Boys' Duffle Coats

Figure 1.--The duffle coat was popular in the Nerherlands. This advertisment appeared in a 1954 Dutch magazine. Noptice the suede-covered shoulders.

The duffle coat was popularized during World War II when it was adopted by the British Navy. It is a hooded coat made out of a course woolen fabric with destinctive hemp and wooden toggles for fastening. After the War it became a popular boys' coat. It was adopted by some English schools as part of their uniform. It was widely worn in the Netherlands and other European countries it was also widely worn in the United States, although has been less common since the 1980s.


A duffle coat is a a warm, comfortable knee-length hooded coat, traditionally made made of a course woolen fabric with hemp and wooden toggles for fastening. The duffle coat always has a plain exterior, although children's coats in Britain may have tartan lining. The classic duffle coat has hemp or other rope loops which were closed with horn or wood toggles.


The standard term is "duffle coat", the British form. Americans use both the British spelling and a variant form, "duffel" coat. The French use the term "duffle coat" although there may also be a more French term. The Dutch call them "houtjes-touwtjes-jas".


The earlist example of duffle coats that HBC has noted is a photograph pf British sailors in the 1890s wearing long duffle coats. They were made of thick, course wool felt cloth imported from Duffle in Belgian Flanders. The sailors even had a set of matching matching trousers. The destinctive elements of the duffle coats can clearly be seem on the ood photograph: the hood, wooden toggles and hemp rope fastening, together with a double protective shoulder layer (the yoke). In the first half of the 20th century, naval duffles were manufactured by several different companies supplying naval uniforms. One of the surviving manufacrurers which has supplied the Royal Navy for generations is Tibbett.


Photographic evidence shows that British seamen were wearing duffle coats as early as the 1890s. We have also seen English children wearing duffle coats in the 1920s, although it was probably worn eralier. The real popularity of the duffle coat occurred during World War II when it was adopted by the British Navy. Sailors fighting the U-boat menace in the North Atlantic were pictured in duffle coats. AS never before boys wanted to wear them. They became known as "convoy coats". When Field Marshall Montgomery began wearing them (presumbly in 1943 after El Alemian), it became even more popular. After the War it became a popular boys' coat, especially in the 1950s when the Navt began releasing surplus stock at bargain prices.


The modern duffle coat gets its name from a course wollen material imported the Belgian town of Duffle. One source describes duffle material being exported to the New World in the 18th century. The material was ideal for garments subject to rough wear. It was apparently purchased by the Royal Navy beginning in the 1890s and the seamen began calling it a "duffle coat". In recent times new and more luxurious fabrics have become available. Many are wool blends with various synthetic fibers. One manufacturer, Tibbbett reports that they use the blended material "... to achieve a softer, drapier look while keeping faith with the noble tradition of the original concept."


While the know that the original duffle coats issued by the British Navy used duffle materialm thid providing a name, less clear is the origins of the naval duffle. It does appear to have Tyrolean stylist elements. HBC is not sure why the Admiralty adopted Tyrolean stlistic elements. Certainly the rope loops and wooden toggles made it easier for seamen with frosty fingers to close it. We do not know if the Admiralty adoopted an existing desisn or had a hand in the desugn itself.


Both boys and girls wore duffle coats. We think it may have been more popular with boys than girls, but have few detals here. American and Dutch childrn tended to wear it as indidually chosen clothes and this gender preferences affected purchases. In Britain it was often asociated with schoolwear and selected as part of the school uniform quite number of scools. We think that it was more cmmon at boys' than girls schools. We have, however, noted British school girls wearing the duffle coat. Perhaps they attended coed schools.


The original duffle coats are believed to have been navt blue. As rthe coat became popular for children inthe 1920s, black and tan coats appeared. Today duffle coats can be found in other colors, such as green or red, but it is the classic colors that are the most popular.


The most prominent feature of the duffle coat was the hood which made it an espeially warm garment, a very useful feature in bad weather. Many of the hoods were detachable. Interestingly, English schoolboys had no problem wearing their duffle coats with hoods. Many enjoyed the comfort on cold windy days. The same was mot true with gaberdine rain coats. Many boys for some reason looked on the detachable gaberdine coat hoods as only suitable for girls. We are precisely sure why these hoods were viewed so differently.

Country Trends

We have only limited informatin on the popularity of the duffle coat in different countries at thus time. The duffle coat seems to have been most widely worn in Britain. British boys began wearing duffle coats after World War I. The beloved child character, Padington Bear, for example, is noted for his duffle coat. It was adopted by some English schools as part of their uniform after World War II, perhaps some before the War but I have no evidence of this yet. Some schools have adopted it as part of the school uniform. It continues to be a popular style among British school children, both boys and girls. It was widely worn in the Netherlands and other European countries it was also widely worn in the United States, although I am not sure about the chronology. It appears to have been a popular style of boys' coat during the 1960s and 70s, but has been less common since the 1980s. W have also noted in being worn in France, but do not think it was a majot style.


The duffle coat was popular as schoolwear in many contries. American and Dutch childrn wore duffle coats to school, although generally not part of a school uniform. Several schools inEngland and Scotland adopted the duffle coat as part pf the school uniform. As far as we know they were almost all private schools. We have noted duffle coats being worn at both boys' and coed schools. We do not know of them being worn at girls' schools, but do not know for a fact that they were not.


Navigate related Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site cold weather pages pages:
[Return to the Main school uniform coat page]
[Return to the Main cold weather page]
[Jackets] [Knits] [Leggings] [Sweaters] [Other] [Winter underwear]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [Essays] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: September 11, 2001
Last updated: 6:24 PM 7/12/2008