I’m not quite sure why, but lately I appear to have been veering off the straight and narrow menswear track and more into the undergrowth of vintage and army gear. Thinking back it might have been finding the vintage Harris tweed jacket in Liverpool (the one that became the acclaimed first tweed project), or maybe it was falling for the Monitaly parka made from vintage 1950’s army tents? In any case, since then I found the M-43 field jacket, and two pieces of vintage army wool from Sweden. Today I’m taking a look at the 1956 wool jacket.
Army gear lasts almost forever. The amount of stuff that can be found in vintage specialists and army surplus shops is immense. Even stuff like this, 60 years old, still feels almost like new. It’s obvious it was properly made in the first place, using materials that would stand up to serious use. I’ll be taking a closer look at the details further on, but first let’s take a look at the obvious features.
Made in Sweden in 1956, crafted in thick grey wool and sturdy cotton twill. The wool is like melton or loden wool, quite thick and felt-like. Durable, and definitely not fluffy. We’ve got buttons, 2 pockets and a collar that by todays standards is huge. It’s important to keep in mind that military garments are a combination of function and looks though. On the one hand they’re looking for an imposing silhouette and a smart appearance, but at the same time the wearer has to stay warm, and have whatever special features they need.
And speaking of special features, we have a pair of bellows-style rear pockets. It’s not something we see too often these days, as most of us quite seldom find that it could be really handy having a pair of voluminous pockets sitting at the rear of our jacket. For someone riding a motorcycle though, or skiing, it might be really handy though. Interestingly the colour of the wool used on the rear pockets is a greener shade, which again makes me think of people like Nigel Cabourn and Daiki Suzuki and their vintage-inspired creations today.
Let’s take a loot at the details.
Even thick wool like this isn’t strong like a woven fabric like canvas, so at all stress points there is a sturdy cotton twill backing. The front pockets are entirely made of this fabric, ensuring that the pockets won’t wear holes. An interesting point here is that the front pockets are double-buttoned. The uniform button visible on the flap is supplemented by an additional plain inner button. I can only imagine this is a security feature, so if the outer button comes undone or is torn off, the pocket still works.
And speaking of the uniform button, we see it has the three crowns of the Swedish army. My jacket is missing the one on the other pocket, so I’ll need to find something creative to replace it with.
The rear pocket is less engineered than the front, with the main part of the pocket being unlined wool. Only the flap and pocket entrance is lined with the sturdy twill fabric. And there is no extra button. Maybe this is where the wearer would keep his maps?
Speaking of engineering and strengthening, this is the underarm section. Again this is a place where the wool fabric would be prone to wear, what with the movement of the arm and the chance of it being wet. I recall seing this same feature on one modern jacket recently, though I’m ashamed to confess that I can’t recall which it was.
I mentioned how jackets like this were properly made, and this taped seam is a case in point. A modern maker today would usually just run an overlocked seam along the edge and call it a day. This version probably takes 4 times the time, but is both sturdier and nicer.
I mentioned how there might be a point to the huge collars, and there is. As we can see here, when the collar is up, it wraps well round the next and that double layer of wool will go a long way to keeping the wearers neck nice and warm.
Moving to the inside we find that the body part of the jacket is all lined in the sturdy twill, while the arms are unlined. There is also an inside pocket. This actually looks a little less well designed than the rest, but looks to be there only for paperwork or something with little volume or weight.
Keeping it nice and simple, the three crowns for Sweden, 1956 for build year and 100 would be the model number. Oddly, the sizing label is sewn in place, so someone missed an opportunity to save money there!
I’ve seen this jacket in a different and more common version that has an additional pair of chest pockets as well. While googling around for info on this jacket I found a few for sale on Etsy and eBay, with prices ranging from around 25 pounds up to around 100. It’s interesting to see how much vintage army gear is still around, in great condition and at very reasonably prices. Then again, it was made in huge numbers, so even with a marginal survival rate there might still be stacks and stacks of it around.
Given how reasonably priced it is, how much functionality it offers, and, let’s be honest here, it does actually look pretty cool, perhaps it’s an option for the sort of weather we have at this time of year? Those rear pockets are sure to be a conversation point!
Added: This is in fact known as the M39-58 jacket, in use by the Swedish army from WW2 until replaced in 1958. The pockets were in fact a later addition to the jacket, hence the difference in colour. There were several suppliers of this jacket to the Swedish army, among them Tiger, a company that exists today as Tiger of Sweden. Thanks to Shaun Brown and Stefan Nordin for additional info! Oh, and Stefan also tipped me off that you can buy brand new surplus jackets in Sweden for what amounts to 10 pounds! That is crazy and remarkable.