Old army jackets have always been a style icon unto themselves. Through students, anarchists, hobos, de Niro in “Taxi Driver”, through to todays hipsters. The style, the utility and the value for money is quite remarkable. That is, if you like your jacket green, a bit crumpled and of unknown history. Because, let’s face it, that old surplus Army jacket has surely seen some action of one sort or another.
When I found this one though I was curious, as it looked very similar to the one I was given during basic training years ago. Initially I thought it was a variant of the M-51, or M-1951, jacket. This was the model introduced in the US Army in 1951. Further research leads me to conclude it is a variation of what has to be considered to be the original field jacket, the one introduced in 1943 as the M-43. Field uniforms up to this point had been more fancy than functional, so this field jacket was the start of a new era.
This version is from the Norwegian army and appears to have minor differences to the US army version. Mainly no provision for hood or a button-in lining.
The outer is a 9-ounce wind resistant water repellent treated cotton sateen cloth. It was fully lined, but was intended for use with layers under, so most versions have provision for buttoning in a liner. A hood could also be attached. At this point it was still buttons only.
Yet when studying this jacket I’m struck by both the design work and the quality of construction. The way the buttons are hidden on both the front and pockets, no doubt to ensure they didn’t snag on anything. The way arms and body of the jacket are constructed to allow for maximum movement.
By design the body has a lot of volume so you can wear it over other gear, but also has drawstrings to let you tighten it. The throat latch properly covers the throat as well.
The sewing work is also top notch. All seams are felled, to ensure they won’t fray and come apart, and also not snag on anything. The lining is a smoother fabric, so the jacket slips on and off easily.
These were the days before velcro, so the cuffs can be tightened using the two buttons available. Zips came in the next evolution of the field jacket, the M-51 in 1951, and velcro was introduced in time for the M-65, which was introduced in… Yes, you guessed it.
It’s not hard to see why field jackets have had such an impact on jacket design, both for men and women. Given that human bodies are generally the same, a functional jacket will follow quite narrow guidelines. Where the M-43 started this, the M-65 is still in use today. And while it could easily be argued the US Army doesn’t always succeed in it’s aims, it certainly knows how to make its jackets.