The Ulster Overcoat
After I received a question about the characteristics of an Ulster overcoat and the Guards coat, I decided to write two separate articles about these classic garments, beginning with the Ulster. The name Ulster is derived from the area of the Irish province Ulster whose people used to wear a certain tweed overcoat. Back then, as well as today, the Ulster overcoat is defined basically by seven elements:
Characteristics of an Ulster Coat
- A classic Ulster is rather long and double breasted, with two vertical, parallel rows of buttons. Often the ulster comes with a 6×3 or 8×4 button configuration while the buttons are placed quite low.
- Usually a double breasted garment has peaked lapels. The Ulster, however, has lapels that are notched in a certain way, so they can easily be folded over when the coat is buttoned up all the way. This is also known as the Ulster collar.
- In order to express the informal country character of the overcoat, the Ulster has always patch pockets.
- For the same reason, an Ulster shows contrast stitching along the edges and cuffs.
- You will always see cuffs on a true Ulster.
- Generally, the Ulster is cut rather roomy and hence may look a little bulky sometimes. In order to give the silhouette a little more shape, the Ulster usually has a belted back (aka half belt) with adjustable buttons so the wearer can change the degree of the waist suppression. For comfort and ease of movemnt, an Ulster has long pleats in the back. Sometimes you can also see a belt that goes completely around and buckles in the front – just like a trenchcoat.
- A genuine Ulster is made out of tweed, more specifically Donegal Tweed. This heavy tweed – starting at about 22 oz. per yard (about 600 g per meter) – was originally invented in Donegal County in the province of Ulster. It is characterized by its rustic, hand-woven look as well as its multi-colored dots.
- In the 1880′s, Ulster overcoats often had a hood or a cape / pelerine. Many people associate the cape as worn by Sherlock Holmes with the Ulster coat. While these overcoats are still Ulster overcoats, a hood or a cape is not essential for an Ulster.
Starting in the 1890′s, the capes slowly disappeared and today it is rarely seen with it anymore. With its heavy cloth, roomy cut, and huge pockets, the Ulster makes for an ideal travel companion during the colder half of the year. The cloth is very sturdy so it won’t wear out easily – even if you carry a bag with a shoulder strap. And the mottled Donegal tweed structure hides dirt and stains. Today, there exist a number of different Ulster variations. For example, my Donegal overcoat shows certain elements of an Ulster-like patch pockets, cuffs, and contrast stitching. However, it has peaked lapels and the top row of buttons is for decoration only. Therefore, it is definitely not an Ulster. Some other Ulster variations do have raglan sleeves or lacks cuffs. The characteristics, as outlined above, describe a true Ulster, but if you come across an overcoat you like that has certain features of an Ulster, but lacks others – don’t mind. Just wear it and enjoy its warmth! Chances are it will be with you for a long time. In case you should be interested in other top coats, please do take a look at our list of overcoats. Today, there exist a number of different Ulster variations.