It’s 2018 and the age of fast fashion feels like it’s well and truly crawling towards its demise. With retail chains such as Topshop and H&M falling like an intercontinental line of dominoes, mass produced garments are rapidly falling out of favour. The military jacket however is one garment however that will weather the tide. Ranging from nylon-synthetics to more traditional waxed cotton pieces, the military jacket is a water and weather-resistant staple that can bear the brunt of just about every activity imaginable. Its associations with Ernest Hemingway and his inclination for shooting stuff in Africa – which gave rise to its other name as a field jacket – adds to its credentials for being flexible and hardy enough for almost any situation.

Ernest Hemingway cuts an iconic figure in his safari hunting suit, topped off by a beige field jacket. (rip animals of Africa

With Sydney’s erratic weather and sudden cold-arse winds, the military jacket’s versatility is a godsend. As transitional outerwear, it can be just as easily worn over just a shirt at midday, as it can over a suit at night. And its softer silhouette and relaxed shape is a stylish alternative to an overcoat.

Antonio Ciongoli (right), former creative director of Eidos, rocking a field jacket as sartorial outerwear

Hemingway aside, the field jacket also has a fascinating military record. Early jackets were stiff and tight, making them unsuitable for combat in the field. Based on a preexisting civilian windbreaker, the field jacket was designed as a practical alternative to earlier military jackets. The most iconic are the American M-series jackets, first standardised and adopted by the American military in 1940. Initially produced in an olive drab with a cotton poplin outer shell and a flannel lining, they became a symbol of American G.I.s, from World War II through to the Vietnam War.

American soldiers wearing the M-41 field jacket (more widely known as the “Parsons Jacket”)

The field jacket has since left a distinct sartorial footprint in our cultural memory. As a sort of “anti-blazer”,  it defied the strict silhouette of the suit which drew on earlier styles of tailored military uniforms. Seen on the likes of John Lennon, Jane Fonda, and John Kerry to name a few, the utilitarian field jacket has remained a symbol of fringe fashion and counterculture. Modern reinterpretations, such as the ‘Kilgore’ jacket from Visvim and the ‘Hanoi’ jacket from Aspesi, hark back to youths of the 1970s and 80s who donned the jacket in protest of war.

The famous Kilgore jacket from Visvim. Each jacket is individually hand-dyed using a sulfur-based dye to create a vintage ‘damaged’ effect.  No two jackets are exactly alike

High-street fashion houses have also drawn inspiration from punks who re-appropriated the garment to signify their rejection of traditional gender and fashion norms. Indeed, Saint Laurent and even firearms giant Beretta have each come out with their own women’s field jackets to add to the collection. Like the traditional suit, the practicality and aesthetic appeal of the military jacket resonated too with women.

The house of Yves Saint Laurentis notable for drawing inspiration from youth countercultures. Here a military jacket is cut to a slimmer silhouette and is inspired by jackets worn by French war protestors

More recently, streetwear brands have produced their own interpretations. Off-White has appropriated the M-81 Woodland camouflage jacket from the 1980s, with patches typical of 70s punk and anti-war jackets. Similarly Alexander Wang’s repurposing of the M-65 exaggerates the original’s features with deliberately oversized collars, dip-dyed motorcross fabric panels, and a hoodie inspired hide-away hood.

[Left]: Off-White’s field jacket from the Fall 2017/2018 collection. [Right] Alexander Wang gives us the classic military jacket with a subtle flair in its oversized proportions and contrast colour inserts
Locally Australian designer, Christian Kimber, has launched a ready-to-wear collection that includes a military jacket. Adjusted to our tempestuous climate, it promises a unique take on the garment with its grey overcheck shell and streamlined design.  Field jackets, available from Trunk TailorsEidos and Stoffa, are more inspired by traditional tailoring. Workwear purists however swear by the painstaking reproductions produced by Buzz Rickson and Real McCoy’s made from vintage deadstock parts.

Christian Kimber gives a uniquely Australian take on the field jacket in a light grey and subtle overcheck pattern

With the forecast for a cold snap, grabbing a military jacket would hardly go amiss when you’re not in the mood for a blazer. Chances are, you’re likely to find one version or another that you can easily throw on top of anything from pleated trousers to your favourite jeans, for a rugged casual look. And hey, if it’s good enough for the likes of James Dean and Elvis Presley, it’s good enough for me.

Elvis, the King of Rock, wore the M-51 (the precursor to the more common M-65) while serving in the US Army in Germany
Field jackets are worn by all echelons of society. Here musician Rita Ora, rocks a field jacket from Virgil Abloh’s label Off-White. Abloh’s designs are (in)famous for their liberal use of logos on “barely” designed garments. His appropriation of signs is similar to the strategies employed by Situationists artists
The M-65 field jacket’s heritage makes it suited best to workwear outfits. Above Simon Crompton, author of Permanent Style, combines both tailoring and workwear
Raf Simons is the designer most famously associated with streetwear. As part of his Fall 2003 collection, he redesigned the M-51 fishtail parka in collaboration with graphic designer Peter Saville. The jackets are considered to be the greatest he has ever produced with some having sold for over $20,000 USD. (brb selling kidneys)
Field jackets have recently become a staple of sartorial menswear. A casual alternative to an overcoat, here Chad Park of B&Tailorwears a field jacket from bespoke Florentine tailorLiverano Liverano
Vintage military jackets continue to inspire designers. Here Hiroki Nakamura of Americana workwear brand Visvimrocks his ‘Kilgore’ jacket (named after Sgt. Kilgore from Apocalypse Now)