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What is the Difference Between a Jacket and a Coat?

What is the Difference Between a Jacket and a Coat?

Purse/handbag, shirt/blouse, sweater/sweatshirt, pantyhose/stockings, pants/trousers, and jacket/coat; these are terms that are now used interchangeably but actually have very different meanings.  Over time, the original meanings of words often become lost or forgotten, and with ever changing clothing terms, it can be particularly confusing!

Auguste Toulmouche Love Letter Zouave Jacket

Zouave Jacket - Auguste Toulmouche "The Love Letter" 1863

In the 21st century, you don't hear people say "Has anyone seen my frock coat?" or "Please hand me my zouave jacket!" The names of outerwear have changed drastically over the years and we now use umbrella terms to describe just about all outerwear.

History of women's jackets

Left: Piquant Jacket Top Right: Carrick Jacket Bottom Right: Theatre Jacket

 In some ways, when fashion reporters and editors used more specific terms to describe each type of garment, it was much easier to understand exactly what they were talking about. The words "coat" and "jacket" are so broad and so frequently subject to misinterpretation, that they can mean just about any piece of outerwear. In addition, back in the day when you only had a black and white newspaper describing the latest fashion trends, highly descriptive language was essential to inspire your imagination! 

Redingote and Spencer Jackets Fashion History
Left: Redingote 1787 (MET) Right: Spencer Jacket 1810
The word jacket originated from the French word jaquette. That term comes from the noun jaquet, which refers to a small or lightweight tunic. The Merriam Webster dictionary describes a jacket as;  garment for the upper body usually having a front opening, collar, lapels, sleeves, and pockets.
1939 Vintage Lumber Jacket
1939 "Lumber Jacket"
1930s silk bed jacket
Even though today you would probably never call any piece of your lingerie a jacket, in the early to mid 20th century, women wore "bed jackets." These were short, often silk or rayon pieces which were made to assure modesty when you were receiving visitors while in bed wearing your nightgown.
1950's Bolero Jacket History
1950's Bolero Jacket
Jackets like the bomber jacket, blazer and bolero jacket are reinvented year after in fashion. They are often very similar to their historical counterparts with just a few modern tweaks.
1980s Leather Flight Jacket Advertisement
1980's Flight Jacket Advertisement
There isn't enough room in one blog to talk about every single jacket style that has ever been made, but they really are one of the most important parts of any wardrobe. I always say that nothing transforms an outfit more dramatically than a jacket. They are the most powerful pieces of clothing you can add to your closet and one of the most versatile in terms of investment!
Vintage Railway Jacket
Vintage Railroad Jacket
Since women didn't wear what we consider coats today for many centuries, designers mostly drew inspiration from men's fashion when they started designing coats for women. Trench coats, Carrick coats, chesterfield coats, waistcoats and even the raglan sleeves on coats came from menswear. When British Marshal Raglan lost his upper limb during a battle, he asked someone to design a unique outer garment that would work for him. And.. voila - the raglan sleeve was born!
1913 Cocoon coat advertisement
Womens Coat Styles
Left: 1825 Pelisse Coat (MET) Right: 1940's Vera Maxwell Frock coat from the Modig Archives
1910s Cocoon Coat Advertisement
The 1910's "Cocoon Coat" became one of the styles most associated with the "King of Fashion," designer Paul Poirot. Poirot dominated the fashion world in the early 20th century with his (very radical at the time), simple silhouette for the modern woman. The cocoon wrap was made as both a coat and a dress and has been copied countless times throughout the years.
1906 Car Coat1906 Car Coat

As you browse through fashion images of jackets and coats from the past, you can recognize the many details that have inspired modern 21st century designers. Jean Paul Gaultier, Alberta Ferretti, Valentino, Erdem, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Rodarte are just a handful of fashion designers who were inspired by historical fashion. Some of my all time favorite jackets have a very strong connection to fashion history.

Thierry Mugler Vintage Princess Coat

Thierry Mugler Princess Coat from the Modig Archives

So what makes a coat different from a jacket? Well, generally, it's the length and the weight of the fabric. If you would only wear it outside and it is longer than your hips, I call it a coat. That doesn't mean you can't wear some coats inside, like silk evening coats, but if you would only wear a longer outerwear garment outside, it is a coat. Jackets are shorter, usually hitting above your hips and they can be worn inside and/or outside. Over the next few weeks, will be exploring the types of jackets and sharing the names of some of our favorite jacket designers!

So now you know the difference between jackets and coats -maybe we can all spread the word..

Stay warm and Have a Happy New Year!


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