The reversible overshirt

Often gets sold short, the overshirt. See, no matter how many pockets are thrown at it, no matter how thick the cloth given to it, it is only a jumped-up shirt, unless it is built from the ground up like an overshirt.

Leaving aside for a second the inside-out aspect, what we have here is a garment cut like an overcoat. It has a two-piece raglan sleeve, and a generous cut in the body. On top of than that, it is made to the standards of an overcoat. The assembly isn’t delicate and shirt-like, but robust and outerwear-like. The turned and heavy seams likewise. It also fits like an overcoat. The traditional two-piece raglan structure gives good, clean drape across the shoulders, and room in the upper body for at least a couple of under-layers. The balance in the body, and the perpendicular-straight pitch in the sleeve, means that it hugs the wearer as it should; doesn’t kick out at the back; sticks close to the body and makes room for an over-layer. Top-layer jacket-stand-in when the day is warm; air-trapping mid-layer when the day is cold: few garments in the wardrobe have a role as disciplined as the overshirt.

Then there is the reversible factor. The reversible overshirt is made from two cloths, which, despite appearances, have as much in common as they do in difference. They are both, for one thing, a type of cord. One is thick-thin deadstock corduroy, woven by a cotton mill on the east side of Lancashire, and then promptly forgotten about for about twenty years. Uncovered last year, brought down to London, and rolled-out and aired for several weeks, it is cord quite unlike cords woven today. The second material is Bedford cord, made by a cloth-maker, some 250 years old, in Somerset. Mills don’t come much older or more venerable. Bedford cord is wool with a corduroy-like corrugated structure: up then down then up then down. It is made with a few complementary shades of the same yarn — either grey or tobacco — so, while from a distance it is a simple-enough cloth, it is, to a trained eye, pleasingly busy. The overshirt is identical on both of these sides.

Worn this way or the other, then, the experience is much the same. The cloth does the talking, and the pockets — six of them, three on each side, all tucked discretely into the side-seams — are neither seen nor heard. Arms are unadorned at the cuff for the purposes of rolling them back for further interaction between the two cords, and the body, with its deep and curved hem, covers anything worn below — halfway between shirt and coat.

The new reversible overshirt is in the jacket — not the shirt — department from today.