There’s something about a nice jacket that really does it for us. Perhaps you’re the same. We can never quite put our finger on it, but outerwear scratches a sartorial itch that nothing else can. Maybe it’s the rich history of many of the styles, perhaps it’s the power a jacket has to dictate the feel of an outfit, or could it be the fact that no matter how many we have, there’s always another we’re eager to add to our collection?
Whatever it is, there’s one thing we know: jackets are great, and, thankfully, there’s no shortage of them to keep us occupied. In fact, outerwear is one of the most diverse genres in all of menswear, with a sprawling range of shapes, styles and silhouettes to suit all tastes and occasions.
There are two overarching categories: coats and jackets. Coats tend to be heavy and long while jackets are lighter and cropped to sit around or slightly above the hips. Here we’ll be looking specifically at the latter of those two categories, so consider this your handy spotter’s guide to the key types of jacket every man should know.
Many of the coolest jacket styles have their roots in the military, and the bomber is no exception. This short, cropped jacket was designed to be worn by Air Force fighter pilots to keep them warm at altitude, with the MA-1 jacket by Alpha Industries being the original and definitive model.
The MA-1 is defined by its elasticated cuffs, collar and hem, a full-zip front, zip pockets (including one to the arm) and a shiny nylon face fabric. That said, there are plenty of other material options available from other brands these days. You could even opt for a suede version if you’re looking for something a bit smarter.
The Trialmaster model from Belstaff is the most notable example of the style, featuring a strapped stand collar, four bellow pockets (one slanted), a hip-length cut and a belted waist. The style was originally designed for the Scottish Six Days Trial, an extreme endurance motorcycle event, and later immortalised by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.
Also known as a ‘worker’ jacket, this heavy cotton jacket is sometimes quilted on the inside and constructed from super tough fabric like twill, drill or duck canvas. It’s designed to withstand daily punishment in the workshop and built to take a beating. It features a button front, front patch pockets (usually three or four), button cuffs and a boxy fit.
The chore jacket first appeared in France in the late 1800s, where it was traditionally produced in a vibrant blue colour, but it quickly gained popularity across the Atlantic, where heritage workwear brand Carhartt began producing its own version.
This characteristically puffy style of down jacket first rose to fame in the 1990s, and is still a popular choice today. It’s defined by its oversized baffles and ‘Michelin Man’ appearance, often with a cropped body and oversized fit. The insulation is usually down, but unlike other down jackets it’s not designed to be worn as a mid layer. The sheer bulk of a puffer means it only really works as an outer layer.
There are countless puffer jackets out there from myriad brands, but the Nultse model from The North Face is probably the most recognisable and iconic. It’s been around since the mid 1990s and is as popular today as it was back then.
Another outerwear style with military heritage, the field jacket is a hard-wearing piece of utilitarian outerwear, originally designed for use on the battlefield. There are numerous military versions that fall under this banner, but the most notable, and the one on which most modern civilian versions are based, is the M-65 – named after the year of its introduction.
This classic armed-forces jacket typically featured a stand collar, hip-length cut, and four front pockets. It’s functional, practical and just so happens to go very nicely with everyday civvy staples like jeans and sneakers, as well as more obvious cargo pants and combat boots.
Technical shell jackets keep the wearer dry by using performance fabrics like Gore-Tex. They’re designed predominantly for use in the great outdoors by mountaineers, climbers and other alpine athletes, but the ongoing gorpcore movement has seen them gain popularity in fashion circles too.
The best shell jackets in terms of performance are always going to be those made by real outdoor brands like Arc’teryx, Patagonia et al., but there are plenty of options from designer labels if you’re looking for something more fashion focused. Check out the likes of And Wander, Prada and Veilance for that sort of thing.
The leather biker jacket is a counterculture icon, a universal symbol of rebellion and one of the most easily recognisable outerwear designs of all time. It’s a cropped style with an asymmetric zipper and belted waist that was first introduced by Schott NYC as the ‘Perfecto’ motorcycle jacket in 1928.
The Perfecto jacket was popularised by Marlon Brando in the 1953 movie The Wild One. Since then it’s been remixed, reworked and straight-out imitated by everyone from high-street stores to high-fashion houses.
The Perfecto jacket is still in production today, but if you’re looking for a slightly different take on the original then check out Saint Laurent for a premium version or AllSaints for something marginally more affordable.
Similar in cut and purpose to the bomber, this US Air Force style differs from it’s cousin the MA-1 primarily in materials, lining and collar. The aviator jacket came before the bomber and is traditionally made of sheepskin with thick a shearling collar, as opposed to nylon with a round, elasticated collar.
Another garment enjoying renewed interest due to the continued popularity of so-called gorpcore is the fleece. This cosy mid layer has all but escaped its birdwatcher associations and found favour among the fashion crowd, particularly when it comes to heavy-pile versions like Patogonia’s iconic Retro-X fleece, which has been one of the brand’s signature styles for many decades.
This jacket’s primary purpose is to insulate the wearer, particularly when combined with another layer, like a shell jacket. From a strictly style-focused standpoint, it’s also great for adding a touch of texture to outfits in autumn and winter.
Behind the military, the second biggest force in driving outerwear design is sport, and the coach jacket is just one of many key examples. This lightweight windbreaker was designed to be worn by (you guessed it) professional sport coaches, before finding its way off the playing field and into mainstream fashion.
The jacket itself is typically made from thin nylon fabric, with a classic collar, snap front, slit pockets, elasticated cuffs and drawstring hem. It’s a great option when it comes to tackling the transitional months in style and is great for layering over things like hoodies and crew necks.
The varsity jacket is another piece of outerwear that originated in the world of sports. US high school and college sports to be more specific, where these cropped, boxy jackets were known as ‘letterman’ jackets. They would be awarded to sports team members on reaching a certain level of participation, and a large cloth initial of the school, college or team would be affixed to the breast upon further progression.
Today, varsity jackets are often worn outside of this context for fashion purposes. In fact, they’re currently enjoying a surge in interest thanks to the growing trend towards reimagined, streetwear-infused Ivy League style, as championed by the likes of Aimé Leon Dore and Noah.
Neat, crisp and cropped, the Harrington jacket is a heritage style that transcends generations. Grandsons and grandfathers alike can enjoy the clean lines and flattering fit of this classic piece of mid-century outerwear. It features a stand collar with buttons, a zip front, an elasticated waist and cuffs, and usually has a check lining.
The original Harrington jacket is still made to this day. It’s the G9 from British brand Baracuta, which has been in production since the 1930s and barely changed since. Other labels of note include Fred Perry, Ben Sherman and Private White V.C.
Usually cut from denim, the trucker jacket is a cropped style that’s super versatile, timeless and great for layering up. It has a button front, chest pockets, a classic collar and seam details to the front.
This style works great in raw denim, which develops unique fades and wear marks over time and moulds itself to your body. It’s a real investment piece that’ll stay with you for life, and get better and better with every wear.
Lightweight Down Jacket
This packable down jacket is a relative of the puffer, but unlike the puffer it’s designed to be low-profile, lightweight and good for layering. Styles vary a lot, from zip-through hoodies to quarter-zips, but the fundamental idea is the same: light, insulating, packable and practical.