Shopping for clothes in-between seasons is tricky to master, because when all four seasons can legitimately happen in one day, you’re near guaranteed to get some undesirable mash-up of weather. Don’t make the schoolboy error of dividing your wardrobe neatly by season because the forecast is pretty much guaranteed to go way off piste. The good news: every season is jacket season.
Jackets are the middleweight prizefighters of your wardrobe. Not only will you get more wear from them than thicker or thinner layers, but they also encourage you to better mix and match items you’d previously pigeonholed as ‘seasonal’. We’ve tracked down 10 versatile jacket styles that you barely have to justify the purchase for. You’ll wear them all year.
The Varsity Jacket
Loved by preps, jocks and – more recently – menswear dons, the varsity jacket is a versatile, youthful style which segues between smart-casual and elevated sportswear.
You don’t have to be an inducted Ivy Leaguer with a bulging trust fund to put your spin on this preppy classic, though. There are plenty of options that’ll get you extra style credits, without the need to set foot on campus, all of which will add a healthy dose of collegiate cool to your weekend wardrobe.
The varsity jacket works best when the core shape goes grown up, says menswear stylist Paul Higgins, whose CV name-checks the likes of Hardy Amies, Diesel and Kilgour. “A simple, clean version of the varsity jacket without too much fuss going on will let you keep wearing this vintage-inspired style for years to come,” he says.
How to look more high end than high school? “Look for premium fabrics such as suede, pebbled leather and boiled wool which give the style a sophisticated reboot.” Or, if you’re working with a student’s budget, look for darker colours such as black, navy and grey which invariably look pricier than colourful counterparts in a similar price bracket.
Along with varsity jackets, bombers have been one of the most sought-after outerwear designs for the last couple of years, precisely because they’re so in tune with menswear’s current preoccupation with all things laid-back.
Whether you recruit the design to round off a streetwear look or use one to dress down an Oxford shirt, tailored trousers and loafers, with a bomber at your command you can target almost any dress code.
Bomber jackets are everywhere, so to stand out, look to interest fabrics says Reiss head of menswear design Alex Field. “It’s hard to remember a season when the bomber jacket hasn’t been a key player in menswear. Unsurprisingly, a design in black or navy will serve you best, but try a technical fabric or soft suede to keep this classic looking modern.”
By steering clear of more obvious fabrics such as leather and nylon you’ll be able to freshen up your look while retaining the bomber jacket’s versatility with fail-safe colours you can comfortably wear year-round.
There are wardrobe classics, and then there’s the field jacket, which manages to sit pretty season after season, completely avoiding fashion’s fickle plot twists.
Whether you head for high-end heritage or enlist a vintage design that may have actually graced the back of a serving military member, this mid-weight style is more than happy to play nice with spring and summer staples alike.
The fact that most modern versions barely deviate from the original army apparel is testament to how well-designed the field jacket was when it was first created. A few judicious tweaks will take this veteran from battlefield to menswear territory, though.
“Look for contrasting hardware and a loose fit to stay true to the original design, but for a modern take look for oversized pockets and try washed-out shades such as stone and pale green rather than just sticking to khaki,” says Field. No need to raid the surplus store.
The down gilet may have once been the preserve of style-phobic country dwellers, but thanks to a timely reappraisal by practicality-loving designers, the mid-layer has become an essential for city types too.
The beauty of down-filled styles is their weight – or lack of it – and ease of wear. It’s a fact that’s no longer lost on luxury brands such as Brunello Cucinelli, which now styles padded gilets over and under suit jackets, cementing this sleeveless wonder’s place as a trans-seasonal essential.
“The gilet will add a welcome injection of sportiness and function back into your wardrobe,” says Chris Gove, creative director of British brand Percival.
But make sure you’re closer to Johannes Huebl than Jeremy Clarkson by looking for small design details. “A polyester outer shell is fine, but watch out for anything super-shiny and try a contrast fabric yoke to move into design-led territory,” he says.
The Coach Jacket
The coach jacket may not have the household-name status of the varsity jacket, but just like its more famous stablemate, it was born in the USA, worn by sports coaches as they paced the touchline. Unsurprisingly, practicality is at the design’s heart: being lightweight and waterproof were non-negotiable for this all-season MVP.
Many styles on offer now retain those handy tech specs and but use canny design to elevate the coach jacket from sideline to star player – whether its teammates are streetwear essentials or Scandinavian basics.
A point collar, snap-button front and hip pockets are giveaways that you’re looking at a coach jacket, but the style has become even more versatile in the last couple of seasons thanks to a rethink of this traditionally plain design.
“Try an option that keeps the style’s practical and pared-back vibes, but look for simple patterns or logo motifs to amp up the interest,” says Higgins. All of the function, all of the fashion.
Technical fabrics make for excellent trans-seasonal companions thanks to their ability to multitask: they can be worn come rain or shine, over a T-shirt or on top of onion-like layers, depending on the forecast.
And now both streetwear and high-end designers have fallen hard for the style’s unpretentious aesthetic charms. By adding menswear nous to the jacket’s tech-heavy spec, the danger of looking like a hiker that’s taken a wrong turn has been vastly reduced.
“Active-driven silhouettes such as the technical anorak have emerged as must have items this season, combining seasonal flexibility with an outdoor expedition sensibility,” says Michael Taylor, senior buyer at Urban Outfitters. The difference between off-route rambler and part-ironic, part-practical menswear don lies in the colour of technical jacket that you stick on your back.
“The best examples reflect nostalgia and normcore dressing: choose retro, boxy, 1990s colour blocking options which have visually arresting clashing colours to make a strong statement,” says Taylor. Peak throwback, but in the best possible sense.
The trucker jacket has been a casualwear staple for more than 150 years because it’s so unbelievably handy: it’ll accommodate plenty of layers when the temperature’s not pleasant, but it’ll really earn its worth on those days when you’re not sure whether it’s jacket weather or not.
Best of all, this neat slice of American workwear can easily be worn with a pair of jeans and hiking or Chelsea boots.
Just never pair it with a trucker cap.
The trucker jacket is a safe option and isn’t known for swerving from one style to another season after season. To make sure yours isn’t middle of the road, pay attention to fabric and finish, says Gove. He recommends wool, suede, corduroy or twill, although classic denim will never fall out of style, either.
Don’t be tempted by lighter colourways either. “Watch out for dodgy cheap enzyme or stone washes; dark Japanese denim is more on-trend, and choose raw if possible,” Gove says.
Cut short, asymmetric, and close to the body, the leather biker jacket has proven to be one of the most timeless pieces of menswear over the last century. It’s one of those trans-seasonal garments that can be thrown on with anything and instantly makes you look infinite degrees more bad-ass.
Blizzards aside, it’s the closest thing you’re likely to get to a four-season jacket too, so there’s no inappropriate time to buy one.
Although the biker is a perennially cool choice, cut and design details are instrumental in separating the heavenly leathers from the Hells Angels castoffs.
“The biker jacket has become a style staple, but it has evolved,” says Sarah Gillifan of personal styling consultancy Sartoria Lab. “For a contemporary update, look for epaulettes (which will also broaden your shoulders) and choose versions that feature contrast zips and a matte finish to make this classic modern.”
Given its impressive staying power over the past decade or so, it’s hard to remember a time when the suede jacket was a left field choice. Whether bomber, blouson, biker or collared, every man should have at least one soft and short pile design at his disposal.
It adds low-key luxury to downtime dressing and when equipped with the invisible armour of suede protector, you need not have a meltdown if you get caught in a downpour.
A suede bomber jacket in black or navy is always a safe shout, but there are way more interesting ways to wear this buttery-soft outerwear.
“Seventies hues still hold sway when it comes to the suede jacket,” says Higgins. “Think rust, orange, brown or burgundy: all these colours will add interest and can slot into your wardrobe with ease, whatever the season.”
The Harrington jacket is best known for being the de facto uniform of teenage subcultures after it found itself worn by a who’s who of menswear icons (think Steve McQueen, Elvis and James Dean) throughout the middle of the 20th century.
Today’s versions retain most of the original design features from the seminal G9 Baracuta, but tech developments from this side of the millennium have given the shape a new lease of life.
Textbook examples of the Harrington go pared-back on the outside and checked on the interior, but these days, you can turn tradition on its head. “[This year,] options have been updated with exterior checks and some styles even come in tech fabrics,” says Higgins.
Which should be on your check list? “Gingham and Prince of Wales checks are your best bet,” he says.