finish, given that most of us won’t be wearing one on a day’s fishing. Private White V.C. uses a showerproof 30 oz Melton wool to create its double-breasted masterpiece, replete with oversized lapels, external dropped-in welt pockets and real horn, British-made combat buttons. Meanwhile, the button-adjustable back belt allows for a neater silhouette.
It’s a classic piece of outerwear and supremely versatile too, being able to be worn over 9-5 tailoring or off-duty casualwear alike.
Evolved from centuries-old Inuit fur smocks, the parka jacket was first appropriated by explorers before being used by the US Army. It gained cult status in the 1960s when it became popular with the mods, and ever since it has been written into winter menswear lore.
The old fishtail styles have since made way for a more modern cropped version that finishes below the waist for an urban aesthetic. Private White V.C.’s version follows that blueprint, but where it stands out is in its fabrication – namely a luxurious and showerproof 100% cotton woven in West Yorkshire.
Lightweight and with a beautiful handle, the cloth is sublime in each of the green, fog grey and ink iterations and comes fully lined, too. The hood and four bellow-pocket configuration earn it its utilitarian credentials, but really this is a top-end garment made by a brand at the top of its game.
A paid partnership with Private White V.C. – words and opinion Ape’s own.