And so we arrive at the big beast of your winter wardrobe: the shearling jacket. Between its distinctive, vintage military-inspired looks, its high price point, and its sheer physical heft, shearling makes for a serious sartorial statement and is, despite its ovine provenance, not one for the sheepish.
For those willing to take a risk with their personal style, however, the potential rewards for donning one of these big, bulky sheepskins are significant. Many of the best-dressed men of the past century have relied upon their rugged looks and unbeatable warmth, among them movie stars such as Mr Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, Mr. Robert Redford in Downhill Racer, and Mr Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
But let’s avert our attention away for a moment from the silver screen, which makes everything look glamorous, and pose ourselves a pertinent question: is it possible for an average guy to pull this kind of look off IRL? On the coffee run, the commute? To this, we at MR PORTER offer an emphatic yes – and, in the following photographic guide, present a dossier of compelling supporting evidence.
Read on for our take on how to wear shearling well.
1) Balance out the bulk
Shearling is bulky by definition, and as such doesn’t lend itself to layering – or so you might think. This gentleman’s outfit, a study in silhouette and proportion in which a shearling-lined denim jacket acts as just one of four substantial layers, suggests otherwise.
The trick to pulling off a look like this is to work with a range of complementary colors and textures: between the faded blue denim and the camo print, there’s plenty here to entertain the eye. The white of the shearling trim also adds extra contrast, standing out sharply against the black of the hoodie. And don’t forget to mitigate the risk of looking like the Michelin Man by ensuring that your outer layer is generous enough to accommodate the base and mid-layers, especially in the armholes and around the shoulders.
2) Take a flight jacket for a spin
The A-2 leather flight jacket was adopted as standard-issue US Army garb in 1931, which, by our calculations, makes it a sprightly 90 years young. Worn by Allied airmen during WWII, it remains an icon of military-style to this day. And while it’s not technically a full shearling jacket – that title goes to another US Army standard, the B-3, famously worn by General George S Patton – it’s often fitted with a shearling collar, as seen above, which only adds to its air of old-school cool.
If there’s a lesson to take away from this picture, it’s that you can’t go wrong with the classics. Note, too, the elegant rollneck and silk scarf, a perfect foil to the ruggedly masculine appeal of the jacket.
3) Choose a lighter colour
Type “shearling jacket” into the search bar of MR PORTER – go on, we’ll wait – and you’ll be presented with a list of lovely options, most of them, it must be said, in black. Or brown. Or some other dark, muted shade. This predominance can be explained mostly by the taste of the buying public and, to a lesser extent, their tolerance for risk: you don’t want to spend a month’s rent on a jacket that will show even the faintest stain or blemish. But for those willing to take a little extra care of their clothes, a shearling jacket in a lighter color – such as the one seen here, in a tasteful shade of off-white that a fancy paint brand might refer to as “bone” or “pebble” – makes a magnificent addition to your winter wardrobe.
4) Mix utility with luxury
Shearling is a rugged material that doesn’t try to hide its animal origins, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be refined, contemporary, or luxurious. Indeed, these are three adjectives you’d readily use to describe this, an upmarket take on a military field jacket (note the four distinctive flap pockets arranged on the front) rendered in a high-grade leather and finished with a cream-colored shearling collar. It’s a jacket that sums up shearling’s split personality – luxurious on the one hand, hard-wearing, and utilitarian on the other –and demonstrates how it’s entirely possible for both sides to exist in harmony. The key, as shown here, is to avoid dressing it up too much.
5) Go full-length shearling
The full-length shearling coat has struggled for many years under the weight of, shall we say, problematic associations. In the UK, it’s still remembered as the uniform of veteran football commentator Mr. John Motson and of Derek “Del Boy” Trotter, the hapless wheeler-dealer from Only Fools And Horses. Across the pond, it was favored by the extravagant, fur-loving Super Bowl champion Mr. Joe Namath. Latterly, it was modeled by Mr. Tom Hardy as Bane, the masked nemesis of Batman, in The Dark Knight Rises. And, yes, it’s a big look, and in the wrong hands, it can certainly feel a bit costumey. But if you’ve got the confidence to carry it off – and the man in this picture certainly has – then nothing in your wardrobe packs as much of a punch.
6) Opt for the updated bomber
It was in the 1950s that the US Air Force first adopted the padded nylon MA-1 jacket as its new military standard. Jet-engine technology had facilitated the design of planes that could reach far higher altitudes, and the bulky leather jackets worn during WWII were no longer fit for purpose. As with its forebears, the MA-1 bomber jacket has since transcended its military origins to become a staple of the civilian wardrobe, albeit one that’s rather more youthful than the aforementioned A-2 and B-3 jackets. Here, a designer version fitted with a shearling collar forms the outer layer of a contemporary streetwear-inspired outfit, worn here with a utility vest.
7) Look to the 1970s for inspiration
How best to embrace shearling’s teddy-bear softness? You could do worse than to start with a jacket in teddy-bear brown. The gentleman in this picture showcases a bold, extravagant attitude towards personal style with a tonal look that pays homage to the 1970s: note the brown-lens sunglasses and camel-brown trousers, both of which share the same retro-inspired color palette as the jacket. It’s not all one-note, though: his black Perfecto leather jacket offers a hard-edged contrast against the earthy tones and plush textures of the rest of the outfit. Top marks for the facial hair, too.