Writers On The Storm: The Ivy Style Staff’s Favorite Overcoats

Cornell Daily Sun 4 Nov 1955 Irv Lewis ad

As yet another storm hits the East Coast, the Ivy Style staff — Chens, Zach, Chief Sharp and King Richard The Forty-Fourth — share the favorite overcoats that have been getting such a workout this winter.

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When it comes to fabrics, The Ivy League Look conjures up thoughts of tweed, flannel and oxford cloth for hearty basics, while for accents one might think of wool challis for neckties or Irish linen for pocket squares.

But any comprehensive list including such obscurities as “crash linen” would have to include velvet, which has played a small role in the history of the look. I don’t mean smoking jackets or crested slippers, but of the little strip of fabric that sits atop the collar of an overcoat.

Since moving to New York, I’ve weathered the winters in a navy duffel coat and camel polo coat. This year I added a third, a charcoal coat with three-button front, hacking and ticket pockets, and black velvet collar. Not quite a Chesterfield, nor Crombie or covert coat, but something similar, the coat is not too far from the one pictured above in this 1955 ad from Cornell Daily Sun.

That’s right, that’s another one of those vintage images that seems to have come from the twilight zone. There was actually once a time (perhaps parallel universe is more accurate), when a clothing shop catering to a campus community would advertise its velvet-collared topcoats, an item that today courts affectation even on the streets of Manhattan.

Fortunately that doesn’t faze me. I don’t worry about coming across as retro-eccentric, because compared to the many moth-eaten retrophiles I mix with, I try to give off a contemporary sensibility. That said, when I pair the coat with traditional Ivy items, I imagine the effect being something like stepping out of (or into) a JC Leyendecker illustration, being traditional and sporty-collegiate but with a nod to formality and elegance. — CC

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If I could have only one coat for cold weather, it would probably be the camel-hair polo coat. Like Christian’s velvet-collared model, the polo coat is loaded with historical connotations, but then again what long, draped overcoat isn’t? The peak lapels, double-breasted front, and back belt give it a sense of formality, but this is undercut by the soft, robe-like fit and the tan, hairy cloth that is anything but businesslike.

My favorite polo coat is from Ralph Lauren. In an era of shrinking and shortening they’ve kept the coat as it should be, long in length and somewhat loose in cut. And Polo makes the best-looking peak lapel out there.


Over tailored clothing it looks great, with the sort of dressed-up-yet-casual slouchy feel that makes Ivy tailoring so appealing. But lately I have been enjoying images of the polo coat in its original, sporting milieu, and as such I have been dressing it down with jeans, cords, Shetland sweaters, and mocs or sneakers.

I find that the easiest way to shake unwanted connotations in clothing is to change the context. If you think the polo coat is too 1930s or too formal, wearing it with a three-piece chalk stripe suit and fedora isn’t going to help. But a pink Shetland and an old pair of Levis might do the trick. And you can always pop the collar. — ZD

Image via Ruby Shoes Photography.

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My survival technique for this harsh winter has been to look like the college student in the recent turtleneck post with a Shetland swapped for the odd jacket and Maine hunting shoes replacing the loafers.

My go-to winter coat is a Gloverall duffle coat. I wear it almost every day that I do not wear tailored clothes. My Gloverall is navy with a Black Watch lining and horn closures. It is rendered in a three-fiber blend, with wool taking the lead at 70 percent. Looking at the Gloverall website, I do not believe l this coat is offered anymore. They most certainly have updated the line since I bought mine in the early ’90s.


At the time, two brands seemed to dominate the duffle coat market: Goverall and Tibbetts. Tibbets was carried by Cable Car Clothiers, but for me being able to try on the Gloverall in person was the deciding factor. I also found the company’s history interesting. Founded in 1951, the name Gloverall was created by combing “glove” and “overalls.” The company was originally contracted to get rid of military surplus duffle coats. Soon they began making them for the British workwear market before branching out to more gentlemanly shops. Freda Morris, one of the founders, claimed that celebrities and the counter culture made the coat famous, but for me it was the fact that it had earned a place among the offering of traditional shops.

It’s only been in the past couple of years that I have discovered that a defunct brand of duffle coat called The Original Duffer was popular among college students in the ’50s and ’60s. It had a distinctive label featuring a pack animal and was made of wool from the Baxter Mill. It was advertised in Gentry magazine and sold at Chipp and others stores of a similar vein. Although I do not own this coat, knowing of its existence reaffirms my choice of two decades ago.
So even today my winter coat choice has not strayed far from the campus. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

Image via Typhoid Jones.

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My favorite overcoat since prep school has always been The British Warm. Originally made for J. Press by Burberrys of London in the 1930s, the coat was made from 32-ounce English Crombie cloth of deep-faced smooth Melton. Styled in short snug British officer fashion, it was always set with deep chestnut leather buttons and swelled edges. Distinctive trim-fitting epaulets engaged military posturing, yet the look was always contrasted by a lush maroon satin inner lining.

The outfit worked for me especially well at the Yale-Dartmouth games, where I’d wear it with a Fritz Huckle Viennese Tyrolean hat with a brush feather and a sprig of Alpine ski pins, played against the decidedly British-steeped overcoat lapels and bordered by a Welch Margetson brightly colored cashmere-backed Ancient Madder reversible scarf.

Later, adapting to the urbanity of Forty-Fourth Street, my J. Press British Warm reverted to a navy blue cashmere herringbone, minus the epaulets. Topped by an imported English full-weight, close-felted fedora with medium-tapered block and slim, curling, raw-cut brim (the Loden Austrian Tyrolean stayed in the closet). It was an outfit of perfection that would be handed to the knockout coat-room gal at 21 with a wink and a nod prior to Beefeater martinis.

Remembrance of times past, town and country, in my British Warms. — RICHARD PRESS

18 Comments on "Writers On The Storm: The Ivy Style Staff’s Favorite Overcoats"

  1. Alan Kirk Gray | March 3, 2014 at 10:08 am |

    I bought a “British Warm” from Paul Stuart about 20 years ago, with the requisite epaulets — though it’s knee-length, not short — and had them replace the chestnut leather buttons with matching navy blue buttons. The perfect overcoat. I’m going to need to get it relined and have the middle button hole resewn after this season, but the cloth is in perfect shape after all these years. I have never put gloves in the outside pockets, to keep from stretching them out.

  2. O’Connell’s still sells the Original Gloveral Duffle. I’m still wearing mine bought in 1969.

  3. Katzenjammer | March 3, 2014 at 11:56 am |

    I’ve been thinking about getting a duffle – does it wear well over a jacket/suit?

  4. K-Jammer

    It fits fine, but they aren’t lined so getting in and out is a bitch with a jacket on.

  5. Just thinking about coats I owner in my youth. Anyone remember the Gant or H.I.S Melton benchwarmer coats? The Inverness , I think that’s the brand, reversable G-9s or their Buffercoat?

  6. Katzenjammer,

    While the duffle coat is handsome and warm, I’ve always felt that it was too casual for any outfit that features a tie. Sure, it’s great for the prep-school boy, a way to be casual and sporty while wearing his required blazer and tie, but adults wearing tailored clothes look better in a tailored coat. (Yes, I am aware that plenty of men wear duffle coats over suits, etc.; I’m just saying that the duffle coat, which is a kind of extra-warm hoodie, is not the best thing to combine with such clothes.)

    I also find the greater length of the various buttoned overcoats are more practical in keeping the wearer warm and dry.

  7. May never get a chance to say this again, but I am in complete agreement with Henry on this one.

  8. I think the “Original Duffer” coat referenced by Christian with a “pack animal” label was also known because of the label as the “Donkey Duffle”, labelled “Made in England”. It cost $29.95 which was alot of $$ in 1964; I had two, navy & later camel, with actual rope with wooden toggles and a detachable hood. I wore the navy until 1970s & it was a great coat, much better looking than the Gloverall coat. No longer have it-wish I had saved the label-I think it probably was 80% new wool & 205 nylon-purchased at “Jack Harper Custom Shop for Men” in State College PA; they also had the same coat for women. I think it came in actual chest sizes not xs-xxl as most coats were sized in those days.

  9. Good to learn about the British Warm (and Crombie). I didn’t know the name for it and in a comment on an earlier post thought Zach had coined it.

    O’Connell’s British Warm looks a lot like a polo coat. I understand the British Warm is originally a military overcoat, and the polo coat a robe-like garment for keeping warm before and after sporting events, but I wonder if they are related in some way.


  10. My mainstay is the camel’s hair polo coat in single breasted version but it’s hard to go wrong with any of these.

  11. Vern Trotter | March 3, 2014 at 8:49 pm |

    I had wanted a duffel coat since seeing actors like Trevor Howard wearing them playing British Naval officers in WW2 movies. During the 1950s, ivy style university shops across the country sold a similar “Loden” coat but it was not the same, too short among other things.

    In 1999, Paul Stuart ran an add in Town & Country of a hooded, brown with window pane, longer than most,(two inches past the knee,) duffel that was what I always wanted. I took the train down from Boston a day early and bought it. I have worn it too much ever since. Hardly a day goes by that somebody here in Manhattan does not stop me with a comment about it. A stroll through Bloomingdales recently resulted in two buyers grabbing me and giving me the third degree about it’s origin.

    The cuffs have started to fray a bit and I am looking to have thin leather straps sewn on. I intend to wear this old friend every few days ,during winter, the rest of my life.

  12. Katzenjammer | March 3, 2014 at 9:34 pm |

    Vern, do you have a link or photo of your duffle coat?

  13. Pale Male | March 4, 2014 at 2:27 pm |

    Love the British Warm, but would only buy as something to wear when not donning a Polo Coat. Don’t like the duffle due to its association with Labour and general too-casual look, though Chrysalis did some in luxurious fabrics that were rather appealing. Think the Polo Coat is ideal — suitable for everything from strolling through the concrete jungle to a black tie event. Dad had a SB in navy and Uncle had DB in navy — both cashmere. Ben Silver recently did one in a wonderful herringbone Harris Tweed.

  14. Interesting that Irv Lewis’ madman didn’t think it either necessary or desirable to include the establishment’s address. Too busy tryin’ to be Ivy, I guess.

    Also, gentlemen, a Gloverall duffel has a high arm-hole and a narrow shoulder for size. Just don’t buy one too small and you will be fine over natural shoulder clothing.

    And if memory serves Crombie is cloth, not coats.

    Is that your original duffel that I remember Chris?

  15. Etymologue | March 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm |

    @ Bob

    For those who wonder, the address was 120 East State Street, Ithaca.

  16. Bob,

    The one that I wear is indeed the one you sold me. The photo is not.

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