CULT ITEM: SHEARLING COAT
By Will Morley, 3 November 2016
When big hitters like Bottega Veneta, Coach and Dolce & Gabbana are all pushing a singular type of garment, you can pretty much count on that item becoming ‘a thing’. Enter this winter’s hottest (and certainly warmest) item, the shearling jacket.
But what exactly is shearling? In simple terms, it's sheepskin that’s been tanned (treated to make leather), but with the wool left on. If that makes you feel squeamish, never fear – synthetic options are available. In the US, shearling calls to mind cowboys, but in the UK it’s been more associated with wheeler-dealers and dodgy 70s con men. Which is a shame because, done right, a touch of shearling is a sure thing.
If you were a cowboy on a cross-country cattle drive in the 1800s, you needed a hard-wearing, practical and comfortable jacket – one that would most likely double for a quilt at night, so a longer-length shearling coat was ideal. It was soft on the skin, but also able to defend against the elements and cactus spines. We’re pretty sure Ralph Lauren here wouldn’t be doing too much graft in his Western-inspired outfit, but the layering of the shearling over his denim jacket, flannel shirt and white jeans is working so hard he doesn’t have to.
Zayn shows just how easy it is to look good in sheepskin, keeping it simple with a white graphic tee, black hoodie and skinny black jeans. The smaller lapel and boxy denim construction are modern upgrades from the huge-collared World War II-era jackets designed for the RAF by Leslie Irvin. Irvin’s were always constructed of the most supple sheepskin he could source, to enable maneuverability in an already-cramped cockpit. Zayn’s street-ready take reimagines the coat for mooching moodily – but cosily – through LAX.
The 70s were a peak period for shearling fans. Everyone from Hollywood stars like Steve McQueen and Robert Redford to singers like Bob Dylan – and even just your standard flower power hippie – would rock one. The era saw sleeveless gilet-type jackets come into vogue and even standard overcoats were given a boxier cut, but these wouldn’t really fit the slimmer silhouettes we prefer now. Harry Styles gets it right with a tighter cut to his jacket, mixing up his eras with a cool 90s-style Calvin Klein sweatshirt and some 70s-flavoured tortoiseshell sunnies.
A jacket doesn’t always have to be completely lined in shearling – sometimes it works just around the collar, to add a little extra protection from the chill. Jeremy Piven dresses down his G-1-inspired biker jacket with loose-fitting blue joggers. The untouchable combo of blue with brown even works here with this über-relaxed look finished off with matching tan hat and boots.
While the classic shearling jacket is usually presented in neutral, earthy browns and light blues, the more modern take is to add a splash of bolder colour. David Beckham looks super slick in his indigo-wash denim jacket with shearling collar. An all-black base layer lets his borg collar do the talking, while a baker boy hat and tan desert boots are dapper touches that elevate the look beyond the rough and tumble image of the classic shearling.