Today, I will discuss all you need to know about the famous British Warm overcoat, including its history, style and where to buy it.
The original British Warm overcoat was a military greatcoat for British officers which first appeared during the First World War.
A Greatcoat is generally a big, bulky overcoat such as an Ulster or a British Warm. Often, greatcoats have a military background. An overcoat is a heavy coat that is worn on top of a suit or a jacket. As such, all greatcoats are overcoats but not all overcoats are greatcoats.
The beginning of the British Warm Overcoat
The main characteristic of this overcoat was its heavy taupe Melton cloth. The name derives from the small town of Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire, England which is locally known simply as Melton. The cloth, which was first mentioned in 1823, is a tightly-woven woolen fabric that is heavy milled and weighs at least 34 oz. It has a short, raised nap which provides it with a fleece-like, non-lustrous texture. In 1914, the Scottish company, Crombie, switched to war-time production and manufactured about 10% of all greatcoats for British officers. At that time, the term British Warm was born, and to this day, the heavy Melton fabric is often referred to as Crombie Fleece.
Characteristics of the British Warm Greatcoat
The greatcoat was always double breasted and had six metal regimental buttons of which three were always closed. Typical for a military garment, it was waisted, had peaked lapels, two flap pockets, a single back vent, a breast pocket, as well as two cuff buttons. Interestingly, it also had epaulets at a time when ranks were not worn on the shoulders but still on the cuff. The British Warm was intended to be worn with Jodhpur trousers and field boots which came up to the knee. In order to reveal a glimpse of the trousers, the overcoats were tailored to end just above the knee.
During its early days, the British Warm was sometimes seen with a belted back, though later it disappeared completely.
Interestingly, King George V as well as King George VI occasionally wore a brown fur collar with their British Warm. In this picture, we see King George V and King Albert of Belgium inspecting Belgian troops. On the left, you can see the young Prince of Wales wearing a British Warm as well.
The British Warm in Public
After the war, officers started wearing their greatcoat when in plain clothes and subsequently, other men copied coats of their style. Similar to the Burberry trench coat, a formerly military overcoat became a greatcoat for the masses.
Instead of metal buttons, the civilian-adapted versions featured woven leather buttons, and usually lacked the opening for the sword and sometimes came without the epaulets. Often it was also worn longer–just below the knee. Interestingly, even officers occasionally wore the coat longer, as you can see in the following video. Considering that, with its heavy fabric, the British Warm was an ideal winter coat – the extra length certainly did not hurt.
Very rarely, civilian versions of the British Warm not only had flaps on the side pocket, but also on the breast pocket.
Although, nowadays, you can sometimes find British Warm overcoats made of cashmere or cavalry twill, you should always try to opt for the heavy Melton fabric; its warmth and durability will not disappoint you. Another great feature is the extra button under the collar, which allows you to wear your greatcoat button all the way a up. This comes in very handy, especially during cold and windy winter days.
In the past, Dunn & Co sold ready-to-wear British Warm overcoats and, in the US, J. Press offered them up until a few years ago. Today, only New & Lingwood sells a British Warm off the rack for 695 £. Other than that, you either have to go bespoke or try to locate a vintage piece.
Gieves & Hawkes (with its military tradition) has made many of these garments and I was lucky enough to find a decades-old, vintage British Warm by Gieves when they had not yet merged with Hawkes. It has all the typical features, a brown silk satin lining and below-the-knee length. Despite weighing almost 10 pounds, I nevertheless plan to have a fur lining added to it in the near future. Equipped with such a coat, I can easily endure even the harshest winter days in style.
Britsh Warm Outfit
Finally, it deserves to be mentioned that The Royal Logistic Corps Dress Instructions states: “The British warm coat is an allowance item for officers on promotion to full colonel but it is not maintained at public expense. It is an optional item to be purchased at individual expense for all other officers but is not to be worn when on parade with soldiers.”
Today, it is rather difficult to find a good British Warm. Ideally, you will come across a new old stock British Warm made of real Crombie Fleece. Alternatively, you can have one custom made. Ironically, off the rack, it seems like you can only buy them from the other side of the pond. Seasonally, the one or the other retailer like J. Press or Brooks Brothers may carry them as well.
Good luck finding your very own British Warm overcoat!
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