Greatcoat Overcoat Topcoat Terminology Explained

Overcoat, Topcoat, Greatcoat – Terminology Explained

In the past year, we have written about a number of articles about topcoat & overcoat styles. With so many different types of outerwear under discussion, I thought it would be helpful to define a few basic coat terms.


An overcoat is simply a heavy coat that is worn over a suit or a jacket. It usually reaches between slightly above the knee to all the way down to the ankle. The first overcoat was probably the Chesterfield, and it was invented in the mid 19th century. The standard fabrics back then were much heavier than their modern counterparts, and they usually weighed about 30 oz. per yard (about 900 grams per meter) or even more.

Before the overcoat was invented, men wore body coats.

Body Coat

A body coat was cut very closely to the body, hence the name. A body coat is a frock coat, a tailcoat (white tie) or a morning coat, and regardless of the type, they were worn both inside and out, without adding any additional layers for outdoor wear. The development of the overcoat brought about the modern concept of wearing another coat over one’s indoor clothing.

Matthew Crawley in Greatcoat

Matthew Crawley in Greatcoat


A Greatcoat is generally a substantial, bulky overcoat such as an Ulster or a British Warm.
It is not fitted around the waist and the heavy fabric hangs more loosely from the shoulders. Often, greatcoats have a military derivation.

It may help to keep in mind that all greatcoats are overcoats, but not all overcoats are greatcoats.

Leightweight, Canvas Topcoat with Wide Back & Classic 1938 Lounge Suit

Leightweight, Canvas Topcoat with Wide Back & Classic 1938 Lounge Suit


Traditionally a topcoat is an overcoat with a fabric that weighs 18 oz. per yard (500 g per meter) or less. Often they are worn about knee high. During its original time, this was considered to be lightweight whereas most people today would consider it to be heavy. Fabrics, of course, have lightened as fabric technology, customer preferences, and modern heating have developed.

Overcoat, Topcoat or Greatcoat


  1. An OVERCOAT is a long, sleeved garment worn on top of something else.
  2. A TOPCOAT is a lightweight overcoat.
  3. A GREATCOAT is a heavy, bulky overcoat.

In case you have any questions with regards to garment terminology, please let me know, and I will do my best to answer.

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