A duffel coat is both classic and practical. Manufactured from coarse, thick wool, these coats were at first made from the same material as duffel bags. Aesthetically appealing to both trendy and classic tastes, duffel coats are easily recognizable due to their characteristic features — notably the hood and toggles. With a history dating back to the late 19th century, the popularity of the duffel coat has lasted well over a hundred years. Still trendy in the 21st century, duffel coats are now made from a variety of materials and patterns.
The term duffel originates from the Belgian town of the same name. It was in Duffel, Belgium, where the woolen fabric was first made. When duffel bags became a success due to their brawny construction, the idea to make a coat out of the same material was born. Today, however, the term “duffel bag” generally refers to a type of bag — one with a drawstring — rather than the actual material of the bag.
A khaki-colored duffel coat was worn in World War I by members of the British Royal Navy. It wasn’t until World War II, however, that this coat became a standard for the Navy and soon after, the general public. It was popular due to its roomy interior and the hood's unique width, which allowed it to fit over the standard navy cap. Toggles were used instead of buttons so the coat could be easily buttoned or unbuttoned while wearing thick gloves.
Originally intended to fit over another coat, the duffel coat is known for its roominess and warmth. Today, duffel coats are typically worn alone over clothing without an additional jacket. Lined and insulated with additional fabric, the duffel coat is still a warm winter coat. A duffel down coat provides extra warmth, due to the extra downy material.
A women’s duffel coat is similar to a man’s, though it’s generally made to fit closer to the body. Shapes and styles differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, but a woman’s coat often hugs her curves, offering additional snugness. Some manufacturers still make unisex duffel coats.
Although internationally fashionable, the duffel coat is perhaps most popular in Europe. A staple in many British men’s wardrobes, this coat has several characteristic features. A traditional duffel wool usually has a checkered pattern, a large hood with a buttoned neck strap, four wooden or bone toggles and two large pockets. It's typically hemmed to a length that hits just above the knee.