Barn coats look good and get the job done

January 02, 2000|By Greg Morago | Greg Morago,Hartford Courant

Designers often talk about the crossroads of fashion and function. But it's an intersection that isn't well traveled.

The field coat is an exception. Like denim jeans, military khakis and peacoats, the field coat is one of those functional pieces of clothing that has managed to transcend its humble, practical origins to become a fashion statement.

Originally designed as a working/hunting jacket, the field coat is now one of those indispensable wardrobe items that can go literally from the barn to the black-tie dinner. As a casual overcoat, it looks good for weekend wear with cords and a sweater; it also doubles as a perfectly suitable topper for the workweek blazer and silk tie. And if you're dashing out to a ball, it fits neatly over your tux.

The Northeast is no stranger to the field coat, also known as the barn jacket.

The classic New England field coat is L.L. Bean's original jacket, developed 75 years ago for its hunting catalog. Originally designed for bird hunting, the coat was modified over the years at the suggestion of Bean customers who began asking for a softer, fuller-cut jacket to be worn as a casual sportswear item. Bean listened, and the boxy barn coat -- the Yankee equivalent of a Maoist uniform -- was born.

Bean's coat starts at $79, as does Lands' End's. "For us, it's a tried and true basic," said Geoff Werner, senior merchant for Lands' End. "It's always there."

GQ magazine recently got gushy over the Carhartt jacket, a field coat whose very usefulness and reliability have made it a trendy must-have. Sold at Sears ($68), the Carhartt is made of tear-proof cotton and features metal buttons, reinforced pockets and a striped blanket lining.

The distinctions between "field" and "barn" coat are insignificant. Carried by everyone from the Gap to to Eddie Bauer, the jacket must have big pockets (often four of them), it must be durable (cotton duck or canvas) and warm (many come in different linings and weights, some zip-out), and it must wear well. A 10-year-old field coat is not uncommon, Werner said.

"Barn coats are like old friends," Werner said. "They build character over time."

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