Male pattern boldness, pt. 3

There no escaping the pressure that comes with giving a garment a name like “topcoat”. There’s an expectancy to be, at the absolute base-level, good — and ideally much more than that. Sure, you can skirt the issue by going with “overcoat”, but where’s the ambition with that?

Despite that, there doesn’t seem much consensus of what a topcoat actually is. By and large, though, you won’t miss the mark if you picture a coat which has a lapel, is knee-length, is at a push double-breasted, and is definitely, in the stylistic sense of the term, tailored. But since there are no interest or pretension here toward traditional or formal tailoring, we find ourselves heading into the realm of “casual tailoring”. And “casual tailoring” — that’s a truly precipitous place to be, design-wise. It is a most compromised genre of clothing — responsible over the years for articles awful in ways the English language has yet to devise adequate adjectives — and is thus a realm where it can all go horribly wrong, before you know it, if you don’t plan every move very, very carefully.

It is sensible, then, as indeed it almost always is, to start with the fundamental — with the way things have been for many years, probably for good reason. Structure followed by shape: a DB-style collar and lapel that sweeps across the chest; with a break-line that runs at an unwaveringly straight clip from neck to belly; and with thick welt pockets at just the height your hands by instinct expect to find such things, and which will never tire of doing so. Make that sort of thing your groundwork, and you can take your next steps — making the coat novel, progressive, in some respects — with a high degree of confidence.

And where the topcoat is arguably most progressive is its shoulder. The “split sleeve”, introduced with the duffle coat two years ago, and moved on with the peacoat last year, reappears here, too — only this time in a two-piece variant, bringing more control over the sleeve, and helping keep the tailoring on the correct side (that’s the left side) of the formal–casual divide. The sleeve allows a crisp and smart shoulder line at the front, and the freedom of a raglan in the upper back. The topcoat, after all, is a thing to be worn, when the cold comes, over a shirt and a sweater and even perhaps a jacket. Layering brings bulk, and bulk restricts movement. With the split sleeve, you can easily slide on and off the coat, and even if you’re lucky, reach up to hold onto the hand-rail on the train, too, or bowl a few off-spinners in one of those impromptu games of street cricket. It’s a coat which, in its proportions and shape and style, looks smart, but is built to put its wearer always at ease.

The topcoat makes its debut in two types of cloth. One is heavy moleskin — the clay version of which is a real Arthur Daley number. The other is a wonderful blend of merino-wool and cotton: a rich navy, from Northern Ireland, about which tales could be told which would double the length of these words, so will be explored more at a later date.