Timeless inspiration: the heritage pieces that inform modern menswear

At Oliver Spencer, we've always liked to put our own spin on classic menswear. In many ways, there is only 'classic' menswear, because so much of our collective wardrobes today are evolutions of garments that were invented decades, if not centuries, ago. Sure, there are experimental brands that do crazy things with silhouettes, and maybe we'll all be wearing digitally interactive bodysuits in 30 years time, and the past 200 years of menswear will be all for nothing, but right now, in 2022, heritage silhouettes and age-old fabrics still inform 90% of what we wear. A great deal of the shapes and fabrics in our wardrobes today, were fashioned from the military or parts of industry that required clothing to function in a certain way (ie so that one wouldn't catch a collar in the teeth of an industrial mangling machine!). From naval peacoats to fishermen's Aran sweaters via grandad collars, bomber jackets and denim jeans, certain environments have done much to shape menswear today, and the functionality that served people so well back then has become a timeless aesthetic ever since.

At Oliver Spencer, we love paying tribute to some of these classic garments. We don't pretend to reinvent them, but instead put our own individual twist on them, whether that's by using an elevated fabric, or tweaking a detail, or modernising it in some way so it's more in tune with how we live and dress today. Below we've highlighted some of the classic shapes from this season, their origins, and how we've approached the design...

The Parka

Humans have been wearing parkas as far back as the 15th century! Hard to believe, but the Inuits of Greenland were constructing hooded anoraks from seal pelts all those centuries ago. The word 'parka' actually comes from the Nenets language, spoken by the indigenous people of the Aleutian Islands and simply means "animal skin". The parka we're all familiar with came out of the US military in the 50s, where it was designed for flight crews. It earned the nickname 'snorkel parka' because of the way it could be zipped right up to the face. Originally made with a sage green DuPont flight silk nylon outer and lining it was padded with a wool blanket type material until the mid-1970s when the padding was changed to polyester wadding making the jacket both lighter and warmer. 

Now, that iconic silhouette has been repurposed for all seasons, with lightweight technical versions for Spring being the perfect blend of functional and stylish outerwear. In the UK, our spring coats require utmost versatility to accommodate for changeable weather which is why we created the Porthcurno parka. Constructed from a lightweight Italian weatherproof shell fabric and with a peaked three-panel hood, you'll be fully protected from any spontaneous downpours. The classic parka silhouette is as stylish as it ever was and can be worn on top of piece of knitwear as easily as it can be worn with your casual weekend fits.

Porthcurno Parka Penpol Green

Porthcurno Parka
Penpol Green

Porthcurno Parka Penpol Navy

Porthcurno Parka
Penpol Navy

The Trucker Jacket

The first recorded denim jacket dates back to the early 1800s in Germany and around 1880 in the US where it eventually became extremely popular, first as a heavy duty cotton jacket worn by miners, cowboys and railroad workers, then later as an icon of 60s fashion thanks to one Levi Strauss. Strauss designed the 'Type III' jacket in 1962 and it's pretty much the blueprint for all denim jackets today. The Trucker jacket is just a different name for the same thing.

In fact, not many people realise that it has nothing to do with truckers whatsoever, but actually comes from the name given to it by Japanese denim collectors in the 90s. An icon of Americana, we’ve reimagined the trucker jacket in a lightweight cotton canvas style, making it an ideal layering piece over tees, fine-gauge knits or lightweight shirts. Rather than taper it off at the waist like the original, we've kept it boxy, removing the v-shaped panels of the original Type III.

Buffalo Jacket Helford Ecru

Buffalo Jacket
Helford Ecru

Buffalo Jacket Kildale Indigo Rinse

Buffalo Jacket Kildale
Indigo Rinse

Buffalo Jacket Kildale
Sky Blue

The Bomber Jacket

It goes without saying that the bomber jacket is one of the most versatile pieces in a modern wardrobe. The classic military heritage in a masculine cropped blouson silhouette just seems to be able to go with everything. It can be dressed up with a smart fine-gauge rollneck and pleat trousers or dressed down with a simple tee and jeans. Best of all is its trans-seasonality, able to be worn in all but the most extreme weather conditions.

But what if you took the DNA of the bomber and transposed it on the double helix of the Harrington jacket, that other icon of mens' short jackets? That's exactly what we've done to create one of this season's key pieces at Oliver Spencer - the Linfield bomber jacket. We've also updated the original MA-1 silhouette with two seasonal styles in the Newport and Skye bomber jackets. They've still got that iconic shape, and ribbed elasticated neck, but we've used an ecological wool in patchwork tones for the former, and a mid-weight organic cotton drill for the latter, creating a more elevated aesthetic.

Newport Bomber Jacket Morefields Multi

Newport Bomber Jacket
Morefields Multi

Linfield Bomber Jacket Cannon Navy

Linfield Bomber
Jacket Cannon Navy

Skye Bomber Jacket Ellbridge Navy

Skye Bomber Jacket
Ellbridge Navy

The Chore Jacket

From our London vantage point, we need to peer across the channel to discover where the roots of the chore jacket lie, although we needn’t strain our eyes past the flat green pastures of Brittany, or more specifically, the majestic coastal town of Mont Saint. Michel, where one of the very first manufacturers of the chore jacket - known then as bleu de travail - still remains today. Such longevity is indicative of the chore jacket’s enduring appeal over the last 150 or so years.

As the name might suggest, the jacket’s original intention was a strictly utilitarian one, designed to be worn by the French proletariat and blue-collar workers (hence the bleu de travail name), specifically railroad labourers and engineers in the late 1800s whose jobs required a tough yet lightweight jacket that could be easily patched up, replete with three or four exterior pockets to carry small tools and no doubt a sandwich or two. It needed to withstand the rigours of daily use, hence it was typically constructed from a hard-wearing cotton drill or moleskin and dyed in a ‘hydrone’ blue hue.

It would be appropriated by American railroad and farm workers too, where it was made up of durable fabrics such as denim and heavy canvas. As such, it became an icon of American workwear and has evolved over the decades to incorporate softer, more luxurious fabrics, all the while maintaining the traditional boxy cut, button front, and utilitarian pocket details.

This season, we took the essence of the chore jacket and used it to create our Cowboy jacket in two rugged cotton styles and a lightweight ecological linen version, all three perfect for summer workwear looks or layering over a polo or tee.

Cowboy Jacket Morva Navy

Cowboy Jacket
Morva Navy

Cowboy Jacket Mylor Sand

Cowboy Jacket
Mylor Sand

Cowboy Jacket Ellbridge Green

Cowboy Jacket
Ellbridge Green

 

 

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