I’m not sure how it works around the rest of the country, but in Pennsylvania, this is the time of year when the weather has an identity crisis. Two days ago it was thirty-three degrees and snowing; yesterday it was fifty degrees, and today it’s seventy. Oh, and it’s going to be thirty degrees again tomorrow. See what I mean?
Luckily I work indoors with a consistent temperature all day. Sweaters, blazers, sport coats, I’ve got it covered. The problem is knowing which jacket to wear outside when the elements are so mercurial, especially since we’re heading into spring, which means cold mornings, fair afternoons, and brisk (and often wet) evenings.
Of course this isn’t a new problem. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military recognized the need for an upgraded jacket, one that could withstand the elements, allow for layering if necessary, and carry a serviceman’s necessities.
With these criteria, Alpha Industries (who had previously made standard-issue military jackets) designed the M65 field jacket, the “65” denoting the year in which it was created, replacing the M-1951 jacket that came before it. The M65 was made from NYCO, a new fabric which blended cotton and nylon, giving it greater resistance to wind and moisture than standard cotton alone.
A tuckable hood, velcro-cuffs, and a button-snap storm flap were pragmatic design elements to keep a soldier dry and comfortable, and since (like a Pennsylvania spring) the jungle was often wet and at times chilly, the M65 had a generous cut to allow for layering. The M65 field jacket remained in service until the 80s where it was replaced by the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) which was subsequently succeeded by the current Army Combat Uniform (ACU).
Fast forward five decades, and the modern, derivative field jacket hasn’t deviated much from the original M65. Primer style contributor Daniel Baraka shows us why it’s still an outstanding choice for a versatile spring jacket.
The Field Jacket is Pragmatic
Daniel consistently reaches for the field jacket because “First and foremost, it’s a practical garment.”
Function precedes form: Chores call for a chore coat; a suit calls for an overcoat, and an unpredictable spring day calls for a coat that’s ready for anything. And since some field jacket fabric is weather-resistant, and the hood rolls into the collar, you don’t need to worry about getting caught in the rain without an umbrella.
For the guy on the go, the pockets on the field jacket aren’t just for show: phone, keys, wallet, camera, you have stuff to carry. And if you’re a dad, you can throw a fruit and veggie pouch in there as well (and if you’re me, your wife is going to ask you to hold her phone).
The boxy, below-the-waist cut works to your advantage in terms of maneuverability and layerability. Daniel explains, “The best field jacket has some room to be layered over some heavy knits, but it’s also not so big that it can’t be worn over a t-shirt.”
The Field Jacket is Versatile
Because the field jacket is the epitome of practicality, it complements any outfit you put together. Daniel says, “I’ve yet to come up with an outfit where the field jacket didn’t feel at home.”
In this particular outfit, Daniel pairs the field jacket with a t-shirt and vintage denim jacket. Thanks in part to the field jackets looser fit, originally designed to be able to attach an optional liner, the M65 style jacket is the rare outerwear that looks sharp layered on top of another light jacket. Doesn’t that just epitomize the craziness of spring weather.The field jacket looks perfect over a t-shirt, a button-down flannel or white oxford like in Andrew’s outfit below.
Andrew’s outfit is inspired by a European take on including a field jacket into your style, which for decades has been used by well-dressed men to add a dash of edge to more formal clothing. Layered over a more refined, dressed up base, the M65 jacket is a perfect example of using a casual element with dressier clothes to create a clear rakish feel. With just the jacket, oxford shirt, linen suit pants, and brown leather sneakers the look is minimalist but full of nuance and detail.
And since the field jacket seamlessly dresses down with denim, it’s perfect for a smart casual look.
The Field Jacket Ages Well by Not Aging at All
Fifty-seven years after its creation, the field jacket is still a staple in the world of men’s style. Of course most field jackets today aren’t one-to-one replicas of the 1965 issue, but they all pay design homage to the original, and even other jacket styles borrow from the M65.
The field jacket isn’t one that you replace after a year because, like a well-worn pair of boots or that leather wallet you got in college, the field jacket develops its own patina. Daniel elaborates, “One of the advantages of the field jacket is the older it gets, and the more you wear it, the cooler it looks.”
Here are a few field jackets inspired by the M65 worth considering for this spring:
Amazon Essentials Utility Jacket $48.70
Goodthreads Lightweight Military Jacket $47.30
Banana Republic Water-Resistant Field Jacket $62.99
Everlane Waxed Cotton Field Jacket, $158
Gap Factory Canvas Utility Jacket $35.99
Sid Mashburn Military Jacket $350
Fjallraven Greenland Jacket $249