Flowers are blooming, St. Patrick’s Day is over, and that still-hidden Easter egg is starting to smell. All over the Northern Hemisphere, spring has sprung!
The transition between Winter and Summer is defined by many things: snowmelt, pastel colors, and above all else, irrational weather patterns. Dressing for spring is a delicate act that’s both fun and frustrating. On the positive, once-covered skin gets its first Vitamin D in months! On the negative, wide daily temperature ranges and unpredictable weather means a seemingly-contradictory set of wardrobe traits.
The right spring dress is light, breathable, and ideally bright; however, it must also be weather-proof and versatile. After all, that seersucker shirt won't do much to keep you dry when clouds gather. As for stretching your cold-weather garments, I’d seriously think twice before you don a down parka in May. Asking double-duty from your winter coat will leave you schvitzing on a 60-degree afternoon, or one step from goth ninja when it’s 40 and foggy.
Picking the right spring jacket, then, is as much features comparison as it is a personal style choice. Over the next few lines, I’ll walk you through 12 popular jacket archetypes all suited for longer days and sunny afternoons. Each is lightweight and offers varying degrees of weather protection, from “partly cloudy” to “hydrophobic.” Simply read about each, consider your budget, then select the jacket that best fits your needs. Outerwear ahoy.
In the modern era, “anorak” refers to a lightweight, hooded pullover jacket typically associated with nautical pursuits. Most anorak jackets are made of cotton-nylon blends, then treated with a DWR (“durable water repellent” – think RainX for your jacket) coating to resist weather. This fabric/coating combination will keep you dry during pop-up drizzles, but will quickly “wet out” (or become saturated) in anything longer than 30 minute exposures. I probably wouldn’t pack an anorak for your trip to the Amazon.
As a fashion piece, however, anoraks are second to none. Pullovers provide a visually-interesting silhouette with the added benefit of simpler chest lines than a full-zip alternative. Fjallraven’s High Coast Wind Anorak (above) is my favorite in the segment for its sleek lines and minimal detailing. However, all that sleekness does come with a cost. The traditional pullover anorak sacrifices exterior features for packability. My LL Bean Maritime Anorak, for example, has but three pockets, of which exactly zero are easily-accessible. That being said, it looks phenomenal - which makes it even more tragic that it was discontinued like last year come on L.L Bean take my money.
Light Technical Jacket
While anoraks may have been designed for wet climates, these are the first proper rain jackets on our list. “Light technical jackets”, as I’ll refer to them, are defined by a simple formula: nylon exterior fabric, DWR coating, and a 2.5L polyurethane laminate inside to resist whatever water gets through the outside. Whereas the cotton-nylon jackets on this list are potentially compromised by an afternoon shower, light technical jackets are designed for rain exposure. Patagonia’s Torrentshell, for example, will take a full 30-45 minutes of concentrated rain before saturation. Unless you’ve got a reason to be outside and the motivation to stay there, light technical jackets will be more than enough weatherproofing for your daily use.
All this technology doesn’t look half bad, either. Gone are the days of the oversized yellow slicker: modern light tech jackets are trim, athletic, and generally minimal. Streetwear forums gravitate to The North Face’s Venture jacket for its flat front and high-contrast (but unobtrusive) branding. If you have the budget, get the DYNE Life Runner Jacket (above). It was designed by Christopher Bevans, an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, and is as close to “art meets science” as a light jacket will ever get. You can probably tell that I want one.
GORE-TEX Hardshells are the Ford Raptor of outerwear: you may never test the full extent of its abilities, and yes, that Honda Fit would’ve been lighter on your wallet… but god damn is this thing fun to own. GORE-TEX is the brand name for a family of textiles imbued with waterproof membranes that are distributed by W.L. Gore & Associates, widely considered the most influential textile innovator of the twentieth century. A GORE-TEX membrane works by exploiting the pressure gradient between you and the inside of your jacket. On the outside of the jacket, a tightly-knit face fabric backed by a PTFE membrane (think 8 billion micropores per square-inch) prevents water from entering. On the inside, the pressure difference between your body’s sweaty microclimate and the outside world pulls your sweat towards – and almost through - the microporous membrane. However, because your sweat droplets are larger than the membrane openings, your sweat is literally vaporized as it’s pulled through the micropores. Science, bitch!
Modern GORE-TEX hardshells look more like body armor than outerwear. While the style isn’t for everyone, GORE-TEX jackets are at home in streetwear, techwear, and even some Americana/outdoors-influenced wardrobes. All that fashion and function does come with a price: GORE-TEX jackets typically start around $300, and climb exponentially from there. Fashion-focused shells from brands like ACRONYM, nanamica, and White Mountaineering can easily hit 4 figures.
Worth noting: the best hardshells in the world are made by Vancouver, BC-based Arc’teryx, the outdoors innovator responsible for the look and fabric behind 99% of the world’s modern technical gear. Arc’teryx is the Blastoise to a light jacket’s Squirtle.
Decades ago, a 60/40 cotton-nylon utility jacket was the peak of mountaineering technology: wind and water-resistant fabrics, heavy duty zippers, and reinforced seams built for trekking. Just the name “Mountain Parka” brings to mind newsreel images of explorers on windswept peaks, conquering the heavens in the name of glory and empire. The traditional Mountain Parka is a zip-front, multi-pocket garment that’s equal parts anorak and military field jacket. In its day, both summit-chasers and weekend hikers alike owned one of these venerable – and functional – jackets.
In the present, Mountain Parkas have become a rugged style piece, due in no small part to their legendary pedigree. The Mountain Parka is the best fashion-meets-function garment on this list – modern iterations are windproof, lightweight, and remarkably handsome for their age. My current favorite is the Penfield Vassan in Navy pictured above: it’s the perfect complement to neutral chinos and leather boots, with all the tech you’d want without any over-the-top features. If I had to choose a single spring jacket, this would be it.
Retro Pile Fleece
Continuing with our celebration of the great outdoors, the Retro Pile Fleece represents all things warm and good about dressing for spring. The archetypal Retro Pile Fleece is made of polyester fleece and abrasion-resistant nylon paneling, designed to take a beating and smile through it. Polyester fleece is warm, breathable, and altogether durable – what’s more, it’s even eco-friendly. Most modern polyester fleece is made from recycled plastics, meaning your new favorite spring jacket helped save shorebirds from castaway soda bottles. That fuzzy feeling you got from saving the planet? A Retro Pile Fleece keeps you warm, inside and out.
It’s truly hard to go wrong with a fleece jacket. I own multiple, wear them often, and love the comfort and durability of a well-made piece. Some fleece jackets may be a little toasty for 55 degree Spring picnics, but there’s nothing stopping you from shedding a layer when you get warm. As for style selections, stick to the outdoors brands that made fleece famous. Old school-inspired options from Topo Designs (above), Penfield, and Patagonia round out the package, making the Retro Pile Fleece a solid choice for Main Street and mountain trails alike.
Backing away from more technical options, our first “fashion-oriented” entry on this list is the Mac Coat. Also known as the Macintosh Jacket after its inventor, Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh, the first version of this eponymous rain coat was produced in 1823. The traditional Mac Coat is a knee-length rain jacket made from laminated fabrics coated in liquid rubber. The result is chic, waterproof, and loooooong. If your winter coat can be described with the adjectives “parka” or “Expedition”, a Mac Coat will feel right at home.
I often recommend Mac Coats to my tall friends or those with office jobs. For all intents and purposes, it’s the functional equivalent of a “light topcoat”: Mac Coats retain the uninterrupted lines and tailored silhouette of a wool overcoat, without the heavy wool that would boil you during even the coldest March rain. The Mac Coat is right at home in Northeastern Prep/Trad wardrobes. Nearly every major fashion brand, from Gap to Land’s End to Banana Republic, produces a Mac Coat equivalent (similar styles go by the name of “Commuter Coat”, “Car Coat”, etc – just make sure you’re not buying one with winter insulation). For a particularly stylish take on the heritage design, check out the J. Crew Bonded Mac Jacket (above). It’s surprisingly technical, and handsome to boot.
A refined jacket for a more civilized age. Internet #menswear writing voice aside, blazers really aren’t bad outerwear. They’re warm for their weight; wool is naturally water-resistant; and they’re tailored to accentuate the male silhouette. It sounds clichéd, but blazers just look put-together. Most American traditional brands will produce an exceptionally elevated piece. Own more hoodies than button-ups? No problem. Thanks to modern trends towards fashion casualization, blazers are available in a wide variety of fabrics and fits – it’s not uncommon to see a cotton blazer worn casually, sometimes even paired with a tee and sneakers. In my opinion, it’s hard to beat the classic navy wool. When it’s time to dress up, a notch-lapel blazer says “I mean business, but casually.” Just don’t touch that bottom button.
Off-the-rack blazers are a difficult game. With 95% confidence, even the jacket that “fits” you in the store won’t actually fit you right. And with anything that leans towards business attire, getting it right becomes invaluable. So, if you have the time, I highly recommend Googling “alterations near me” and stopping into your neighborhood tailor before you go shopping. Get measured, shake their hand, and promise to come back in with the jacket that “fits” once you get back from the mall. For a small price, they’ll give you the best-looking jacket on the block (and make it actually fit right, too).
Since Levi Strauss invented the first “Triple Pleat Blouse” sometime in the 1880’s, the riveted indigo jacket has become the unofficial uniform of the frontier. Everyone from Nevada truckers to New York street gangs, Hell’s Angels to fashion designers have adopted the simple garment as a symbol of freedom, self-expression, and power. Punk rockers and auto mechanics don’t agree on much, but this piece of heritage outerwear is as close to universal as it gets. The Denim Jacket is as American as apple pie and counterculture. John Bender, eat your heart out.
Denim Jackets aren’t exactly technical. At its core, it’s simply cotton, metal, and then more cotton. In a world of GORE-TEX and coated nylon, it’s hard to argue that a denim jacket is anything but a fashion piece. That being said, what a piece.
In my opinion, denim jackets diverge into two distinct genres: workwear and streetwear. The former are heavy, bulky, and generally unadorned. This is where you’ll find names like Levi’s, Naked & Famous, and Double RL (above left). The latter are typically distressed, customized, and designed as statement pieces. Famous examples include jackets by Supreme, Visvim, and 424 on Fairfax (above right). Regardless of their expression, the two share a genealogy over 130 years old with one very common result: killer good looks for the Rebel in all of us.
Continuing on our series of “manly coats” is the most testosterone-fueled piece of them all: the Leather Jacket. It would’ve been impossible to write this whole section without the word “badass”, so here goes. Every movie, book, and cultural badass owns a leather jacket. If you too would like to be badass, invest in a leather jacket. As a monument to our evolutionary prowess as a species, wearing the skin of our food is forever entwined with being a badass. James Dean. Easy Rider. Arnold in T2. Wolverine. Fighter pilots. The Road Warrior himself. All badass.
Badassery aside, for the better part of human existence, leather jackets made a lot of sense. Leather is natural, durable, wind-resistant, and readily waterproofed. It’s warm, breathable, and even receptive to stitching. Ethical concerns aside, animal leather makes sense as material for outerwear. There are too many styles of leather jacket to list here, so instead, I’ll use this space and my recommendations to hopefully point you in the right direction. Many of the brands listed make multiple styles of leather jacket, so shop based on budget/use and make your aesthetic choice at the checkout screen.
The more I read, the more fascinated I am with what we take for granted. For instance, the “simple” M65 Field Jacket: this olive green, four pocket utility coat was designed to provide US soldiers with a versatile, durable, and camouflaged garment that would keep them safe in the jungles of Vietnam. The original M65 featured a roll-up hood, detachable inner liner, Velcro cuffs, and a full-front brass zipper, many of which were novel features for 1965. Compared to the heavy M51 “Fishtail” parka, the M65 was a paradigm shift. Today, it’s just a “Military Jacket.”
Well, it’s not just a military jacket. Thanks to years of milsurp purchases and fashion design interpretations, the M65 has joined the ranks of the Denim Jacket and Leather Jacket to become an archetypal “masculine” fashion piece. It’s easy to see why: a utility background, attractive features, and good looks in neutral colors make the Military Jacket a menswear go-to. Like the Mac Coat, nearly every label under the sun makes a military jacket, so buy based on budget and shop with confidence. While Alpha Industries makes the original (and still best on the market) M65 Jacket, I own an American Military Jacket (above) that is easily the highest dollar-per-wear jacket I’ve ever bought.
Coaches Jackets continue to perplex me. I just can’t find much real historical evidence to support their athletic pedigree. In futbol, the coaches wear suits; in football, sponsored sportswear; in baseball, team uniforms. Yet, the archetype of a “coaches jacket” now has an identity all its own. The typical coaches jacket consists of a 100% nylon or polyester shell, a cotton liner, drawstrings to fit, and a simple button-front closure. All in all, a deceivingly simple garment that technically offers wind and water resistance. On function alone, they’re nothing special.
Yet, it’s this simplicity that has turned the coaches jacket into a streetwear staple. That unadorned nylon exterior leaves plenty of room for graphics, applique, and all manner of logos – in essence, turning the coaches jacket into an artist’s canvas, the outerwear equivalent of a graphic tee. Nearly every streetwear label produces a coaches jacket with some combination of the following: their name, their logo, a simple center-back graphic, and a dark neutral color scheme. I personally like overstated printed jackets (ex. the SS14 Supreme x The North Face collaboration "Atlas" jackets), but think they take a specific wardrobe to execute well. If you own Vans Old-Skools and know Thrasher as a magazine (not a sweatshirt), a coaches jacket might just be your new favorite spring piece.
MA-1 Bomber Jacket
Last but not least: the simple spring jacket that's taken the fashion world by storm. The original MA-1 Flight Jacket (or “Bomber” jacket, as it’s commonly known) entered Air Force service in the 1950’s. At the time, high-density nylon was as cutting-edge as the automatic transmission: light, waterproof, and snag-resistant, the innovative material was a perfect match for high-altitude conditions. The US military wasted no time in outfitting pilots with this novel take on WWII leather jackets. The most iconic colorways of the MA-1 are its original Air Force “Midnight Blue” and the later Army “Sage Green/Orange” popularized by twentieth century youth culture. The recent reemergence of 1960’s era “Souvenir” jackets display a whole other side of this quintessential milsurp-inspired jacket.
60 years later, bombers have carved out a niche as the streetwear jacket of choice. Thanks to the influence of designers like Raf Simons, Helmut Lang, and Demna Gvesalia (of Vetements fame), the classic MA-1 bomber is the choice of fashion bloggers and creative types alike. Seriously – I challenge you to scroll through any “Fashion Week Street Style” album from the past 5 years without finding at least one MA-1. When a tour merch stand lists a jacket alongside hats and CD’s (ex. Kanye West’s “Yeezus”; Travi$ Scott’s “Rodeo”), you know it’s achieved something great. In 2016, the MA-1 jacket is as ubiquitous as Starbucks and Stan Smiths. There’s no way around it: the MA-1 Bomber Jacket is a legend in the making.
(A special note: there are tons of jackets that follow the “bomber” genealogy but couldn’t really be characterized as MA-1’s. Varsity jackets, baseball jackets, and souvenir jackets, for example, all retain the general silhouette and details of the MA-1, but riff on the military detailing to establish their own unique identity. In the interest of brevity, I’ve linked to brands/information for each of the above, but will not devote a whole section to what’s truly a minor variation on a theme.)
There you have it: 12 popular spring jackets, with links and pictures to boot, all curated to help you find your next favorite jacket. Do you agree with the choices? Did I miss your all-time favorite? Comment below or on Facebook here to start the conversation.