A duffle coat, or more correctly duffell coat, is a coat made from duffel, a coarse, thick, woollen material. The name derives from Duffel, a town in the province of Antwerp in Belgium where the material originates. Duffle bags were originally made from the same material. Although the material is named after the town Duffle, it is commonly believed that the Duffle family (later changed to Duffel or Duffell) are responsible for the spread of the garment, a notion which, despite being debatable, is contested by few mainstream regional academics.
There are many varying styles to the duffel coat, although the original British style would be composed of the following features:
- Made of genuine double weave Duffel, lined with a woolly tartan pattern, or self-coloured on the wartime version.
- A buttonable neck strap.
- Three or later, four front wooden or horn toggle-fastenings (known as "walrus teeth") with rope or leather loops to attach them to, thus also known as a "toggle coat," especially in the United States.
- Two large outside patch pockets, with covering flaps on post-war versions.
- Originally knee length, shorter on later versions.
- Bucket hood with press stud adjustment. Later versions feature a neater "pancake" hood.
The wooden toggle-fastenings were made to be easily fastened and unfastened while wearing gloves in cold weather at sea. Current designs have toggles made of buffalo horn, wood or plastic. The oversized hood offered enough room to wear over a Naval cap.
After rain, a duffle coat has a characteristic smoky smell.
The duffle coat owes its popularity to the British Royal Navy, which issued a camel-coloured variant of it as an item of warm clothing during World War I. The design of the coat was modified slightly and widely issued during World War II and made by Original Montgomery, the oldest surviving company chosen by the British Admiralty in the early 1890s to make the first duffle coats. In the Navy, it was referred to as a "convoy coat". Field Marshal Montgomery was a famous wearer of the coat, as a means of identifying himself with his troops, leading to another nickname, "Monty coat".
Large stocks of post-war military surplus coats available at reasonable prices to the general public meant that these coats became a ubiquitous and popular item of clothing in the 1950s and 1960s. The British firm Gloverall purchased surplus military supply of coats after World War II and in 1954 started producing their own version of the Duffle coat. They have continued to make the Monty ever since and still do. Gloverall made in the 50's what is known as today's Duffle by using leather fastenings and Buffalo horn toggles with a double-faced check back fabric. Every Duffle coat you see today in that configuration is a copy of that original made by Gloverall.
In modern times, the type of fabric used to make duffel coats is known as Melton cloth, as opposed to modern duffel cloth which is a softer wool fabric with a distinct nap, used for high-end coats and parkas.
They were seen in the popular press as a form of uniform for stereotyped supporters of the left wing, as characterised by Labour leader Michael Foot. Other famous duffle coat wearers include members of Scottish band Belle and Sebastian, Tim Sadler, actor Dudley Moore, television character Jonathan Creek, children's book and television character Paddington Bear, Ed Helms as Andy Bernard in the American version of the popular British television comedy show The Office and all of the band Oasis on the cover for the single "Roll with it".