We are all unique, ya? We are special; we are singular, we are merrily unlike anyone else. But I was walking through North London the other day and crossed paths with a man in the exact same outfit. It was my own fault - you simply cannot walk around N16 in Blundstone boots, faded blue denim and a Carhartt overshirt and not expect to see yourself repeated hundreds, maybe thousands of times. But still, it was a bitter pill. Our eyes met; twin prides dented by the realisation that we didn’t choose our outfits, society did. Slave drones in the workwear fetish matrix. Tears in the rain.
The Blundstones are fairly specific to North-East London, worn by designers with allotments, their toddlers, inauthentic thirty-somethings (me) and fashion-goths alike, but the overshirt is universal. Wherever you go in the country, you will find men in button-fronted, pocketed overshirts going about their business. Is there a garment that better encompasses menswear right now? A piece of clothing more collectively approved?
You can find them at every price point and aesthetic, so it’s more than a trend. The chore jacket is almost a pre-requisite to getting dressed.
Why? Why that kind of jacket? Why not a Harrington? It offers the same amount of warmth. Why not a denim jacket? It has similar blue-collar undertones. Why not the bomber? Men like Formula One, HIIT and Guy Ritchie dialogue, surely they like bomber jackets, too?
I can actually remember where the trend started. In the mid-2010s, you weren’t anyone unless you had a mid-blue French “painters’ jacket”. This was when the plaid, whisky-soaked machismo of the Lumbersexual was fading, and they represented a more intellectual, erudite variation on the theme. Same allusions of handicraft, less beard oil. There were whole stalls on Hackney’s Broadway Market dedicated to the French painter's jacket, and they sold like hot
Beyond what they said about you – that you had a Dachshund and preferred cold brew, actually - they were easy to wear and stylistically malleable. You could put an overshirt atop a button-down and tie and look like a preppy menswear guy, or over a chunky knit and look like a fisherman. They added a welcome layer of texture underneath a proper coat, and they had enough pockets for all your stuff, but not so many that you looked like you might have an Armageddon bunker in Norfolk.
Years later, those virtues maintain, but the authenticity of the overshirt has been weakened by its ubiquity. You can buy one at Primark, at Loro Piana, and everywhere in between. The various brands of the H&M group are each pitched at very specific demographics, but they all offer an overshirt of some kind. In fact, both Weekday and Arket have entire sections of the websites dedicated to overshirts. And then there are the likes of Uskees and Paynter, which produce only overshirts. (Based out of Hackney, the latter is pictured above, and makes limited “batches” which sell out in minutes when released, just four times a year.) And then of course there’s Carhartt, the Magic Radio of workwear. The Harry Kane of simple jackets.
“I sat in the park the other day for, I think, three hours, just on a bench, people watching,” remembers Luke Walker, founder of fine shirt brand LEJ, “and it was amazing how many people were wearing two-pocket overshirts, untucked, over knitwear, under a gilet… The great thing is that it’s ‘masculine’. They’re designed to do work in, they’re tough, so it’s ‘easier’ to pull off. But I see everybody wearing them.”
Walker hits the nail on the head, I think. The chore jacket/overshirt/shacket, whatever you want to call it, is suitably ‘manly’ without conveying any specific tropes of masculinity. It isn’t army surplus; it isn’t a trench coat, or a leather biker jacket, but it is kind of burly. You can imagine Keir Starmer’s advisors presenting him with a rail of overshirts before an afternoon speech at Bestival. The chore coat doesn’t say anything, it is just: “yes”.
But I think we need the overshirt even more now than we did a decade ago. Sartorial home-bases (not to be confused with sartorial Homebase) are integral to menswear and the nature of getting dressed in general, otherwise we’d be lost in a hellscape of choice. A white Common Projects Achilles on one foot, a Margiela Tabi mule on the other. We are forever navigating new, tenuous trends, but trends can only exist as an alternative to the classics, I think - there'd be no need for Camden Hells without Stella Artois - And overshirts have made the transition from one to the other. A Jamie Vardy story of success. From a trend to a stalwart, a stalwart to a classic, a classic to a legend. And, yeah... wow.
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