Standing on a freezing train platform before a biting January dawn, I’ve never understood why British blokes are so badly overcoated.
I confess that I’m a bit of an overcoat junkie. I have, over the years, amassed from eBay and antiques markets what I’d describe as a moderately decent collection. It’s a cue for gently jealous ribbing in work and affectionately rolled eyes at home.
Some highlights for context, perhaps. I have a splendid bespoke raglan overcoat made for a gentleman long passed, a covert coat, an original Crombie “King” coat for formal-suited days, a black evening equivalent, and a viciously tailored Harris tweed double-breasted by Mr Ralph Lauren, found in a charity shop, with lapels so sharp they could inflict injury. In navy and blue-grey I have two magnificently tailored and superbly heavyweight doeskin Gieves officers’ greatcoats, originally made for discerning holders of Her Majesty’s commission in the Royal Navy and RAF respectively. With rank insignia removed and buttons exchanged for civilians, they are seriously fine and incomparably warm.
With the rules of primogeniture fortunately not entirely dead in the sartorial sense, I have inherited my greatest pride of all: a heavy London-tailored overcoat made for my late Grandfather at the time that his Welsh Guards battalion returned post-war to red tunics as they guarded George VI, and it’s now mine.
But all of these, lovely as they are, are readily matched for versatility by my Polo Coat. What is, you may ask, this Prince of Coats?
A little history, perhaps. As its name might suggest, it started its life as a wrap-around in neutral camel-hair for officers of the empire who needed some warmth in between chukkas. Its popularity, they say, increased when the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, wore one overseas. It comes up here and there in classic photographs on liner decks and steam-fogged railway platforms. It was resurrected by Mr Lauren in the eighties, and occasionally returns to fashion but never leaves style.
The classic Polo Coat is roughly as follows: double-breasted, with peaked lapels. Thick, warm camel hair. Half-belted back. Loosely tailored. Horn buttons. Patch pockets. Cuffed sleeves. Mine came from eBay, and you can find them for very little “pre-loved” if you look hard enough. If you’re interested, you can read more in this excellent online guide
It is the only garment that can serve appropriately and stylishly at events from a freezing Saturday rugby match to a black-tie dinner. It beats the hell out of a new coat, especially the pathetic and overpriced offerings in stores today. It cost me less than a puffa. And best of all, putting it on leaves me feeling like Noel Coward while wearing a feather duvet. The Boy, needless to say, has his eye on it.