It’s tempting to play it safe when choosing a new coat. Black goes with everything, navy is classic, grey always looks smart. But in this day and age, is that the best we can do?
There’s a whole spectrum of colour out there, from pastel to primary, but unless you’re reading this from the school playground, such options aren’t always appropriate for everyday life.
Fortunately, we think we’ve figured out the solution: a shade that’s neutral but not monotonous, time-honoured but fresher than a pair of ice-white Yeezys (and comes with the Kanye stamp of approval). We’re talking about camel coats.
There are no points on offer for guessing that the first camel coats were made from actual camel hair. Prized for being both warm and lightweight, camel hair was seen as a plentiful alternative to wool, which itself was in short supply following the First World War.
Heritage brand Jaeger was the first to bring camel hair coats to Britain in 1919. And when war struck again 20 years later, they became a national uniform under the government-mandated utility clothing scheme.
When fabric restrictions were lifted, many manufacturers went back to using wool and cashmere, though the camel moniker stuck around as a catch-all for any coat in a colour that fell between beige and brown, including other post-war favourites such as the peacoat and duffle.
The classic camel coat is a long, swishy overcoat with sharp lapels and a single- or double-breasted button closure. They’re usually cut from a warm, weighty fabric such as wool, making them ideal for autumn/winter, but not so great for the warmer months. Honey-coloured trench coats and macs in showerproof cotton are solid spring and summer alternatives.
Naval-inspired peacoats and thigh-skimming duffles are strong options for men of a shorter stature (or those who just don’t fancy the full, flapping regalia of a long camel coat). For days which don’t call for something quite as heavy, there are camel-coloured parkas and lightweight car coats that act as a fuss-free top layer.
When is a camel coat not a camel coat? When it’s a camel jacket. If you don’t want to wait until the mercury drops below freezing, there are cropped suede jackets, zip-up blousons and shirt jackets, all of which may not fit the original brief of an insulating camel coat, but are great for transitional layering.
A camel coat is ideal for brightening up a formal occasion, adding extra panache without overdoing it.
“The colour is incredibly versatile and looks particularly great over a grey flannel or Prince of Wales check,” says Kenny Ho, a stylist who has dressed the likes of Luke Evans and Russell Tovey. “You can’t beat a timeless, single-breasted, knee-length style, though a double-breasted coat provides more room for layering.”
Keep the rest of your outfit simple, swapping your shirt for a slim roll neck and your regular Oxfords for smart leather or suede boots.
Tonal dressing is a quick and easy way to make yourself look like you know what you’re doing style-wise, even if phrases like “tonal dressing” make you want to gag.
“A camel coat layered with an outfit in the same colour makes such a strong statement,” says MatchesFashion.com head of menswear Damien Paul.
The key to pulling it off without looking like the Honey Monster is to mix your camel coat with shades of beige, brown and white, maintaining a clear distinction between your top and bottom halves. Add interesting textures like cable knit or fleece, using black or white shoes to break things up.
Long gone are the days when camel meant camel hair. Now, stores are full of upmarket alternatives rendered in cashmere, sheepskin and, perhaps the most seductive of all, buttery soft suede. Done right, a camel-coloured suede jacket gives off the best kind of seventies vibes – think Steve McQueen, only with a Fiat 500 instead of a motorbike.
To bring your suede up to date, wear it with contrasting neutral shades, modern, slim fits and gleaming white sneakers.
“The colour can be easily teamed with so many wardrobe favourites, and in particular compliments greys, navies and black,” says Paul.
The trench coat is that friend you can go years without seeing, but can always be called on to get you out of a sticky situation. Waterproof but breathable, classic but modern, it goes with everything from a three-piece suit to sweats and sneakers.
“With its warm colour, a camel trench works well as a transitional item during the spell between summer and autumn, before the cold, wet winter season,” says Ho. “Look for a true camel, with a buttery undertone, rather than a yellowish beige.”
For laid-back weekend outings, throw one over a denim shirt worn with a pair of slim-fitting black jeans.
Reiss has dominated the upper end of the high street since most menswear fans can remember, cornering the market in smart separates, immaculate tailoring and well-cut overcoats. It’s single- and double-breasted wool coats are undeniable classics, though it also does a pretty mean line in leather and suede jackets.