Think of coats, and bulky garments designed to keep us warm or dry probably come to mind. Think of a suit, and we can’t help but picture the “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue in the 1960s, or the pinstriped cowboys of Wall Street today.

But there is no single image for the word “jacket,” the most common and variable form of above-the-waist outerwear. Jackets encompass navy-blue double-breasted blazers, Members Only nylon windbreakers, tweed Norfolks made famous by Basil Rathbone in “Sherlock Holmes,” and black leather jackets donned by a million wannabe bad boys in the 1950s.

During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, jackets were worn indoors and out, though for entirely different reasons. Before they became a standard article of everyday wear, double-breasted blazers are thought to have descended from uniforms worn by the 19th-century crew that sailed aboard the HMS Blazer. Members of English rowing clubs wore single-breasted jackets, which links the two styles only by their proximity to water.

Short dinner jackets evolved into the top halves of tuxedos, which were so named for their popularity with the late-19th-century gentlemen who frequented the Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo Park outside New York City. After dinner, early-20th-century males would shed their wool or silk dinner jackets for velvet smoking jackets, which were cut long and allowed smokers to leave the odor of the cigar room behind them.

Norfolk-style jackets evolved from late-19th-century hunting attire into early-20th-century driving jackets. Marked by buttons as well as a built-in belt, these jackets had a sporty, casual look, thanks to their big pockets and principle material of rugged, patterned tweed.

Another legendary outdoors jacket was the Barbour waxed jacket, which kept generations of British royals dry as they tramped about the English countryside hunting small game—the day’s kills were frequently stuffed into the wide pocket at the jacket’s back. Styles of Barbours that remain popular today include the lightweight Beaufort and the heavier-duty Moorland.

Leather bomber jackets were romanticized during World War II, spawning several generations of men who chose goatskin jackets to shelter themselves from the elements, as well as to show a measure of toughness. Brown leather originals made by Doniger, Dubow, and other manufacturers, gave way to tighter-fitting, zippered black jackets embraced by motorcycle gangs and Hollywood’s depictions thereof, most famously by Marlon Brando in the 1953 film “The Wild One.”...

Also hot during the late 1940s and early 1950s was the Levi’s denim jacket. This sturdy blue jacket was considered work wear during the war and into the postwar years, but in the 1950s it was held as a rebellious alternative to more constraining daywear. The denim jacket, made by both Levi’s and Wrangler, would remain staples of young men’s fashion for years to come.

Rock ’n’ roll culture was another important influence on men’s jackets, as young men everywhere dressed like Elvis Presley in two-tone rockabilly jackets. Another popular style in the ’50s was the prep look—blazers made a comeback and letterman jackets were spotted in droves on many college campuses.

In 1960s Britain, the so-called "mod" style reigned, especially the Cardin-like collarless button-up jackets designed by London tailor Dougie Millings and worn by The Beatles early in their career.

Leather and suede were in as well, with jacket-length suede single-breasts gaining widespread acceptance in the late 1960s. Another phenomenon was the leather fringe jacket. This waist-length jacket featured tassels hanging from the sleeves, chest stitching, and sometimes pocket flaps. It was even more sought-after after its appearance on Dennis Hopper in the 1969 film “Easy Rider.”

International clothing styles, starting with the rise of the Nehru jacket, were also a significant part of the ’60s. So were vintage military uniforms, which found customers in trendsetters such as Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

At the opposite end of the what-is-hip spectrum was the belted, goose-down ski jacket, which came to prominence thanks to improvements in ripstop nylon and waterproofing technologies. Sometimes these jackets had built-in or snap-on hoods, in which case they were usually referred to as parkas.

During the 1970s, wide-lapelled, multi-pocketed, belted safari jackets came into style. Black leather bomber jackets came back, this time worn by punk rockers like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. In the following decade, leather jackets were produced in a variety of colors and often featured multiple zippers, pockets, and chains—think of just about any Michael Jackson music video of that period.

Also in the 1980s, double-breasted jackets fell out of fashion, replaced by large single-breasted, often single-button, coverings. Casual jackets got shorter—the rainbow of Members Only jackets come to mind, as do the short, vinyl, snap-button jackets emblazoned with pro football, baseball, basketball, or hockey team logos.

Coats have a parallel history to jackets, although the difference between the two is usually lost on contemporary coat consumers. Coats come in many colors, are sometimes lined with fleece, and have kept more than a few gumshoes dry during drizzly stakeouts. These rugged outerwear garments are also worn to protect a man’s finely tailored suit.

The frock coat was the precursor to the modern overcoat. Introduced in the early 19th century, they had knee-length skirts all around, in contrast to coats with tails and cutaways. Edwardian-style frock coats, which were usually double breasted, also had a seam at the waist.

Crombies were similar to frock coats except they were worn as overcoats, were single-breasted, and were usually made of wool. Formal Chesterfields came in double- or single-breasted styles, while covert coats, named for the fabric they were made of, were designed for riding.

The Macintosh, or mac for short, is yet another coat with roots in the 1800s. Created by Scottish inventor Charles Macintosh in 1823, the fabric was a sandwich of cotton, rubber, and cotton. Originally conceived as a material for tarpaulins, the fabric was quickly picked up by tailors and made into raincoats, which worked fine once Macintosh figured out how to plug the holes made by sewing the cloth together.

When they were first introduced in the 19th century, morning or cutaway coats were intended to be less formal alternatives to frock coats, but by the 20th century they had become associated with weddings, funerals, and other formal occasions. In the United States, for example, the Solicitor General typically wore a morning coat when arguing before the Supreme Court.

Woolen pea coats are just one of many types of coats with a military background—sailors in numerous European navies wore pea coats throughout the 1800s. During World War I, British military overcoats made by Burberry out of waterproofed gabardine were so popular they remained fashionable long after the war ended.

In fact, between the wars, modern trench coats, as they were known due to their World War I associations, evolved directly from these Burberry military coats. Trench coats were always double breasted, usually came with an attached belt, and could be cinched at the cuff. The classic, non-military version of the outfit also included a rakish fedora, popularized most famously by Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon.”

World War II added the duffel coat to the menu of men’s overcoats. This was a bit more casual looking than a trench coat, probably because of touches like horn toggles instead of buttons, patch pockets, and a pullover hood that cinched tightly at the neck to keep out the cold.

British Field-Marshall Montgomery wore a duffel coat during the war, while Northern Soul music enthusiasts embraced the garment several decades later. Around the same time that those kids were shivering in line waiting to get into The Twisted Wheel and other clubs, the Godfather of soul, James Brown, was cutting a fantastic figure in calf-length leather coats.

Naturally, this look was too good for Hollywood to pass up. By 2003, when “The Matrix Reloaded” was released, actor Laurence Fishburne was costumed in a clone of Brown’s coat, but to give the coat some Morpheus-appropriate attitude Fishburne’s frock was made out of black alligator.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vtg 2002 Mens Gucci Tom Ford Brown Leather Biker/ Safari Jacket Coat 38/ 40rTommy Hilfiger Vintage Jacket Windbreaker Retro Coat 90'sRare Antique 1800 Mans Wool 3-cape Greatcoat, Garrick Coat, Coachmans CoatSuperb Vtg 30s Californian Horsehide Leather Half Belt Motorcycle Sports JacketLuxury Mens Hugo Boss Antique Brown Leather Biker/ Safari Style Jacket Coat 40rVintage 30's Salt Pepper Denim Work Belted Back Union Made Sanforized Jacket 40Tommy Hilfiger Vintage Sailing Windbreaker Zip Jacket Size- LargeVtg 50s Beck Horsehide / Steerhide Cafe Racer Leather Motorcycle Jacket MediumRare Belstaff Cougar Blouson Leather Jacket Vintage Black Panther Vent BradRare Vintage 1950s Japan Tiger Eagle & Dragons Souvenir Tour JacketVtg 60s Belstaff Sammy Miller Waxed Cotton Trialmaster Motorcycle Biker JacketMens Vintage Langlitz Brown Leather Motorcycle Coat Usa Made No ReserveBurberry's Vintage Prorsum Navy Blue Mac Trench Coat Jacket Wih Wool Lining 48 MLot Of 9 Patagonia Mens Fleece Jackets Synchilla Deep Pile Usa Vintage T SnapVintage 1940s Burtons Tweed Belted Overcoat Trench Coat S-m 36-40 Ww2 Genuine Vintage Mens Canada Goose Jacket Parka With Snow Belt 2xsBurberry Mens Xxl Chest 46-48 Bespoke Short Vintage Trench Coat Raincoat MacBurberry Mens Xl Large Chest 42-44 Short Vintage Trench Coat Raincoat MacVintage 1940s Burtons Herringbone Tweed Overcoat Trench Coat M-l 40-44 Ww2 Vtg 50s German Leather Aviator Motorcycle Flight Jacket Luftwaffe MediumChimayo Trading Post Long Jacket1940s Horsehide Motorcycle Jacket By Leather Garment Co. - San Francisco MakerStunning Vtg Wwii 40s German French Cyclist Flight Leather Jacket Luftwaffe MedVintage Helmut Lang A/w 04-5 Shearling Fur Coat Sz50 Perfect Condition PerfectSublime Vtg Wwii 30s German French Cyclist Flight Leather Jacket Luftwaffe MedBurberry's Vintage Prorsum £1250 Navy Blue 50%wool 50%angora Coat Jacket 52 Xl Vintage 1940s Horsehide Leather Flight Motorcycle Jacket Sheepskin Lined LrgPatagonia Syncilla Vtg Aztec T Snap Fleece Jacket Mens MediumBurberry Mens Xxxl Chest 48-50 Bespoke Short Vintage Trench Coat Raincoat JacketVintage 1930s Sportclad Plaid Belt Back Mackinaw Coat Workwear 42Superb Schott Cowhide Leather Motorcycle Cafe Racer Jacket Size 38Stunning Vtg 40s Hercules Horsehide Leather Half Belt Motorcycle Sports JacketVintage Northface Gore Dryloft Xl Down Parker XlVintage 1930s Horsehide Leather Half Belt Motorcycle Sports Jacket SmallBrand New Mens Versace Versus Antique Brown Leather Biker Safari Jacket Coat 42rVtg 50s Eddie Bauer Kara Koram Down Jacket - 1953 Usa K2 Ascent - Nigel CabournVintage Wwii Us Navy Usmc M-422a An-6552 An-j3a G-1 55j14 Leather Flight JacketMoss Bros Covert Coat Overcoat Velvet Collar 40r S-m Green Crombie Mens Vintage Woolrich Brown Plaid Wool Hunting Lumberjack Hipster Coat Jacket XlVintage Leather Motorcycle Jacket Perfecto By Schott Size 36 Vintage 70s SteerVintage C.c. Filson Seattle Wool Mackinaw Wool Jacket Buffalo Plaid Hunting 42Stunning Vtg 60s Steerhide Cafe Racer Leather Motorcycle Jacket MediumTommy Hilfiger Vintage Jacket 90's Retro Sport Coat Usa Blue Red Pvc Xlarge1930's Style Chimayo Jacket By Warp & Woof Japan, Size 40Vtg 40s Gray Curly Lamb Fur Teal Wool Princess Coat Military Dress Jacket S-m1930s J.o. Ballard Wool Coat, Belted Work Coat Blanket Jacket Adidas Originals Star Wars X Wing Hoodie Military Jacket Han Solo Size XlVintage Collectible Rrl Mens Jean Style Heavy Leather Jacket Medium Very RareVintage 1950s-60s Chimayo Jacket - 40 - Nr!G-star Raw Jacket 2015 Gstar Great Leather Logo Flyer Bomber Expensive Sz M VgcAdidas Originals Star Wars X Wing Hoodie Military Jacket Han Solo Size XlM Mens Vintage Levis Sherpa Fleece Lined Denim Jeans Trucker Jacket Coat UsaVintage Smoking Jacket Mens Silky Dressing Gown Robe Retro Morning Duster Coat18thc Rare! American Scarlet Wool/silk Homespun Country Gents Formal Dress CoatVintage Hercules 40's Horsehide Jacket Rare Wwii Sears 5 PocketPatagonia Synchilla Snap T Fleece Pullover Jacket Mens Xl Vintage CoatVtg Nike Challenge Court Andre Jordan Air Tech Acid Wash Denim Jacket & PantsVintage Levis Big E Type 2 ? Pleat Front 2 Pocket Blanket Lined Denim Jacket Superdry Men's Xxl Vintage Jacket Autumn/winter Green Outdoor Full Zipper JapanVtg Mens Cowichan Wool Handknit Animal Wolf Sweater Jacket Size 44 Large Tall