As long as it’s cold outside and you don’t pair them with Aviators – which is as grave an over-egging of the thematic pudding as wearing chukka boots with a polo shirt – there are no disadvantages to wearing it.As well as being entrenched in popular culture, it’s a material that offers the warmth of a puffer coat with the suave, virile authority of a trench. We’re talking, of course, about shearling: a material which invariably qualifies collars and lapels for the adjectival use of the phrase “fuck off”, and makes for linings as warm, as tactile, as any material on the planet.
The technical difference between sheepskin and shearling depends on who you ask – some hold that it can only be the latter if the sheep from which it has been sourced was recently shorn, while others insist it depends on the age of the animal. What we can be sure of, though, is that man’s relationship with ovine pelts goes back a long, long way.
Who Wore It Well?
As with all military garb, the practical appeal of a shearling bomber knows no bounds. B-3 jackets feature an array of wind-defying waist adjustment tabs and neck straps, as well as inconspicuous pockets. And, untrammelled utility always, without fail, doubles up as stylistic moxie: no wonder the shearling waist-length jacket has become such a central player in popular culture.
Its repertoire is impressive. If shearling had an IMDB page, at the summit of its entries would be its turnas Ryan Gosling's achingly cool outerwear inBlade Runner 2049, while further down the list would be a witty turn warming the neck of Marlon Brando inOn The Waterfrontand a much admired performance as James Dean's ranch coat inGiant. Further showing off its thespian range, meanwhile, would be its injection of unhinged desperation into Steve Buscemi's character inFargo, East End villain menace into Bane inThe Dark Knight Risesand insouciant and whimsical nonchalance into Robert Redford’s Chappellet inDownhill Racer. Shearling also helped Rocky brave Philadelphia’s Atlantic bite as part of a B-3 jacket and, naturally, played Steve McQueen’s fit-for-purpose number inThe War Lover, not to mention Tom Cruise’s outerwear inTop Gun– although that role’s stitched-on badges, from afar, smack troublingly of heavy metal fandom.
Steve McQueen wears a suede shearling coat in Central Park, New York City, 1961.