Too Cool for School: Patterns for The Varsity Jacket and Duffle Coat

Recently the New York Times featured some new designer takes on an American classic style, known as the bomber jacket or varsity jacket. Here’s Elletra Weidemann sporting what the Times calls a “statement piece” (no kidding–look at all of that beading) by Giambattista Valli, with jackets by other designers such as Alexander Wang and Phillip Lim:

Elletra WeidemannNY Times Style Article

Talk about someone who’s hit the genetic lottery; her mother is Isabella Rossellini and her grandmother is Ingrid Bergman. (Love her short bob.)

Suddenly I’m seeing these jacket everywhere. At J. Crew (an American mall brand) I saw what looked like a sweatshirt-meets neoprene version, and then later I had to restrain myself from ordering this silk crepe de chine homage from the UK’s Pure Collection:

Silk jacketSilk Jacket

If you’re a certain age in the U.S., you’ll remember when this jacket was a “varsity jacket” with a wool body and leather sleeves, and ribbing on the cuffs and hem. When you borrowed your boyfriend’s jacket in high school, the oversized fit made a statement that you and the guy were a couple. They were warm, comfy and cute.

Here’s a picture from the 40s:


I cadged that picture from this blog full of Made in America stuff: (Check out the nice leather goods in this blog)

In the 80s this style morphed into a “tour jacket” which was the hot thing you got to wear if you were working on a rock and roll tour.

Michael_Jackson_Smooth_Criminal_Roadie_Tour_Jacket(If you’re really into Michael Jackson collectibles…)

The logo of the artist would be embroidered on the back, and if you were really cool, your name would be embroidered on the front, a kitch-y reference to 50s bowling team shirts. After awhile, this style moved from rock tours to TV crews, and then everybody had them.

Here’s an Oscars jacket in my personal collection, from more than 20 years ago:


As to how I got it, well, as the old Rodgers and Hart song says, “if they asked me, I could write a book…”

Now that I’ve recovered from thumb tendonitis from hand-stitching Chanel jacket #4, I’m thinking that this kind of jacket might be a nice change of pace.

To make one, I’m looking at the recently released pattern created by Kathleen Fasanella, whose popular blog, Fashion Incubator, has a wealth of deep and broad information for the fledgling designer and serious home-sewing nut. Her book, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing has gotten great reviews on Amazon. (Kathleen Fasanella’s Book)

This jacket pattern may look simple in the prototype, yet her instructions and construction photos are a whopping 59 pages long. Though sized for men, the pattern could be used by a woman as the base for making an oversized designer-inspired version.

Bomber jacket patternBomber Jacket Pattern link

Here’s another classic design many of us grew up with: the duffle coat. In one of the earliest examples of dressing “vintage,” the Beat Generation writers and artists embraced this style, getting the coats from the Army/Navy surplus.


In a recent post from the Vintage Traveler, I saw that one element of the Canadian Olympic uniform is the duffle, designed by the Hudson Bay company:


And the upscale skiwear manufacturer Bogner came up with this rockin’ version for the Germans: Sochi-2014-Uniforms-Germany

You would never get lost in a white-out skiing in that thing.

Somehow in the past 50 years in the US, duffle coats have become preppy, and now preppy has become a parody of itself (thanks a lot Ralph Lauren and you “Official Preppy Handbook” people…(Review of the book “True Prep” by Lisa Birnbach and Chip Kidd), but the duffle coat remains cool. Hipster cool.

Here’s a couple of modern hipsters, Bob and Betty Walden, wandering about what appears to be the woods outside of “Portlandia,” modeling coats from Colette Patterns’ new “Walden” line.


(The last time I drove by the turn-off to the real Walden Pond, outside of Boston, it was near a mini-mart and state prison.) Here’s a link to the original hipster/hippy go-back-to-the-land-and-gaze-at-your-navel book, Thoreau’s Walden: (Or Life in the Woods) If you like it, let me know. As a college freshman during the disco era, I read the Cliff Notes for American Lit because I was far too busy to get through it.

Kidding aside, this duffle coat pattern looks authentic and well-drafted. (Albion Duffle Coat Pattern)

The line also has a pattern for three vintage-style satchel/backpack-type bags that I’ve been coveting:

Cooper Bag Pattern(Cooper Bag Pattern)

You can also buy an in-depth construction guide for this pattern, with more than 400 photos, so this would be a good project for a beginner. Gentlemen, start your sewing machine engines.

As for the rest of you kids, I’ll meet you in the woods after school for a ciggie.

10 thoughts on “Too Cool for School: Patterns for The Varsity Jacket and Duffle Coat

  1. Thanks for the mention! I did want to mention that my pattern is also available in tall sizes. Likewise, one can purchase the instructions separately from the pattern. This way you can see if you want to invest in the pattern. Last but not least, mine is a production quality pattern which can be used without royalties.

  2. Love that men’s bomber jacket pattern much more than some of the other patterns available (because of the high collar). Would need to size it down but I have been coveting this wool bomber-esque I saw from Anthropologie a few months and this would be a great place to start!

  3. I enjoy your blog, Julie! Just saw a very lightweight bomber jacket in Mango that’s -reversible-! Multicolor paisley on one side, solid olive green on the other. Besom pockets on both sides, knit collar, cuffs & bottom band, and a special zipper with a pull tab that flips to either side. Despite the fact that it was made of polyester (not really my favorite) and from a chain store (labor/mass-consumption issues trouble me), I almost bought it. The dealbreaker was that the band hit my butt at a weird place. I’d rather make one that’s just right, provided I can find that special zipper. Anyway…reversible! It was brilliant.

    • Hi Stephanie, thanks for dropping by! I think the reversible design is a great idea, though I share your feelings about polyester and chain stores. There are a number of places to find zippers online if you can’t get one locally. I’ve seen bomber jackets at Club Monaco and several other stores, so it’s in the air. How about washed silk instead of polyester?

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