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The Bespoke Loden Coat
First, a bit about Loden. There’s the fabric, and then there’s the coat. The fabric - usually dark hunter green, but sometimes in other colors as well - is first loosely woven together from the coarse wool of mountain sheep before being put through a lengthy wet finishing process. This shrinks it by a third so that it becomes something like dense felt. It’s then brushed and sheared, a process that’s repeated up to twenty times until it achieves the desired surface nap. The result is a marvelous cloth that’s dense enough to keep out the rain, snow, and wind, while still maintaining a beautiful, almost hairy, look.
Then, we have the Loden coat, which of course is made from Loden cloth. The coat is meant to be worn like a duffle – unfitted through the body and reaching just below the knees. Its back is made with a deep center vent that swings out from the shoulder blades; and its front has a fly opening so that the buttons are not exposed to the underbrush. It’s typically worn by Austrian shepherds, farmers, and hunters in the mountainous area of Tyrol, from where it originates.
As one writer put it in a 1956 article of Sports Illustrated, “Loden is to the Bavarian what tweed is to the Scot – a fabric so long indigenous to its land, of such peasant origins that it has become almost a folk cloth.” Indeed, Bavarian peasants originally designed the cloth sometime in the 11th century so that they could be protected from the their region’s blustery winters. In the mid-20th century, however, its heritage made it popular throughout metropolitan cities in Western Europe and the United States, with men and women rushing to wrap themselves in the fabric’s soft folds. In the 1980s, The New York Times wrote of it: “the coats were really a kind of caste mark, roughly definable as European preppy, that seemed to go automatically with cuff buttons left open on a bespoke sport coat, or a promising job at the Morgan Guaranty branch on the Place Vendrome.” The fabric became so popular at one point that manufacturers in France and Italy started coloring their regular wool coats “Loden green,” but of course, these didn’t keep out the rain and cold in the same way.