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The History of The Field Jacket hero image

The History of The Field Jacket

Not many other garments can proudly proclaim to have crossed so many varying divisions in and endured so many chapters of menswear history. There is something to the design that has made it so revered, that has made it a go-to for any type of activity you can think of. It has become a source of inspiration in the making of so many of its infinite derivatives seen on the runways, that follow a cycle of trends to which the garment itself seems to be entirely immune to. Part of its success lies in its four front pockets, the cuff closures, its fabric and the expertly thought-out combination of details all geared towards maximizing functionality.

The Field Jacket on Sylvester Stallone in First Blood
Sylvester Stallone in "First Blood" (1982)

But to only focus on its tangible aspects is to leave out a significant portion of its story. Not only has it undergone numerous design iterations until it became what it is today, but there’s also a degree of cultural weight, controversy and political polarization to it unlike any of its peers. It was made for war, but it quickly turned into the sartorial symbol of a movement fighting for its antithesis: peace.

To look at it today, is to see its status retained among all the strata of our society, be it high-street or luxury shoppers, hypebeasts or vintage enthusiasts, making its timeless presence and appeal almost as immutable as blue jeans, with which — we’ll have you know — it pairs effortlessly.

DESIGN HISTORY

To start with the Field Jacket is to go all the way back to the second World War during which its first iteration: the “M-41” was introduced where it served a core part in the American combat uniform. It started to roll out in 1941 as a replacement for the wool service coat used during the first world war in anticipation of wool shortages at the time. Its design was derived from civilian windbreakers used back in those days but boasted a higher insulation capacity thanks to its cotton poplin outer and wool flannel lining which was water and wind resistant. Its neck and cuffs featured button closures and its front closed with a zipper covered by button-down storm flap. Its color was a typical natural army-style green called “olive drab no. 2” which is where the abbreviation “O.D.” still seen today comes from. The M-41 proved to be lacking as an outerwear garment during the war; its lining provided little insulation and its shell little protection from rain and wind. Moreover, its shade faded quickly resulting in compromised camouflage capacity over time. One veteran referred to it as “useless as a combat garment due to color, fit and lack of pockets” and it was widely regarded as a design blunder. Nevertheless, they saw plenty of use during the war, albeit not because of its utility, but because there was no other choice.

The M-41 Field Jacket Sketch
M-41 Field Jacket. Source: http://www.usww2uniforms.com/

This model was eventually replaced in 1943 by the much improved M-43 which had an extended hip-length, a detachable hood, front pockets, a drawstring around the waist, and used a fabric made of cotton sateen dyed in a so-called “drab no. 7”, which was a darker shade compared to its predecessor. Most importantly, this iteration was designed to be wearable on its own or with any type of layer underneath, equipping soldiers to face the harsh European winter conditions and providing the much needed versatility. Despite being a simple yet technically capable garment, some of its components, such as the liner, rarely arrived in time when they were most needed. It was eventually replaced by the M-50 which had interior buttons that facilitated the attachment of a liner, but also left out design details that made the M-43 so esteemed because it was to serve as both part of a dress and combat uniform. As a result, the M-50 made it no longer a true all-weather survival jacket.

The M-43 Field Jacket Military Uniform
M-43 Field Jacket. Source: http://www.usww2uniforms.com/

Its successor, the M-51 was developed for the Korean War and sought to correct many of the mistakes made in the M-50, resulting in a jacket that made it similar to the M-43 again. Apart from the Korean War, it also saw the first years of the Vietnam War, particularly the colder nights in the Central Highlands. This iteration, also hip-length and made of a water repellent and wind resistant cotton sateen came in the today-famous color shade “OG (Olive Green) 107”. It could be fitted with a detachable liner for cold weather protection and had its design updated with a drawstring around the waist and hem, snap button closures, button cuffs and a button-on hood that could be attached to the jacket’s epaulets for head and face protection. All in all, the M-51 went back to its 43 more-functional-less-formal roots and was — like its predecessor — cut oversized to have it work as a layering piece again.

The M-51 Field Jacket - Used
Original M-51 Field Jacket. Book title unknown.

In 1965, the field jacket underwent another overhaul at the hands of Alpha Industries (also responsible for the iconic MA-1 bomber jacket), replacing the M-51 and giving it what was at the time a cutting-edge nylon and cotton sateen blend fabric called “NYCO”. It drastically improved its weather performance and stayed true to previous naming schemes, giving it the name M-65.

It had a similar hip-length to its predecessors, the same OG-107 color, had drawstrings inserted around the waist and hem and was designed to be worn with our without a liner. Its front closed with a zip covered with a storm flap that closed with snap buttons. The most notable design change, however, was the built-in hood that could be stowed away inside the collar, which was closed with a zipper, allowing the hood to be concealed when not needed and thereby omitting the detachable button-on system used in its predecessors. Moreover, the snap-button cuff closures were replaced by velcro. This version was to become widely used during the Vietnam War, especially in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, keeping them both cool and warm during the cold periods after monsoon rains. All in all, the 1965 iteration was all about versatility and allowing seamless transitioning when facing irregular weather patterns. During its time in service, its diversity in colors and camo patterns kept on expanding, appearing in woodland and desert camo and a variety of shades adapted to different environments. The M-65 proved to be so functional that it remained a staple of the U.S. Military for decades, all the way until its retirement in 2009.

M-65 US Army Field Jacket
Original M-65 Field Jacket. Book title unknown.

CULTURAL IMPACT

The Vietnam War is arguably the most controversial war in modern history, feeding the breeding ground for a counter-movement that covered the whole of USA and stretched into Europe, where millions turned to the streets and demonstrated against a war that seemed like a futile — yet awfully destructive — attempt at expansionism and suppression of presumed dangerous political ideas. When the war was over, the veterans returned to a divided country devoid of celebration or pride, but beset, rather, by a spirit filled with cynicism and rage. The army clothes they took home with them and the massive quantities leftover found at military surplus stores were used en masse by the same civilians who resisted what they risked their lives for.

Out of all the military garments, the Field Jacket took central stage as it became endowed with a double-meaning: functional and symbolical, each of which stood in polar opposition to the other: the submission to an authority willing to do anything to curb communism and the subversion of this same geopolitical recklessness.

Anti-Vietnam-war peace protest in black and white
Anti-Vietnam-war protest. Washington DC, October 1969

Famous artists, musicians and actors including the likes of Country Joe, Jane Fonda and John Lennon at places such as Woodstock and Madison Square Garden were but few of the prominent public figures who used the jacket to make an anti-war statement. In 1971, Lt. John Kerry — the same one to become an eventual presidential candidate — came home from the war and became determined to do anything in his power to protest against it and famously wore the jacket during his meetings with the press and the public, solidifying the Field Jacket as an anti-war — rather than war — statement.

The Field Jacket worn by Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda Wearing the Field Jacket. New York, 1971.

But this was just the beginning for the Field Jacket. It soon became clear that it not only reincarnated into the go-to sartorial statement for political resistance, but resistance in general and all other rebellious human impulses tied to it, be they benevolent or malevolent. It serving as both the shell of a good-willing-yet-unhinged loner played by Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, the equally-not-entirely-well-adjusted divorced comedian played by Woody Allen in “Annie Hall”, the last honest cop in a corrupt police department played by Al Pacino in “Serpico”, or the unyielding robotic alien limbs and laser-precise aim of “the Terminator” played by Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing a gray version of it, made the jacket representative of “the one against the many” be it out of integrity and a notion of heroism or spite and loneliness.

Robert De Niro wearing the Field jacket in the movie "Taxi Driver"
Robert De Niro in "Taxi Driver" (1976)

The political and socio-critical underpinnings imbued into the Field Jacket that started during the Vietnam protests arguably never went away, they just became more nuanced and intricate.

TODAY

By now, it is beginning to become even clearer to recognize exactly what made it into the sartorial powerhouse that it is today: it captures this rare mix of considered design and historical relevance, as adaptable to weather conditions as it is to ideologies. To look at the Field Jacket today is to see its connotations of political conflict, egalitarianism and freedom having faded somewhat, partly as a result of fashion’s continuous recourse to and the resulting reinterpretation of the past, using historical objects — such as the field jacket — as a blueprint to create an endless array of derivatives. Tracing it all the way back to its origins has become an increasingly intricate effort and perhaps even considered irrelevant to those immersed in the sheer quantity and diversity of them.

The volume of everything is increasing, not just fashion, but information available in general, correct or false and so too is the window to the past opaque as ever, through which it has become increasingly challenging to put pieces together, be they historical or present-day.

We will never stop stressing the importance of transparency, traceability and factuality. It’s paramount in an age plagued by both excess and misinformation. It’s our job to paint an as accurate picture of things as possible, be it the way we produce things or how we tell our stories. The history of this monumental garment proves that history — anything in life — is nuanced and complex; nothing is black or white, but a matter of perspective.

This is why we considered it paramount to not make The Field Jacket until doing our research into all it has been through: the full spectrum of human emotional capacity, where pain, suffering, meaningless violence stand at continuous odds with their positive opposites: peace, hope and love.

Close-up of The Field Jacket by Asket in Khaki Green
The ASKET Field Jacket

Creating a perfect field jacket

Our take on the Field Jacket both nods at the past and looks at the present. To have it fit neatly in our existing collection was about making it more versatile than it has ever been without compromising its historical and aesthetic signature; to make it as recognizable as a Field Jacket as it is as an ASKET garment. Certain of the original M-65’s details have been omitted, such as the velcro cuffs, the drawstrings and the stowable hood in the collar. We eliminated that which once served the purely functional in the harshest imaginable conditions, without compromising the essence of the garment, proving how a pursuit of less can pave the way for more — more versatility, occasions and utility in daily modern life.

Its silhouette stays largely true to the original but has a more tailored appearance to it, making it interact effortlessly with its less rugged but more refined Italian-made water-and-wind-proof fabric made from organic cotton and reaching a weight of 390g/mtl. The entire garment is lined with an equally soft and organic cotton. Like the original, it boasts plenty of hardware with snap buttons on its pockets, storm flap and cuffs. The Field Jacket is cut to work both with layers or without, making it adaptable to a range of weather conditions and wearable either in the depths of winter with a liner or a chunky wool knit, or the spring with a T-Shirt. In essence, Our Field Jacket does a lot; We made it into a garment that is as adaptable to the elements as it is to the diversity of daily errands and expectations we encounter in contemporary life.

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