Military jackets have long been worn by non-military personnel for their aesthetic, symbolic, and functional qualities. In fact, military outerwear has historically dictated trends in civilian men's and women's clothing. The widespread imagery of soldiers in uniform popularized these garments, while the institutional focus on specific designs codified the style. Then there are the utilitarian aspects of these pieces; they are often both water-repellant and warm, making them practical as well as fashionable choices for everyone from rebellious youths to button-down professionals.

In general, military jackets and coats are divided into two categories, dress and fatigue. Dress uniforms are worn for special occasions and decorated with insignia or awards. Fatigues are used on a daily basis to perform all manner of duties. Today, popular military jacket styles come from both dress and fatigue uniforms worn throughout the history of modern warfare.

Pea coats, which are worn these days by men and women alike, were first produced for sailors in the European navies of the late 1700s. Originally termed P-jackets for the coarse twill pilot’s cloth used in their manufacture, these coats were most commonly made of a fabric called Melton wool, named after the English town of Melton Mowbray where the material was made. Pea coats are generally identified by their dark navy blue color, wide lapels, and double-breasted front with large decorative buttons, which often bear an anchor imprint. Fashionable 20th-century manufacturers include Sterlingwear and Fidelity, both of Boston, Massachusetts.

The first American Army uniform policy was drafted in 1779. A “blue, open waistcoat” was described in the standard dress code, yet divisions among states and differences in regional resources resulted in a wide variety of military clothing. Military jackets from this period are generally characterized by their blue color with gold buttons and contrasting red trim. Conversely, the British uniform of the period featured a red-colored jacket with white or blue facings, thus spawning the slang term Red Coats used during the Revolutionary War.

The Civil War presented the first opportunity for Americans to establish true military uniform regulations; blue fabric was used for Union uniforms, gray for the Confederacy. Jackets of this era tend to be characterized by their knee-length woolen tails, long row of closely spaced gold buttons down the front, gold piping or embroidery, and a simple stand-up collar. Intricately crafted metal buttons often identify the coat’s manufacturer, while differing shoulder straps denote the officer’s rank.

As the rules of battle and technologies of war shifted at the beginning of the 20th century, military uniform designers moved away from brightly colored dress uniforms and toward clothing that was less expensive to produce and less visible to the enemy. In the late 1800s, British troops first donned khaki uniforms, derived from a regional fabric British Indian recruits wore in the Peshawar district of India. These khakis became the official uniform during the Second Boer War, and the material quickly spread among many other militaries and expanded into all types of clothing production. Khaki-colored jackets made from a variety of fabrics have been worn in every major conflict of the 20th century.

Debate over who originated the iconic trench coat still ensues, as both Burberry and Aquascutum of England claim the style. Thomas Burberry created a durable, waterproof fabric he called gabardine in the late 1870s, which was later used in the design of Burberry’s classic “officer’s raincoat” in 1901. Aquascutum’s claim dates to the 1850s and the Crimean War. Regardless of its actual inventor, this innovative outerwear was manufactured by both companies for soldiers during World War I. After the war, civilians swiftly adopted the style...

The familiar jacket many associate with the standard military look that we think of today was developed during World War II. These coats usually featured olive green fabric with a single row of buttons down the front and breast pockets on each side. In 1942, the U.S. military began a program to establish functional uniform guidelines for combat divisions anywhere in the world. Modeled after British military attire, the resulting M-1943 outfit was designed for cold weather and worn by U.S. troops during the invasion at Normandy.

One piece in the ensemble was a hip-length semi-dress jacket made from olive green wool that could be worn formally or in combat. These coats came to be known as “Eisenhower” or “Ike” jackets, as they were used by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who also wore them after the war while he was president. Since the coats were meant to be worn under a water-repellent outer layer and over various undergarments, their sleeves were baggy and they were loose fitting in the back. Ike jackets were frequently adorned with various patches, pins, or service stripes signifying the owner’s rank and military achievements.

World War II also saw the rise of the leather bomber or pilot flight jacket, a style most closely associated with the Type A-2 jacket, which was officially adopted by the U.S. Air Force in 1931. The U.S. Air Force Catalog from the era describes the jacket as “seal brown horsehide leather, knitted wristlets and waistband (skirt).” It was produced for the Air Force by companies like Werber Sportswear and Aero Leather Clothing Co. In the 1980s, the style was reissued by the Air Force to wide acclaim, yet the cut was less fitted and the jacket proved less durable than the original A-2s.

High-altitude flight crews often wore the B-3 Shearling Bomber Jacket, which was originally designed in 1926 for the British RAF by parachutist Leslie Irvin. As World War II progressed and aviation technology improved, flight altitudes increased, exposing pilots and crews to lower air temperatures. Thus the F2 Heated Flight Jacket, which consisted of a wool shell surrounding electrical heating devices.

Regardless of model, these flight jackets were frequently personalized with detailed artwork beyond just the wearer’s troop or rank—for many contemporary jacket collectors, the more individualized and detailed the artwork, the more valuable the jacket. Individual servicemen often customized their jackets with images ranging from pin-up girls and Donald Duck to tallies of bombs dropped and battlefield kills.

The MA-1 Nylon Flight Jacket was released in 1955, and later redesigned by Alpha Industries to include an orange lining for reversible wear during search-and-rescue operations. Alpha revamped many classic flight jackets from the late 1950s onward, and is today the largest supplier of outerwear for the U.S. Military.

Marching-band-style jackets are also closely linked with military uniforms. These bands were developed at the same time as early armies—their purpose was to direct troops and give signals on the battlefield. Contemporary marching-band uniforms are strikingly similar to those worn during the Revolutionary War era, complete with detailed armbands and rows of elaborate facings.

In 1967, The Beatles’ "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" album cover instantly popularized a highly decorative military-band-style jacket, a double-breasted look complete with ornate, contrasting piping designs across the front and sleeves, with epaulets on each shoulder.

Standard issue M-65 Field Jackets from the Vietnam War era are the most widely available vintage military jackets today. Made of a lighter olive-green canvas than their predecessors and fitted with plastic zippers or buttons instead of metal ones, M-65s featured cargo pockets and were generally unpersonalized since rank insignia was simply pinned onto the jacket rather than sewn.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]

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]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Wwii Navy Vintage 40's Denim Work Jacket Shawl Collar See More This WeekOriginal Wwii Usaaf B-15 Flight Jacket Size 40/named/dog TagsThe Coolest Wwii Aaf M41 Jacket Ever On Ebay ~ Leather Patches & Inked ReverseWw2 Ike Jacket 30th Division With Id, "break Through" D.i'sWw2 Navy Captain’s Deck Jacket W/patch1920 Wwi Ww1 Original Usmc Marine Corps Dress Uniform With Hat/jacket/pantsNam Era Usaf L 2b Flight Jacket ~ Lt. Colonel W/patchesUs Army Wwii M42 Jump Jacket Uniform Large Size 44rNavy Seal Aor2 Patagonia Level 5 Military Jacket Pcu Size Medium-regular DevgruUsaaf Cbi 14th Air Force Flying Tigers Avg Service Coat--theater Made InsigniaOriginal Wwii Japanese Air Force Pilot Flight Jacket Japan Ww2 AviationMassif Elements Tactical Navair Usmc Military Flame Resistant Nomex Jacket - LgCivil War Confederate Infantry Coat Button Solid Brass War Relic Post-ww2 Occupied Japan Souvenir Of Okinawa Silk Tour Jacket - No ReserveWw I U.s. Service Coat, Breeches And Cap 3rd Infantry, Brass Whistle Collar DiskOriginal Us Army Wac Womans Wool Ike Jacket British Made Size 16rUnknown? Smock Parachutist Army Cotton Camo Field Jacket Paches Size 3,very GoodOrc Level 5 L5 Multicam Soft Shell Tactical Pcu Jacket - Sm - Seal Devgru NswWwii Usmc Raider Dress Jacket Ww2 MarineDug Civil War Confederate Virginia Coat ButtonWild Things Tactical Aor1 Old Gen L7 Low Loft Jacket - Lg - Seal Devgru Nsw SofNavy Seal Aor2 Patagonia Goretex Level 6 Pcu Jacket Waterproof Small-regular NswWw2 Officer's Painted Flight Jacket -named Combat Worn Original!Patagonia Aor2 L6 Gore-tex Waterproof Hardshell Jacket - Lg Reg - Seal Nsw SofOriginal Ww2 Usmc Us Marine Jacket 3rd Amphibious Corps Uniform Ega 1942-3 NamedEarly Victorian Rmli Royal Marine Light Infantry Lieut Colonel Officers JacketNam Era Usmc G-1 Flight Jacket W/patches ~ Real Size 40 ~ Solid WearerOriginal Us Army Wac Womans Khaki 4 Pocket Coat And SkirtOriginal Wwii British Army Gloucestershire Rgt P1940 Battledress Jacket 1944 Paratrooper Jacket & Rigger-modified Trousers4 Patch Ww1 Doughboy Uniform Jacket Great For Display!Raven Mawp Sof Seal Tan & Night Camo Reversible Cold Weather Jacket Parka - Med1968 Us Navy Blue Deck Jacket--size 38Ww2 Original Elite German Camo Jacket Civil War Confederate Staff Officer Coat Button .75" Extra Rich Treble GiltWw2 Named Ike Jacket 13th Airborne Division & Army Air Force --- Unique ComboItalian Wwii Uniform Jacket Patch & Collar Insignia Brigata Nera Vicenza Rsi Ww2Vietnam First Pattern Jungle Jacket 1964Ww2 Named Lt.col Leather Jacket Commander 60th Troop CarrierDouble Rl Usaaf Style A-2 Flight Jacket ~ Od Wool Liner ~ MediumWw2 Wwii Italy Fascist Army Grigio Verde Officer Jacket Jacket TunicConfederate Lined Script I Infantry Coat-size Button Dug Culpeper Co Va- Cs177Ww Ii Woman Officer's Wave Jacket Seersucker U. S. Navy FemaleCivil War Federal Army Dark Blue Wool Jacket+ Calvarly Hat.made Usa.vintageWwii Us Army Coat & Pants Dated 1941 W/ Patches & Medals Medic Doctor PinCanadian Battle Dress Jacket 1940, Size 10, Badged For British AtsWw2 Named Usmc Jacket Size 6s Dated 1942-1943Us Army Wwii M43 Field Jacket Uniform Extra Large 48rUnknown? Smock Parachutist Army Cotton Camo Field Jacket Size 3,very GoodWild Things Tactical Aor1 L4 Lightweight Wind Jacket - Xl - Seal Nsw Devgru SofBritish Army Ww2 Leather Jerkins Size 2 Vest Combat Jacket CooksonWw2 Wwii German Army Forestry Service Officer Field JacketHelikon-tex Multicam Solider 2008 Field Parka British Smock Military Jacket - LgWw2 Wwii German Army Feuerwehr Fire Brigade Field Jacket TunicOriginal Wwii Usn M41 Deck Jacket Size 38 *nice*Wwi Usgi Army Trench Coat Uniform Sgt Patch Insignia Soldier War Rare OriginalVietnam Party Jacket W/29 Patches Rf-4c 11th & 14th Tac Recon Sqadron VoodooPatagonia Pcu Level 5 Gen Ii Jacket Med-long Alpha Green Navy Seal Issued Nwu Type I Blue Digital Navy Goretex Jacket Small Short (s-s) ParkaOriginal 1960s-1970s Jacket Patch For The 3528th Ccts Squadron In Vfn Condition!