How The Field Coat Became A British Outerwear Icon

How The Field Coat Became A British Outerwear Icon

Hazy origins notwithstanding, the Field Coat is an unequivocal piece of one’s sporting get-up. Here is everything you need to know about the shooting staple.

Words by Tom Chamberlin – editor-in-chief of The Rake magazine and chief creative officer of Cigar Keep, he specialises in men’s style, British heritage, and a discerning luxury lifestyle.

In early 2023, I chugged up the M1 to Yorkshire for a spot of shooting at Constable Burton. The forecast was not good but I wanted to give my technical, moss-coloured Yorkshire Coat from Purdey a proper spin; it was insisted to me by the dear Chairman that what it lacked in insulation properties, it more than made up for in water resistance, and I could layer up underneath if it was cold.

The weather was torrential for the first drive. We waited in the deluge, the birds so heavily doused with rain that they could barely get airborne. Yet I emerged from the experience unscathed, dry as a bone and ready for the second drive as the clouds began to dissipate across the dales – as opposed to the other seven guns on the line, all soaked through till their reset at elevenses. My Yorkshire Coat had done its duty, not least in protecting what was underneath. Behold: the Purdey Field Coat.

The generic field coat is an item of clothing with a distinctly British heritage, as a cursory glance at the archive images in the Long Room at Audley House [] can attest. As far back as the beginning of the 19th century, in paintings by artists like Henry Thomas Alken, men in the very earliest days of driven pheasant shooting can be seen in their natty field coats – or, at least, the nascent versions. 

Its history is otherwise rather fuzzy: a smattering of military, aristocratic and royal connections, all unconfirmed. But hard details notwithstanding, we should elaborate a bit more as to why this particular garment is so important for modern shooting, rather than it being of mere archival interest to the reader. 

The traditional shooting suit is a lovely thing, and perfectly encapsulates the reverence expected of a shooting guest. However, finding yourself in a climate that makes this practical in the field is pot luck. The fundamental appeal of wearing a Field Coat is in its functionality – both to protect against the elements and, via its trademark sizable pockets, to store the various bits and bobs that you want on your person throughout the day, from shells to cigars to flasks (or whatever else you care to harbour in the field).

Crucially, there has never been a better time to wear one – and not just because we’re well into the swing of the shooting season, with the inaugural pheasant days just around the corner on 1 October. The evolution of fabrics to be more technical, breathable and multi-faceted goes way beyond just having something waterproof in a tweed that matches the terrain. Just as cars are being constantly tweaked with an ‘aerodynamic this’ and an ‘environmentally friendly that’, it is the same with clothing – and additions such as box pleats, stretchy linings and sports backs mean that their practical application at the peg is never compromised.

Take the new Purdey Raglan Field Coat – perhaps the definitive expression of the style, and a masterclass in melding form and function. It’s been created in lambswool and alpaca, with wool wadding (for extra warmth) and lining in the Purdey house check (in 100% brushed cotton, to boot). Useful pockets abound: a large internal stow, cartridge pockets trimmed with fleece for the full hand-warmer effect, and zipped pockets for security. It’s all cut in a classic fit, designed for layering and long in the sleeve to allow for gun mounting, and finishing at a low hip height to cover the back and reduce chilly drafts. 

No detail has been spared and, given the brand’s sartorial nous and elegant flourishes, works equally well in an urbane setting as it does a sodden field – especially in a place like London, where inclement weather is basically the only thing we can rely on.