Overcoats

Sunday, March 7, 2010
So much for spring. The sky may be blue, but it's still freezing cold in London. Let's talk about overcoats.

I must admit I find overcoat terminology slightly confusing. Overcoats, topcoats, chesterfields, covert coats - what's the difference? Different retailers seem to use terms inconsistently, or incorrectly, and there's overlap and grey areas that add to the confusion. Still, here is my attempt at explaining the differences.

The difference between an overcoat and a topcoat is the easiest - it simply comes down to length and weight. Overcoats come to slightly below the knee and are generally made of a heavier material, whilst a topcoat comes to just above the knee and is usually made of lighter material like gaberdine. Overcoats can be (and often are) made of tweed, in check or herringbone patterns. I particularly like the one in the picture below, which is similar to one my father has and which I'm very fond of.

Things get more complicated when you come to talk about chesterfield coats and covert coats, and my view is that the terms are simply not used 'correctly' anymore. In theory, the chesterfield is a long overcoat without the waist supression common in the 19th century and which has a velvet collar. So far so simple, except that T.M.Lewin sell what they describe as 'Chesterfield' coats which appear not to have velvet collars. Meanwhile, do a Google Image search and the vast majority of the results appear to show a topcoat with a velvet collar. Shorter and with lightweight material, they're certainly not classic Chesterfields as I understand it. On the other hand, they are great coats and a real wardrobe staple.


What about the covert coat? Well, Wiktionary defines this as 'A coat suitable for wearing while shooting game, usually with a neutral colour and windproof or waterproof qualities.' This is a pretty broad description, but my understanding of them would also include that they are made of a fairly lightweight cloth and have the four lines of stitching on the hems and cuffs that is used to give added strength against damage when walking through the countryside. As the definition says, they are more likely to be in neutral 'country' colours like brown or fawn. The picture above is a fairly good example.
However, these too seem to be labelled confusingly. A lot of retailers sell them with velvet collars and in dark blue as well as fawn, meaning that they are almost interchangable with the 'Chesterfield' topcoats discussed above.

Of course, none of this really matters - so long as you know what you want and can find somewhere to sell it to you. My next purchase is to be a fawn covert coat although, as I want one with a velvet collar, perhaps it's not really a covert coat at all. I don't think it's going to be hard to find, though, as this style of coat seems to have become incredibly widespread.