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The Duffle Coat, this season's "Must Have"


Duffle Coats have never been this 'Cool'

Depending on who's reading this, the above heading might be confusing. Actually our new British Duffle Coats are really so snuggley warm you are simply going to love them as, on a chilly winter day you'll go kicking through the autumn leaves in your pale pink Hunters. (Sorry Guys, of course you don't have to wear pink wellys - How about Chocolate, Purple or Cranberry? :-) ) But these Duffles DO, as you can see, look fantastic; they feel wonderful too and they shout quality from every loop and toggle. Hence they're super Cool.

We have obtained these Duffle Coats from the British Duffle Company, a new enterprise who impressed us immediately with their innovative vision for this fashion icon of 1950s & 60s Britain. The new company's absolute focus on quality, style, quality, cut, quality, look & feel, ......and Oh, more quality, impressed us enormously. Familiar as we are, with the very best British clothing we've brought to our customers for more than 10 years, we admired the attention to detail and consistency of every aspect of these new BDC garments, and the infrastructure behind them. Thus we confidently believe these Duffle Coats, from the British Duffle Company, are probably the best Duffle Coats in the world - at any price!   And talking of price, just take a look at our introductory price of these coats CLICK HERE. You will seldom have the opportunity to acquire such a bargain. But before I say more about these new coats, let me tell you about the fascinating history of the Duffle Coat and how it came to be such a British icon.

The Duffle Story

The first duffle coat was born around 1887 when the Royal Navy was in need of a warm, weatherproof outer garment for its sailors. The British Admiralty commissioned the original garment which was a qualified success, being adopted over the next decade by warships patrolling the harshest conditions of the world’s oceans. This initial coat was a quite different from the classic duffle of today. It was short, very loose, and had a front closure that angled up from the hem to the neck. There was probably little choice in size, the smaller seamen, as can be seen in the picture, being somewhat overwhelmed by the heavy garment. The coat was designed to allow extensive physical activity by seamen in a fleet that was still in the transition from sail to steam. The need to climb rigging in the teeth of a storm, was an everyday hazard. In practice the baggy design was found wanting, largely failing to keep wind and weather out. However, the resourceful sailors  soon modified their coats with rope ties around their waist and by stitching cord to the inside of the hood to tighten the fit around the head.

What's in a name?

The name duffle came from the Belgian town of Duffel, (or Duffle: Flemish or French spelling) from where the woollen fabric, a heavy boiled serge, came. The name of the town was woven into the selvage - the edge of the rolled fabric, used to protect the fabric in transit and discarded during cutting. Thus the ubiquitous name ‘Duffle Coat’ was born! By the turn of the century the informal improvisations of the sailors had filtered back to the Admiralty and a second version had modified the design, added adjustable studs around the hood, allowing it to be tightened around the face. The coat was now much closer to the classic duffle we know today – a straight up and down design which is almost double breasted, but now with the addition of the saddle shoulder. This feature increased the practicality of the duffle for carrying heavy items across the shoulders, also making the coat more waterproof. As the Royal Navy had invented the Duffle coat; and almost all were cut and made in Britain, the Admiralty decreed that the fabric ought to be British throughout, and British wool was used exclusively from around 1900.

By now there were several versions of the Duffle coat in use across the Royal Navy. In an effort to keep costs low, a range of colours was tried from camel to khaki and even brown, but surprisingly not navy blue, the colour of the Duffle being mainly determined by the colour of the sheep’s wool. Sheep producing more lanolin; a waxy natural waterproofing, were better suited to producing wool for Duffles.

A significant stride in the coat’s acceptance in military fashion came when British army officers were seen sporting Duffle coats, which they had unofficially traded with their naval counterparts.

Forged in war, favoured in peace

Throughout the 1930s, as Britain slid inexorably toward world war II, Duffles were produced in their millions. All the original colours were still produced, now even navy blue, but camel colour was still preferred by the Royal Navy. Other navies worldwide were soon ordering British-made Duffles. The obvious advantage in adverse conditions of the tough garment was not lost on other armed services. During World War II, Duffles were worn by all the allied armies and navies, partly explaining why Duffle coats became so popular across the world.

In an era of post war austerity when utility and practicality created their own style, the humble Duffle was readily accepted by all ranks, in all services; even the odd RAF officer was seen keeping warm on the windswept airfields of wartime Britain. Official or not, the Duffle coat had found its place with servicemen everywhere! The only problem seemed to be there were never enough Duffles to go round. On some warships three crew members would share the same coat as watch succeeded watch - the coats were never dry! Duffles were even supplied to submarine crews, but, as space and weight were often at a premium and the extremes of the weather less prevalent underwater, these were either cut down in length, or replaced with motor-cycle type waxed cotton jackets.

Famous devotees of the humble Duffle

Surprisingly, even in areas where one might assume a heavy woollen coat was completely inappropriate they were still found. The western desert of North Africa was one such region. General Montgomery of Alamein was a prominent devotee, but  prior to this, in early 1941, Colonel David Stirling saw the coat’s potential. Stirling had formed the LRDG (Long Range Desert Group, later to become the renowned SAS regiment). LRDG was tasked with sabotage with lightning strikes to the enemy’s communications and infrastructure; they were spectacularly successful. The group drove stripped-down American 1½ ton Chevrolet trucks, converted to fighting machines with roofs removed and a heavy machine gun bolted to the rear bed. Officers and men were issued with Duffle coats; using them as seat cushions during the heat of the day, as their fighting columns sped  across the rutted desert, and as warm coats and extra blankets in the bitterly cold desert nights. Stirling instilled in his force that there were no commanders, only self-motivated individuals of exceptional initiative, talent and bravery, the humble Duffle perhaps blurring the distinctions of rank and class.

As peace succeeded war countless thousands of Duffles, no longer needed by the armed forces, became war-surplus and were sold-off cheaply, or donated to war-torn Europe. Thus the unassuming Duffle coat moved into its second incarnation as everyman’s coat. Always popular with impoverished intellectuals, CND peace-marchers and jazz-loving “Beatniks”; each group being drawn to its classless image, worn and loved by artisan or aristocrat alike. This flood of recycled Duffles continued well into the 1960s, proving  that a well made Duffle coat will last a very, very long time! A little later in the decade domestic production began to establish itself. Today the Duffle coat is a much-loved and much-copied British fashion icon; but regrettably many examples are pale imitations of the 'real thing', a significant number not even British made.

How the world’s best duffle coats are made

Our new British Duffle Coats are produced using the same skills and processes developed and refined over the past 100 years. The fabric is woven at the foot of the Apennine Mountains in Italy, where the finest quality traditional double-faced, woollen fabric is created (both faces, inside and out are woven-together). This is a highly skilled technique requiring great precision in keeping both parts of the fabric together while appearing separate.  Why is this done? Simply for maximum warmth, performance and appearance, the perfect original Duffle fabric.

However, finishing is the key to the performance of this fabric, which after all, was the original purpose of the Duffle coat. Steam and water from local mountain streams are used to boil the wool, the fibres swelling to create a close, highly weatherproof finish, while retaining the natural oils and insulation for which real wool is prized. The craftsmen finishing the fabric are among the most skilled in the world, and the guaranteed quality of both cloth and expertise are why the British Duffle Company take the trouble to source "the best from the best".

The finished fabric is then transported to the BDC coat factory in England, where Duffle coats have been hand-made for decades. Using traditional cardboard patterns skilled cutters trim the fabric into the garment sections, even matching the check-patterned interior – a costly but stylish detail which only the very best take care to execute. Individual pieces are then sewn together, the seams bound to create a superior inner finish. Our Duffles maintain the classic shoulder yoke, and this is sewn over for extra warmth, weather resistance and authenticity. Finally, for that iconic ‘British Duffle’ look, leather or rope hasps are used to secure the toggles, which, depending on style, are hand-made in England, of either polished buffalo horn, engraved with the British Duffle crest, or of turned hardwood, branded with the BDC logo.

Your guarantee of this attention to detail and quality is the impressed leather label which is sewn-in, declaring, 'Handmade in England'; which assures you of British Duffle's uncompromising craftsmanship in traditional coat making. We confidently believe that no finer Duffle coat exists anywhere in the world - at any price! We hope our pride in offering this new garment will be echoed by your own pride in wearing it - after all, with over 100 years of continuous production, this is a garment that is NOT going out of fashion!