Unexpected Layering: The Vintage Chore Coat

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It’s time to take the chore coat out of the realm of workwear and add in some tailoring. Because you know, that’s kind of our thing here.

Spring or Summer outerwear can be a bit of an oxymoron, but it definitely can have a place in your wardrobe! We’re not saying that you need to have a full coat, but having a light jacket is a great way to add some edge to your spring outfit.   This can still mean a lot of things, from pieces like denim jackets and suede bombers to tailored items like linen sportcoats.  Depending on your style, there are a bunch of stuff to choose from.

What I see most of all is the use of the safari jacket or field jacket.  Belted or not, it is all the rage within the #menswear circles thanks to guys at Stoffa, The Armoury, and B&Tailor making their own version of it.

The Armoury Safari Jacket

BlueLoafers in a MTM Stoffa suede Field Jacket

B&Tailor white linen safari Jacket

As you can see, it’s pretty cool.  These safari/field jackets are a great way to introduce some ruggedness into your tailored wardrobe and make the entire outfit just a bit casual. I don’t have a safari jacket myself, but I have two similar ones: the M-43 Field Jacket and a belted Levi’s Corduroy work jacket.

Now I find nothing wrong with Safari Jackets, but they aren’t the focus of this article.  Instead, I want to focus on another great lightweight jacket: the chore coat.  These coats are straight workwear.  They were worn by mechanics, artists, hat makers, you name it. These pieces were meant to be beat up and used and have no prior relationships to tailored garments.  Unlike the Safari/Field Jacket, no one has really pushed these outside the realm of ultra casual outfits.  There’s a great article by Die, Workwear that delves into it a bit, but it mainly focuses on artist style. Its what inspired me to find a chore coat of my own.

These chore coats (also known as French Chore Coats in some circles) are usually made of cotton or denim (also a form of cotton).  Deadstock ones and newer ones  can be stiff, since they are needed to be sturdy; however worn in, aged, true-vintage ones can be extremely soft.  It pairs perfectly with the frumpy artists in the Die Workwear article.  This “sloppy” look appeals to me since it fits in with my slightly slouchy, natural-looking approach to style in general, whether or not its sartorial or casual.  Again, this is inherent in the name of my blog Street x Sprezza.

Note that in the pictures, they are getting worn in.  Men did work in these, whether it was painting, sculpting, or even working on their car.  As result most vintage ones that you find will be pretty beat up either with paints splatters or holes!  Some guys like to have perfectly new items so you can buy new, but I think the charm of the chore coat comes with its wear.

Put This On had a short guide to getting a chore coat (which again points toward a more workwear style) but I didn’t want to spend hundreds on something that I was going to just wear sloppily.  Luckily for me, I found a vintage (age unknown) chore coat at Inspiration LA!  It was a ragged, with holes in the pockets and frayed ends, but this obviously meant it was well loved.  The chore coat only cost me $20!

First Few Tries

With the “artist style” article from Die, Workwear! still on my mind, I decided to base my first outfit on it.  It’s super casual and frumpy, but it really worked well for the pseudo workwear vibes I wanted to go for.  The outfit isn’t super accurate to what a 1930s artists would wear, but its definitely something that anyone today could wear if they were feeling lazy in the sun.

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Comfort was the name of the game here.  With the chore coat, I added a stripe linen tee, non-tapered (but still high rise) Levi’s 501s in a glorious boring wash, and my trusty espadrilles.  Certainly a departure from even the most casual of summer styles right?  However, I will admit that it still has a bit of this outfit’s vibes in it, just dressed down further.

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The patch pockets were definitely used that day, as we were walking around my old university! I stuffed those bad boys with portable chargers and batteries for my phone since I didn’t want to bring my whole bag with me.

Vintage Chore Coat, Linen Stripe Tie from Banana Republic, Thrifted Levi’s 501s, Espadrilles from Espadrille Store

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Thanks to its unstructured nature and lightweight construction, it really has been my go-to jacket for spring. It’s even gotten more wear than my gab short jacket! Here it is worn with a simply striped tee (from this article) and chino shorts.  I know that I seldom advocate shorts, and that’s for two reasons: I don’t like wearing things that make my legs look short  and I hate polos/dress shirts and shorts combinations.  Tee shirts are a little basic for me, but putting all the elements together (that I have previously advocated) really give it a bit more “Ethan” flavor.  I can tell that this is going to be repeated a lot more this spring/summer season.  If you can’t tell, it’s very similar to the previous outfit!

 

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Thanks to my pal Andrew for the cool shot! 

It’s not exactly artist style, but does it count since I’m a photographer? All joking aside, I’ve been told that my use of the jacket brings the late Bill Cunningham to mind, the fashion photographer who was usually seen in his own indigo chore coat.  I’m sorry to say that I didn’t hear about him until he passed (vintage is it’s own fashion community, shut off from the rest of the fashion world) but I’m honored to have exuded his style.

I advocate using your clothes as much as possible, so I wore this outfit when I was out shooting in downtown Orange with my friends! I didn’t want to bring my bag with me, so I kept my wallet, keys, and extra batteries (both for phone and camera) in my pockets.  Gotta utilize the chore coat!

Vintage Chore Coat, Striped long-sleeve Tee and Aiden Shorts from Banana Republic, Espadrilles from Espadrille Store

With Tailoring

Since a majority of chore coat inspiration is workwear, I felt like I had to be the one to introduce some tailoring with it.  If you compare chore coat style to field jacket style, you’d be surprised. Who knew that military clothing would look so good with a tie? Sensing the need for some cool sartorial chore coat outfits, I decided to apply the Field Jacket themes with the chore coat.  It seemed like a good way to continue our theme of going casually tailored! 
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Because I knew that the chore coat is more sloppy than the field jacket, I knew that I’d have to keep things toned down.  This meant no spearpoint collars, silk ties, or oxfords.  Instead, I went with a striped OCBD (which is the most “casual” of dress shirts), woven wool tie, and linen trousers to complete a summer sartorial look.  The bold blue (indigo?) of the chore coat was definitely going to be a factor so note that I used subdued colors to let it shine!

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You can definitely see the fraying of the threads, the wrinkled cotton, and the small tears in the pockets of the coat, but I think its an interesting look.  The sloppiness of the garment that is worn when painting or fixing machinery contrasts strongly with the other cleanly tailored  pieces, even if they aren’t normal worsteds or fine cottons.

I think it looks pretty cool, but I could definitely see chinos working well here instead of the white linen pants. In creating the outfit, I went for a normal spring tailored look with a chore coat instead of a sportsjacket.  It may have been a better choice to approach it with a workwear-meets-tailoring type of vibe.  Perhaps even ditching the tie or adding a cotton crewneck to add some more interest could have made the outfit work even better! If you have your own thoughts, let me know by commenting!

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I still enjoyed this “smart” outfit and it worked well when I wore it to work!  I can’t stress how comfortable it was. I haven’t worn it with tailoring since (I love the look with jeans), but I may explore the workwear-meets-tailoring aspect in the future.  Be sure to follow my instagram if that ever happens, since I’m not sure it will warrant another blog post!

Vintage Chore Coat, OCBD from Brooks Brothers, 1940’s Wool Tie (eBay), Linen Trousers from Banana Republic, Tassel Loafers from Allen Edmonds (eBay)

Surprise! It’s Spencer

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Yes, Spencer is wearing a vintage chorecoat!  Didn’t really expect for them all to look the same did you? It definitely looks like a normal cotton sportcoat, but like with all things vintage, it’s the details that matter.  Even though it is a chorecoat, he wears it like a normal sartorial garment, with a striped spearpoint shirt (sans neck tie) and linen trousers.  It’s in the same vein as my outfit, but I think Spencer pulls it off better. The lack of a tie firmly makes this outfit casual and the general earth tones isn’t as in-your-face as my indigo.

If you’re wondering, he also got this at Inspiration LA!  It was $150, as the dealer knew exactly what he was selling (and how rare it was) but I think it’s worth it.  Hell, you can hardly find a great cotton, unstructured jacket for anything less than $200 at the mall!

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Don’t let the slim lapels fool you; this jacket is definitely from the 1920s-1940s.  Note the large patch pockets, especially the size of the breast pocket.  No regular sportcoat would have a patch pocket that large.  Lastly, look at the button placement. The bottom button is higher than the pocket line, which may mean that this is meant to be have all buttons fastened like a Paddock Suit.  The top button is really high and can look a little odd when it’s the only one fastened.  All of these details point to a myriad of different eras, and unfortunately, we are unable to accurately date it.  Some people have said 1920s while others have said it is post 1930s.  The lack of any sort of labeling doesn’t help; we have even heard that this could be a homemade chore coat.

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I know it can take a little getting used to, but chore/work coats that were cut like sportcoats or suit jackets is still common. Just look at doctor’s coats from the 1930’s!  Those coats were made for a different purpose, but the designs were largely similar.

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Shanked mother of pearl buttons. Super cool and only on vintage.

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The secrets to a comfortable jacket: no structure and no lining.  You’ll notice the vent in the image above.  Most 1920s-1940s jackets did not have vents of any kind in order to increase waist suppression and maintain a slim figure throughout the body of the jacket. However work jackets like this one, tweed shooting jackets, and jockey uniforms all were single or double vented in order to have mobility and comfort; some even had action backs!

1920’s Chore Coat, Custom Spearpoint Shirt from Natty Shirts, Linen trousers from RRL (eBay), Johnston Murphy captoes 

Spencer definitely loves this chore coat and it’s become his go to jacket whenever he has to “dress up” without over doing it.   Even though he’s going tieless here, you could still wear one with it! You could be like me and go with wool to have a play on texture or you could do a linen or Palm Beach one.  I’d probably wear this jacket with high-rise selvedge denim. IMG_9018

Conclusion

Chore coats are super cool.  You can get them new by following the Put This On guide, but I think that vintage is much better.  I’ve felt new ones before and I personally think they’re too stiff to be comfortable; aged cotton or denim is extremely soft and adds some more character to your outfit!

While I do like workwear and frumpy artist style, I am much more intrigued by the use of something so sloppy and rugged with tailoring.  Since I like to be sloppy myself, it is a great piece for spring “outerwear” that definitely dresses down your sartorial outfit.  The contrast is pretty great, but I think it can definitely work well.  Plus you’ll stand out in the circles of #menswear, since most guys will prefer to wear their linen safari jackets.  Why not be different when going casually tailored for spring and summer?

Again, I will say that Spencer definitely outshone me in this article. That may be due to his use of earth tones (all whites, tans, and browns) and the fact that his chore coat looked like a sportcoat to begin with.  When you compare that one to my traditional garment, you’d agree that its cheating!  All jokes a side salad, I still liked my outfit despite the fact that it could have been done slightly better. I’m definitely going to get a lot more use out of this chore coat, whether its going back to its roots (that artist inspired look is one of my spring favorites by the way) or using it with my tailored pieces.

Let me know what you think about the comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the chore coat.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan W.

Street x Sprezza

Photography by Ethan W. and Spencer O. 

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