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    

1940's Levis Big E Type 1 Jean Jacket - Blanket Lined Denim - True Vintage FirstVintage 1950s Levi's Big E Type 2 507xx Pleat Front Denim Jacket SelvedgeVintage 50s French Work Jacket Workwear Chore Post Sanforized Denim Navy O'allsStunning Vtg Levis Big E 1950s Suede Leather Motorcycle Jacket Western S/xs1940's Sheepskin & Leather Jacket - Trucker / Fighter (?) Small - EbayRare Original Vtg Levis Big E Type 1 First Edition Buckle Black Denim JacketTrue Vintage Japan Souvenir Tour Jacket Tiger Reversible Satin Velour ExcellentMen Vintage W.&.l.t. Walter Van Beirendonck Blue Padded SweaterVtg Polo Ralph Lauren Usa Flag 1992 1993 Red Fleece Pullover Jacket SweatshirtVintage Distressed Black Tab Levi's Leather Trucker/western Jacket,size 44 LVtg Polo Ralph Lauren Sport Usa Flag Spellout Windbreaker Jacket Mens Xl 1992Rare Vintage 3m Tommy Hilfiger Nautical Sailing Windbreaker Jacket Size L Stunning Vtg Levis Straus Bootlegger Half Belt Leather Motorcycle Sports JacketVtg Patagonia Snap-t Tribal Anasazi Print Fleece Jacket/pullover- Size L-usaVintage Woods Arctic Brand Goose Down Camo Camouflage Jacket Parka Canada MedPolo Ralph Lauren Rugby Varsity $245nwt Skull Ny Fleece Crest Vtg Indian Usa XxlRare Original Vtg 1940's Wwii M1942 Paratrooper M42 Jump Jacket,very GoodComme Des Garcons Homme Jacket Raf Helmut VintagePolo Ralph Lauren Vintage Cotton Jacket Mens Xl Multi Color Stripe Made In UsaPolo Ralph Lauren Beacon Denim Jacket $495nwt Southwestern Aztec Jean Vtg Rrl XlStunning Vtg 30s Windshield Sports Aviator Flight Motorcycle Leather Jacket MedVtg Brooks Black Cafe Racer Leather Motorcycle Jacket Mens 40 Talon ZipperVintage Windward Men's Plaid Belted Mackinaw Coat Workwear 1950s 38 1930s 36Vintage Belstaff 1960's Biker Jacket Vgc Rare S MPolo Sport Vintage Usa Windbreaker Blue White Flag Print Jacket Mens Xxl / 2xlVintage Barbour Bedale Waxed Jacket S C36/91 Cm NavyVintage Triumph Motorcycle Custom Leather Jacket Cafe RacerSuperb Vtg 1942 Wwii Hlb Corp Usaaf B-3 Sheepskin Flight Leather Jacket 36Vintage Vietnam War Tiger Stripe Camo Tigerstripe Jacket Shirt Suit Pants ArvnVintage 1950's "hercules" D-pocket Motorcycle Rockabilly Leather Jacket -l- NrVintage Tommy Hilfiger Color Block Hoodie Windbreaker Jacket Sz Xl Sleeve LogoVtg 30s 40s Shanhouse Double Breasted Wool Work Wear Coat Belt Back Jacket PlaidBurberry Mens Xl Large Chest 42-44 Short Black Vintage Trench Coat Raincoat MacVintage Polo Goose Down Ski Jacket Ralph Lauren Large Red Blue Green YellowVintage C.c. Filson Garment Hunting Oiled Skin Jacket Xl Made In UsaVtg Polo Ralph Lauren Navy Blue 1/4 Zip Usa Flag Windbreaker Jacket Mens Xl 1992Vtg 50s French Work Jacket "adolphe Lafont" Traditional Bleu De Travail CottonSuperdry Great Genuine Leather Nappa Jacket Rare Expensive Sz L Large PerfectoStunning Vtg Wwii 30s German French Cyclist Flight Leather Jacket Luftwaffe S/xsVintage Pendleton Big Lebowski Sweater Jacket Full Zip Size Xl Made In The UsaThe North Face Gore-tex Retro Vintage Men Jackets + Fleece Size MVtg 50s Windward Horsehide Leather Motorcycle Sports Flight Jacket Size 42Classic Vtg Patagonia Retro -x Fleece Jacket Made In The Usa Sz M!!!Stunning Brown Leather Half Belt Motorcycle Sports Jacket Medium/largePolo Ralph Lauren Script Varsity $495nwt Stadium Nyc Reversible P Vtg Rrl Usa LVtg Barbour Bedale Wax Cotton Jacket Coat Sz 40 M L Outdoors Black Hunting Fred Perry Navy Twin Taped Track Jacket - M - Mod Terraces Ska Casuals Scooter1950's -california Highway Patrol- Vintage Police Work Uniform Xl Coat/jacketVintage Ralph Lauren Polo Cold Wave Jacket Men's Pre-owned Langlitz Police Leathers Vtg Motorcycle Jacket Matts Larsson Vintage Retro Wwii Military Sheepskin Shearling Liner CoatBurberry Mens Xxl Chest 46-48 Bespoke Short Vintage Trench Coat Raincoat MacSuperb Schott Cowhide Leather Motorcycle Cafe Racer Jacket Fleece Liner Size 38Classic Vintage Black Leather Motorcycle Biker Jacket Mens Sz L Thrashed PunkVintage Polo Pony Ralph Lauren Jacket Coat Hooded- Fleece Lined Size MVintage Levis Denim Jean Jacket Men Medium Med 40Vtg Mens Wilsons Leather Real Sheepskin Shearling Coat Fur Lined Ranch Jacket 44Vintage Chicago Cubs Pullover Jacket Starter Mens Medium Vtg 90s Playoffs MlbRalph Lauren Polo Beacon Southwestern Coat Indian Shearling Navajo Rrl VtgNorth Face Steep Tech Jacket Vtg M Scot Schmidt Heli Tech Rtg Polo 92 Stadium