Duffel Coats

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"Don't mind Peter, most people think he's boring - he's a real Duffel-Coat."
- The Geektionary

Paraded by fashion-guru Alexander McQueen on his 2002 autumn catwalk, the chameleonic qualities of the Duffel Coat have enabled it to cross social, political and cultural boundaries with gay and geeky abandon. Sporting a Duffel Coat seems, paradoxically, to convey eccentricity, left-wing liberalism, and geekiness, at the same time as conservatism, traditionalism and wealth.

The Essence of a Good Duffel Coat

Duffel (variant duffle) itself is a coarse heavy woollen fabric with a thick nap, and is toponymous with the Belgian town of its 17th Century origin. In 1890, British designer of outdoor clothing, John Partridge, started to market the Duffel Coat as a proprietary item. The Duffel Coat, as we know it today with the hood and wooden toggles owes its popularity to the British Navy which used it during World War II.

The key to a good Duffel Coat is as follows:

  • The coat should be made of genuine duffel, and arguably should be in one of the traditional colours of black, camel or grey.
  • It should be tartan-lined, most usually Royal Stewart, and certainly woolly, not smooth.
  • Preferably, it should be equipped with a hood.
  • Front fastenings should be by toggle, a sort of wooden (not plastic!) peg and loop of rope arrangement.
  • Length should be on the knee.
  • A buttonable neck-strap is a useful for keeping out chilly winds.
  • Deep square pockets, preferably flapped.

After rain, a good Duffel Coat ought to smell smoky or charred.

It should not be confused with:

  • The Donkey Jacket - A tartan-lined, usually-black, single breasted, pelvis-length, collared jacket which is fastened with two Old English Penny-sized1 buttons, and which is most-commonly observed on building sites.
  • The Pea-Coat - A thigh-length, double-breasted, collared-jacket, otherwise very similar to the shapeless Donkey Jacket, but with a sartorial edge, especially for sailors.

Torville, Dean and Bo Derrick - What's The Common Denominator?

A perfect 10? Maybe, but pristine skating only scores 6. Ravel's Bolero2? Correct, but there is yet another answer ... The Duffle Coat. Both Dudley Moore3 and Britain's Olympic figure-skating champs agreed that Duffel Coats were the outer-attire for them. Other famous 'Dufflers' include:

Paddington Bear - probably the most famous of all Duffel Coats (albeit a red one) is sported by the Peruvian ursine creation of Michael Bond.

Michael Foot - a British politician of sorts from the late 1970s who was pilloried in the press for turning up at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day wearing a Donkey Jacket. The Builders Association made him an honorary member of thier organisation and sent him a Donkey Jacket, but the Rt. Honorable Mr. Foot responded that it was a hoodless Duffel he had worn and could see nothing wrong with that.

Jonathan Creek - a character from a light-hearted BBC TV detective series is partially defined by his Duffel Coat. Reportedly, the BBC were in talks with Alan Davies to play the part of Jonathan Creek; he clinched the role by turning up to a BBC Christmas party in his own, now famous duffel coat.

Oasis - Brit-Poppers and Manchester City Fans Oasis have been seen in Duffel Coats, following in the footsteps of rock-and-roll legends and fellow Duffel-wearers Bing Crosby and Perry Como. Whether this is anti-establishment, anti-style or mere anti-pasti remains to be seen.

Moreover, Duffel Coats have been made 'By Royal Appointment' for both the family of HRH Princess Anne, and HRH Prince Charles himself. Who ever said that the Monarchy was sartorially-challenged? The fact that many associate Duffel Coats with the CND marches on Aldermaston during the late 1950s shows the universal appeal of this garment.

The Modern Duffel

Modern fabrics, fastenings and styles have given rise to a new generation of Duffel Coats. Clothes designer Ann Storey "...always wanted to do a duffel, and it seemed the perfect time to put one in the collection" but uses boiled wool instead of genuine duffel "..to make it fresher...".

Traditionalists and Duffel-snobs are equally appalled to see Duffel Coats made out of artificial fibres, like Gore-Tex, and zipped or buttoned instead of toggled. "Designers have now helped reinvent the duffel by giving it new glamour" says London fashion critic Jackie Modlinger. For example:

Gwyneth Paltrow wears a red Paddington-style Duffel in Ted and Sylvia, a film based on the lives of writers Hughes and Plath.

Max, the senior Tweeny, wears a sort of gore-tex Duffel-Coat when The Tweenies go al fresco.

1About the same size as a Moi Kenyan Shilling2The signature theme from Blake Edwards' film "10"3The leading male in Blake Edwards' film "10"

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