Some day a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets,” intoned antihero Travis Bickle in the 1976 film Taxi Driver. De Niro’s famous monologue went on to become a trifle too, er, earthy for this publication; but Taxi Driver is a masterpiece, not just of the modern urban thriller genre but of street style. The Vietnam-era M65 military field jacket he wore, with its four-pocket arrangement and gathered waist, is as covetable today as it was then. And after an inspection of this season’s new interpretations, I can’t help but think that when Bickle’s rain does come, we’ll be glad of the state-of-the-art fabrics and ingenious tailoring.
Performance textiles are the first point to consider. Take MEHM+, which uses a navy wool-bonded fabric for a jacket (£595) that retains the essential field profile but looks super-current. “The fabric is a water-repellent yet breathable technical wool,” says MEHM+ founder/designer Mehmet Ali, formerly creative director at Hardy Amies. The crisp precision of the piece is set off beautifully with (sustainable) corozo-nut buttons.
Field jackets from Ermenegildo Zegna, are also at the cutting edge, executed with blended-composition fabrics. There’s one in a pale-teal polyamide/polyester (£1,545), a water-repellent microfibre with the feel of a matte raw silk. Another (£2,270), in heavier navy-blue wool, has serious clout – a tri-layer-membrane jacket that would be at home on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Brunello Cucinelli’s take (£2,150, main picture) is cut from a houndstooth linen/wool blend in cement grey that is lined with water-repellent nylon, the distinctly refined texture belying its technical abilities.
The field jacket doesn’t have to be exclusively action-ready; more elegant versions play well in town, such as those from You Must Create (YMC), whose avowedly non-fashion style I’ve admired for 20 years. They’ve taken their relaxed-cut Starck blazer and worked it into field jacket form, called Amon Duul (£295), with a subtly gathered waist and open patch pockets. It comes in the Starck’s signature navy, but I think the deep-khaki garment-dyed cotton twill is the one to get; it looks especially good teamed with matching wide-leg trousers, for smart-casual dressing in more tropical climes.
Robust khaki twill takes decorative elements surprisingly well. “Putting unfamiliar embellishment on something familiar is what makes these very ‘Paul Smith,’” Smith said of his strawberry-embroidered cotton field jackets (£715). He has a few other nifty versions this season, among them a vibrant Madras-check seersucker (£515) and shirt-like light coral or khaki-toned cotton/cupro field jackets (£615). But for a dead-on authentic take on this American classic, look to Ralph Lauren. The field (£345) from his casual Polo range is fashioned from ultra‑relaxed twill, which seems more worn-in than even Bickle’s number. It’s replete with a Stars & Stripes sleeve badge, vintage-look taped zips and a drawstring through its bottom edge.
Notable tailors have also been playing (with) the field. Thom Sweeney conceals the gathered waist for a more streamlined effect. Its herringbone linens (£1,640) have an exquisite lustre, and the sumptuous slate-grey suede version (£2,600) is a real showstopper with gunmetal hardware instead of zips. Loewe showcases the gathered waist on its tan nappa-leather jacket (£2,550) via a length of the oversized rope that was a feature of its collection this season.
The utilitarian status of any field jacket is underpinned by its pockets. Canali’s sumptuous lambskin version (£2,820), with its amber hue and buttery feel, has pockets with raw edges “finished” with wax. Other designers have reduced the number of pockets: the two-pocket Maison Kitsuné zippered field (£342), for instance, is cut from a stonewashed chambray that gives it a mid-1980s Gallic nonchalance, evoking the impeccably cool French kids sitting on kerbs smoking Gauloises who I used to envy on school trips to Paris.
But you cannot talk about field jackets without mentioning CP Company. Known for its distinctive garment dyeing and self-coloured hand top-stitching, the brand has produced brilliant examples for years (including the unique goggle-hood version, a next-generation outerwear icon in its own right). This season, a simple black lightweight field (£499) flaunts undiluted CP Company cool with an ultra-light reinterpretation – Raso EL – of a classic fabric. There are the same cotton outer and nylon inner layers of the original, but thanks to new technologies there’s a weight reduction of 40 per cent and some welcome stretch in the yarn. It’s a great contemporary piece – light years ahead of the “You talking to me?” Bickle version, but with all the same quick-on-the-drawstring spirit.