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Words Ben Perdue

An exploration into the symbolism of outerwear

From duffels to bombers, coats and jackets have always been the cornerstones of subculture uniform. But they need to be about now, not then. There has to be more to exploring the classics than nostalgia and reminiscing about the past. Just like their soundtracks, what keeps these movements relevant today is an ability to adapt and appeal to new generations. Having the power to evolve, while their symbolism remains the same, is how the outerwear that defines them lives on.

Practicality is the theme that ties these iconic shapes together, reflecting the demands of their natural habitats. Pieces chosen on functional as much as aesthetic grounds. Quilted, nylon-shelled MA-1s for the cold damp warehouses reoccupied by acid house in mid-80s Britain. Compact packable cagoules for the cramped conditions of 70s football terraces. Breathable waterproof walking gear for the wet Manchester backdrop to 90s baggy. Smart coats and jackets that remained on indoors at the pubs, clubs and parties where young men from these scenes came together.

Outerwear might be the big-ticket item in any outfit, but there are more important reasons not to leave your jacket on the back of a chair, or that pile in the corner.

Subcultures are built around identity, with wardrobes designed to signpost where your loyalties lie.

“Culturally and historically outerwear garments have been the key notifiers of status, wealth and affiliation - from knights’ livery and military dress jackets, to Savile Row tailoring,” explains legendary stylist Simon Foxton, whose work at i-D magazine in the 80s first championed the looks worn by ordinary lads. “Their role in subcultures is a continuation of that code, albeit subverted and in a more condensed and extreme form.

“They’re a public manifestation of personal beliefs and ideas such as rebellion, fraternity, exclusivity and even sexuality,” he continues. “These outerwear garments become a calling card and help attract like-minded souls.”

Important sources of security and confidence, with an armour-like appeal rooted in both masculine attitude and the protective details unique to their design.

In the same way that Foxton overlapped sportswear with tailoring and workwear to mirror what men really wore on the street, a hybrid approach is what keeps Fred Perry outerwear authentic but contemporary. Short parka-like styles in safety orange or khaki, referencing Mod’s military influences, are updated with lightweight technical fabrics. Heritage elements overwritten to resonate with how our expectations are evolving. Simplified drawcords and pockets that improve on the originals, as part of the bigger reinterpretation process. Elevated classics designed to inspire their own stories.

“I had a bright red cotton drill jacket covered in zips from BOY on the Kings Road that I bought in 1978, when I was a punk. It was like nothing I’d seen before, and I loved it because no one back home in the North would have had anything like it,” says Foxton. “God knows what happened to it. My mum probably threw it out when I left for college in ‘79!”