The canvas chore coat – and buying vintage online
I increasingly find that for the kind of casual outerwear I wear at the weekend (for taking the kids to the park, and similarly hard-wearing activities) I always prefer vintage.
There are exceptions, of course. A Bryceland’s white chore coat, for example, bought because I love the design and know how well executed something from Ethan is.
But nigh-on everything else is vintage, largely because of the way the pieces have worn in and aged. They look so much more attractive than anything new.
The tough materials will have faded and softened. There will be little nicks and scratches, and even home repairs - which I love for the care they show someone else took with the clothing.
Now I think about it, a lot of the casual outerwear I’ve featured over the years has been like this - particularly shorter jackets. There’s my M65, my black horsehide, the jungle jacket and the old kendogi (though the latter is a bit delicate for kid-herding). Reminders of all those below.
Today’s piece is a chore coat I recently got from Broadway & Sons, which I love and is interesting to discuss because the style has become fashionable recently.
As with all fashions, I start from a position of scepticism. But I still try to stay open-minded - if you’re really interested in clothing, I think it’s worth striving to remain so.
It’s refreshing and often instructive to watch a trend evolve, to see where it goes and ponder whether, at any point, it could work with how you dress. Being closed-minded is so cold and dull.
Carhartt’s brown-duck jackets and double-knee trousers started to become trendy a couple of years ago. It made sense - they fitted with the nineties revival, the popularity of looser fits, and with both workwear and skatewear.
When I visited Le Vif in Paris earlier this year, Arthur showed Alex and I a few double-knee trousers (be aware - new/old ones are so coarse they’ll take the hair off your legs) and said Carhartt was suddenly incredibly popular.
I’ve always liked the way duck canvas ages, particularly the fading you get from sun exposure, which manages to be both subtler and more extreme than on an old bleu de travail or similar cotton.
On the one hand it’s extreme because the colour fades a lot, from mid-brown to a more recognisable straw colour. The original remains beneath things like pocket flaps, as in the image above, so you can always see how far it has come.
Yet at the same time, this creates subtle effects on the outside of the coat. This isn’t easy to see, but in the image below the shoulders of my jacket are lighter than the body, gradating slowly down onto the chest.
Also from a style point of view, the nice thing about this canvas is it’s a different colour option for casual clothing, yet remains very versatile. Similar in that respect to denim, or the green of military fatigues.
Indeed you could have both denim jeans and a denim chore, duck trousers and a chore, and green fatigues and a field jacket, and rotate combinations of them to your heart’s content. Add a white and blue T-shirt, and you have an instant capsule wardrobe.
So, I had these thoughts as I watched the trend emerge and evolve. One thing I will freely admit is that I’m a snob to the extent of not wanting to wear the same thing as everyone else - so a new Carhartt jacket was out of the question (although I understand the modern quality is still good, in the unwashed, original weight).
What I really wanted was a vintage one. It would have all the character described lovingly above, and because it could be a model that was no longer available, would solve the snob situation.
Unfortunately most of the vintage duck jackets I found were hunting varieties - a separate category really, and while more unusual than a chore, too short and wide for my style. You have to be a bigger man, like layering, and probably wear your high-waisted trousers for those to work.
Eventually, I found a likely model at Broadway. My usual approach is to check in on sites like that every month, by the way, or when I get an email announcing a new drop that looks interesting.
I keep measurements of jackets, shirts and trousers that I already own, so I can quickly see whether a new vintage piece is my size. With jackets, for example, I know that my M65 is 22.5 inches pit to pit, and that’s the minimum I need. Up to maximum of 24.
I also know I need a back length that is at least 30 inches (the field jacket is 30.5), although this is also a question of style. Those hunting jackets are styled to be shorter, and would be huge if they had that back length.
I’ve been shopping vintage for long enough now to know that my success rate is rarely more than 50%. There are just too many variables - fit, material, condition - to be consistently higher. It does vary between stores, and you can be narrower in what you buy and try, but then you also miss out on pieces that it was hard to get a sense of online.
With this Broadway order, I bought five things and returned three, keeping this chore and an old Italian airforce sweater, but returning trainers, a shirt and a red hunting jacket.
Broadway leans a bit more towards the thrift end of vintage compared to other stores. This is great for pricing, but I find also means the condition and style can be more patchy.
Also, I should make clear that this is only the second time I’ve ever bought from them - I don’t buy five pieces a month! But once you’re ordering one or two things, you might as well add in the others you’ve been looking at for a while too, just in case. The shipping doesn’t change.
To anyone that’s used to shopping from a regular shop on a high street, this could all seem a big fuss. But often it’s the only way to find good vintage. And, it has the advantage that if something’s hard to find, other people are unlikely to have it.
Plus, if you’ve been shopping for menswear for a few years, chances are there’s nothing you really need. You can easily wait and chase down that perfect piece. Indeed, it might be helpful given your consumerist tendencies to put some barriers in your way.
I don’t have much interest in buying vintage smart clothing, particularly tailoring.
The materials aren’t the same - fine suitings and shirtings are not designed to be worn heavily over long periods, and look the better for it. Heavy outerwear, such as a tweed raglan coat, is probably the only area that could be interesting.
Casual outerwear, however, always looks great. Every time I see a cotton chore jacket in a store now, I just wish it was 40 years old and had been worn every day of that time. It is a matter of - as we so often say - how great things age.
The jacket is from Big Ben, the workwear label under Wrangler that dates back to the 1920s. It was made in the US, probably in the early 70s. It is marked as a size 42, but fits me well over a sweatshirt, as here.
The jacket cost €95 from Broadway & Sons. Despite my winding journey to this one, they’re not always hard to find and often not expensive. Usually getting the size you want is the issue. Worth making that list of measurements.
The red sweatshirt is a vintage Champion, bought at Le Vif. The quality is not the same as, for example, a Real McCoy’s one and I wouldn’t necessarily buy it again, but I do like the fit and colour. The jeans are my vintage Levi’s. Out of shot are suede boots.
Photography: James Holborow