What do you get when you cross an accountant with a zoologist? A profitable zoo, maybe? No, you get the camel coat. Lewis Tomalin was a British accountant inspired by Dr Gustav Jaeger’s theory that wearing animal fibres was in fact, a salubrious predilection. So, Tomalin named his brand after the zoologist and, in 1919, released the camel coat. To this day, the coat retains the gravitas, sophistication and status it had upon launch. Its double-breasted front, large lapels, camel hair construction, and gauntlet cuffs give decadent warmth and a billowy sense of status. But the sheer versatility and classic style of this coat keep it relevant for a man’s wardrobe today. Like a perfectly charming gentleman, it uplifts and exalts everything it is near.
Brief History of the Camel Coat
Originally, the coat was termed a “polo coat” (or a “wait” coat or a “wrap” coat) since it was used to wrap up polo players to keep them warm between matches. After WWI, the style graduated into Ivy League colleges in America and became popular throughout the 20s. WWII depleted materials, and the rarified camel hair was sought out again. The 80s were a boom time for the banking world as deregulation set in, and the camel coat became a symbol of panache and status. Its impeccable ability to complement tailoring certainly didn’t hinder its cherished status in the City.
Camel hair is taken from the fibres of Bactrian camels native to Central Asia when they shed their coat each spring. Their hair is soft, luxurious, thermo-regulating, insulating and extremely comfortable. However, it fleeces out quite quickly and is often blended 50% with virgin wool to achieve perfect synchronicity of durability and softness. Plenty of 100% camel hair coats are still made today, yet the term now mainly refers to a long coat in a soft fabric with lapels and a camel tone (beige, sandy-brown). That means it can blur into a few other coat styles, i.e. trench, Chesterfield, car coat, peacoat, overcoat, topcoat, or duffle.
The Modern Camel Coat
The timeless appeal of an original camel coat is unmatched, and that’s because it has always been luxurious. Apologies for the cliché, but this coat might be the Rolls Royce of coats. In its modern interpretation, it retains its wealthy aura, but the high street and general loosening of dress codes have democratised it. It can be worn now to add panache and formality to slouchy outfits.
But why buy this exotic haired-relic of a polo-playing era? Well, quite simply, the camel coat is a fantastic investment piece. The weight of the fabric, the tailored silhouette, its timeless and decadent style, and its ability to be worn with many different outfits mean that the coat is worth the extra expense. The camel coat is still one of the suavest luxury items in the menswear roster, and if you make this purchase, expect compliments.
How to Style a Camel Coat
It elevates everything. From a nonchalant pair of joggers, sweaters, and trainers combo, to a three-piece suit. It will always bring heat to your outfit (literally, too). The camel tone makes it easy to style. It goes with white, navy, grey, green, brown, and charcoal. For these reasons, it makes styling with a suit look incredible. But also means there aren’t many casual outfits it won’t work with. Styling using black pieces is a debatable area. It’s not a hard no, but I like to keep black elements to a minimum in an outfit with a camel coat. Perhaps just a pair of black chunky loafers or derbies.
So, let us go through the layers of formality to see how you can style it.
Try navy jogging bottoms with white chunky trainers and socks for a casual outfit. Then underneath the camel coat, a white t-shirt and a sweater. Accessorise to elevate as well. Perhaps with a navy or ecru cap and classic black or tortoiseshell RayBan wayfarers.
Things to consider:
You can get away with dressing like a slob when you have a camel coat over your shoulders. It’s a one-way ticket out of negative, slobby perception.
For a smart-casual outfit, try blending tailoring and knitwear. Black derbies with camel tone argyle pattern socks matching the v-neck argyle knitwear camel tone on top. If the argyle knit has green to match the green suit trousers below, even better. Fasten the trousers with a black leather belt and wear a pink or white collared shirt underneath the knitwear. This outfit has a tasteful modern-retro feel.
Things to consider:
Try chinos in white, brown, beige, and navy for bottoms. A camel coat can harness jeans across the full indigo spectrum. Personally, ecru or even white jeans match wonderfully with the camel tone. Pleated trousers, or suit pants, can be in similar tones to the chinos while also considering a pastel or dark green shade.
The camel coat works extraordinarily well with tailoring. It goes with brown, green, navy, and grey, all of the generic suit choices,cloaks them in a veil of style, and is perfect winter office commuter material or perhaps saved for a Thursday or Friday. A day you might well be heading out to dinner.
Things to consider:
I’m hesitant about saying to avoid styling with a black suit altogether because people out there probably regularly pull it off and look suave. However, I would not.
Best Camel Coat Picks
Gucci Aria Camel Hair Coat
Gucci is a fine first stop when looking for a) investment pieces and b) sartorial power plays. This coat is what is meant by timeless style. The exacting lines of the garment through the three-button, single-breasted silhouette and the flap pockets suggest you measure self-control. Meanwhile, the large notched lapels and the unctuous satin lining suggest flair and pomposity. This sophisticated 100% camel hair coat is a lifetime investment.
Paul Smith Wool-Cashmere Epsom Coat
Paul Smith is an institution. The brand is always one of my favoured first stops for anything tailoring or formalwear related because it does ageless formal menswear with a twist. The twist with this camel coat is that there is no twist; it’s just premium clothing at its best. The fabric is 90% wool and 10% cashmere giving it a decadent feel. The lapels have a swooping peaked shape with ample volume to make this a statement piece, whether it’s tracksuit bottoms underneath or tailored suit trousers.
Valentino Double-Breasted Camel-Wool Overcoat
This Valentino coat has a double-breasted construction, six-button closure, and voluminous notched lapels. The 100% pressed camel hair makes this coat ideally saved for very special occasions since the camel hair is delicate. Valentino has given this piece a unique dropped shoulder silhouette to bring about a modern, draped fit. This coat is classic in design, luxurious in feel, and contemporary in fit.
BOSS Double-Breasted Coat
Though sitting at the affordable end of the spectrum, this coat is no less stylish. The wool is responsibly sourced and respects the five freedoms of animal welfare. It is then blended with 10% cashmere for an extra silky smooth finish and added insulation. Other details, such as the perimeter stitching on the notched lapels, the front darts, the flapped pockets and the symmetrical four-button double-breasted closing, bring a debonair aesthetic and fit.
Suit Supply Double-Breasted Coat
This coat is extravagant. The 100% camel hair woven in Corrado, Italy gives it authenticity, warmth and cosiness. The 6-on-2 formation gives the coat a nice sense of shape and curvature as it hugs your natural form. The open side pockets give it relaxed confidence. Finally, the fabric appears to be quite lightweight, making it perfect to be worn in the spring, summer and autumn.