Standing the Test of Time
A quintessentially British item, made famous during the Second World War, the duffle coat is famous. Gloverall continues to produce the iconic coat in the UK
Article by Andy Barnham
The chances are that while you’ve never heard of Gloverall, you’ll be familiar with what they specialise in; the duffle coat – even if they are not the original manufacturers of the item. Indeed the origins of this British cold weather stalwart are believed to come from a Polish military frock coat dating back to the 1820s. However, there is no doubting that it is now a quintessentially British item; having been issued by the Admiralty in the 1890s, it was worn by sailors during World War 1 and was adapted by the British Army where it was widely used during World War 2. Members of the Long Range Desert Group, the forebears to the SAS, used duffles for warmth at night and seat cushions during the day during their aggressive camping in North Africa. The coat was so widespread it earned the nick name ‘The Monty’ coat. And here is where Gloverall steps in.
Five years after the end of hostiles, in 1950, gloves and overall wholesalers H&F Morris, run by Harold and Freda, purchased a large quantity of duffles which quickly sold out in camping and leisure wear shops. This prompted the creation of a new company, Gloverall (an amalgamation of the words ‘Gloves’ and ‘Overalls’) to produce the item. Harold, the son of a master tailor, replaced the toggle rope fastenings, originally designed to be easily worked while wearing gloves in the cold sea weather, with leather and the wooden toggles with horn. And the rest, as they say, is history. The item was photographed being worn by British Formula 1 driver Tony Brooks in Monaco, as he walked along the track with fellow Brits Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn and demand was such that a new, custom built factory was built in Northampton in 1962. Sales in USA and Scandinavia followed with Japan becoming the biggest export market in the 1970s. Gloverall was then chosen to design and make duffle coats for the British Olympic team in 1980; incidentally also the first appearance at a Winter Games by future champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean (they finished 5th that year).
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Today Gloverall continue to be produced in the UK with quality British manufacturing and quality raw materials core to their beliefs. Now offering a range of items in addition to the humble duffle their UK bestseller is their Churchill Reefer Pea coat, a take on a pea coat with the humble duffle taking a back seat, domestically at least. This however has not stopped the duffle topping the charts in Japan, where the item is far more mainstream to the extent Gloverall has collaborated with brands such as Beams, is stocked in powerhouses such as Isetan and where there is a desire for individualism and a certain amount of uniqueness and experimentation; imagine a cross between a duffle and a puffer jacket… It is also no surprise that the brand’s unisex offerings, such as anoraks and collarless bomber jackets are big in this export market.
In a nod to their Formula 1 past, Gloverall recently launched their 1951 collection. This seasonal collection sits alongside the perennial, classic, offerings and allows the brand to experiment with fabrics and styles. The collections now include car and work coats as well as donkey and field jackets and the eagle eyed will spot a distinctive three colour racing stripe sprinkled throughout the collections and items. The brand’s upcoming Spring/ Summer 2019 collection, launching in January/ February 2019 is themed around gardening and workwear. In addition to their UK heritage is the belief that their items should be used and not just worn, which led to working with the Rich Brothers, best known for hitting the BBC1 show, Garden Rescue resulting in overdyed items in colours such as ginger and petrol.
With Spring/ Summer 2019 just launched, Gloverall is already hard at work designing Autumn/ Winter 19 which looks back at the naval heritage of the brand. A darker colour palette has been incorporated into items with exaggerated details such as trims, buckles and clasps and technical fabrics; a technical padded parka anyone? This work is going hand in hand with investment online and expanding the breadth of the brand’s offering including collaborations with shoe brand Sanders and Brady Bags, known for their saddler’s leather and angling bags.
When, today, many brands do not build items that last, it’s hard to argue with a brand that has kept to its traditions and offers items that have stood the test of time. There’s much to be said about the motto, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’