The donkey jacket is derived from the wool sack coat worn by workers in the 19th century, and the Oxford English Dictionary references the term as first used in 1929: "one with leather shoulders and back". There is often a plastic panel covering the shoulder-blade areas. This panel can be plain black or grey, or fluorescent orange or yellow for conspicuousness and for night use. When used as a work jacket, it sometimes bears the name of the company which supplies the jacket, or the name of the company for which the wearer works. The jacket usually has two spacious hip pockets, and occasionally an inside 'poacher's pocket'.
The donkey jacket is regarded as typical of the British manual worker, and for trade unionists and those on the political left. It is also favoured by traditionalist skinheads. Former British Labour Party leader Michael Foot was criticised for supposedly wearing a donkey jacket at a Remembrance Day wreath laying ceremony, and he was shown wearing one on several covers of the satirical magazine Private Eye; it was in actuality a "very expensive short overcoat" chosen by his wife.