Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Day: Indebted to Our Military

Sure it's nice to have a Monday off and it's nice give retailers an excuse for a sale.  But Memorial Day is and should be about remembering and honoring our men and women in uniform for the unimaginable sacrifices they make.

And let's not also forget the huge sartorial debt we owe the military as well: and by that, I mean the navy blazer, the peacoat and the trench coat - all of which have military origins.

"In 1837 the Commander of the frigate H. M. S. Blazer was told that England’s young queen, Victoria, would soon inspect his ship.  He took one look at the unsightly condition of his crew’s dress and decreed that they would get new uniforms.  He decided on a short jacket with Brass Royal Navy buttons.  There is a disagreement as to the color of those first Blazers.  In one account the jackets were striped navy and white, but another reports solid navy serge.   In either case, Victoria was so favorably impressed she required all the Queen’s sailors to be in similar uniform."

If it's good enough for the Queen, it's good enough for me.  For spring and summer, go with a slim-fit, unstructured (i.e., no lining, no padding) 100% cotton blazer that is light enough to wear in hot weather but sturdy enough to take a beating.  For $40, the Merona Kensington Blazer at Target can't be beat.  Puts similar offerings at Lands End Canvas, Uniqlo, and Muji to shame.  Size S fits like a slim 36, size M fits like a slim 39.

"The US Navy Pea Coat was adopted during the early 20th Century, from Britain’s Royal Navy Reefer Jacket. The Royal Navies first regulations for uniforms for other ranks were issued in 1857, a century after the regulations for officers and this garment was originally used by Midshipmen ( Reefers ). These crewmen had to climb the rigging and furl and unfurl, or ‘reef’, the sails of the sailing ships of the era. The jacket was short, to allow ease of movement through the rigging. It had a double-breasted front, which displaced the buttons to each side. This helped reduce the chance of them getting caught on ropes, as the wearer maneuvered the sails. The pockets were often close to vertical, and over the flanks, rather than horizontal and at wrist level. It was made of a very heavy wool, in dark Navy blue, with a nap on the face side.

The success of the style is proved by its singularly universal appearance throughout the Navies of Europe. This may account for the US Navies nomenclature as an Anglicization of the Dutch ‘Pijekkat, being a jacket made of ‘Pij’ (a coarse wool) cloth. Conversely, it may be from the shortening of the Belgium Navies term ‘Pilot’s Jacket’ to P. Jacket, then being misspelt / adapted to Pea Coat."

Love, love, love the pea coat in all of its forms.  Obviously you'll look ridiculous with a thick wool pea coat on in the spring and summer, but the khaki pea coat is a perfect alternative.  Alas, Lands End Canvas is out of their sublime $40 Heritage Pea Coat, so your next best bet may be this $121 Ben Sherman number from ASOS (wait for the price to drop more).  As with all Ben Shermans, fit is slim:

"The trench coat was developed as an alternative to the heavy serge greatcoats worn by British and French soldiers in the First World War. Invention of the trench coat is claimed by both Burberry and Aquascutum, with Aquascutum's claim dating back to the 1850s. Thomas Burberry, the inventor of gabardine fabric, submitted a design for an army officer's raincoat to the United Kingdom War Office in 1901.

The trench coat became an optional item of dress in the British Army, and was obtained by private purchase by officers and Warrant Officers Class I who were under no obligation to own them. No other ranks were permitted to wear them. Another optional item was the British Warm, a wool coat similar to the greatcoat that was shorter in length, also worn by British officers and Warrant Officers Class I as an optional piece.

During the First World War, the design of the trenchcoat was modified to include shoulder straps and D-rings. The shoulder straps were for the attachment of epaulettes or other rank insignia; There is a popular myth that the D-ring was for the attachment of hand grenades. The ring was originally for map cases and swords or other equipment to the belt. This latter pattern was dubbed "trench coat" by the soldiers in the front line. Many veterans returning to civilian life kept the coats that became fashionable for both men and women."

If it rains where you live, a trench is a requirement for your wardrobe arsenal.  Period.  For a spring/summer (i.e., lightweight, doesn't go past your knees) trench for less than $100, the Lauren by Ralph Lauren Galant Trench sold at Sierra Trading Post for $96 ($160 but sign up for their emails and wait for a 40% off link),  can't be beat.  Sizing is spot on for a regular fit, but size down one if you want a tight fit and don't plan to wear a blazer underneath.  Great fabric: high water resistance, smooth hand, feels sturdy yet very lightweight.

For about $119 ($198 but a 40% off coupon is inevitable), you can get this Banana Republic trench as well, but note: the fabric is worse, it's not as water-resistant, it runs one size too big, and - deal-killer for me - lacks a back gunflap across the shoulders (which adds an extra layer of protection against rain).  Unless you're obsessed with BR brand, save $25 and go with the Lauren.

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