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THE M.65 FIELD JACKET
MIL-C 43455J

Known to all simply as the M.65, this jacket perhaps above any other possesses within its robust design a functionality and simplicity second to none. This garment has always transcended the never ceasing ebb and flow of trends and passing fashion fads. An M.65 is a true wardrobe essential that has entered the psyche of all that wear it through cinema, documentary and news media. As the name suggests the jacket came into service in 1965 but in fact traces its history back in terms of influence and design many years previous. Military tunics or coats date back to ancient Rome where soldiers adopted simple thigh length hemmed garments, these tunics continued throughout military history in various forms, often being very bright and highly embellished, however by the end of the 19th century more practical drab tunics and clothing started to replace the older impractical military attire. This practicality of military dress being initiated in the many Colonial outposts of Empire. The need for troops to carry a plethora of equipment meant that pockets were to be added to tunic exteriors, this initially took place upon bespoke officers tailored garments, however governments quickly took influence and introduced these features universally amongst all ranks. Thus tunics that had at one time possessed no pockets or complicated internal pockets were first replaced by two and then four external pockets. The wonderful symmetry of this form of jacket design was to become almost universal in terms of most soldiers’ tunics by the mid 30’s; this symmetry of design is beautifully paid homage to in the M.65 jackets styling. The use of cotton in the construction of military outer garments had been until the outbreak of WWII largely only used in the colonies, however military thinking was to change and the uniform designers, particularly in the United States of America moved towards cotton and poplin-like fabrics to clothe their troops. Ongoing research showed it was preferable to issue soldiers uniforms that consisted of layers; this was to rapidly replace the thick wool serge materials that were common in European armies during the same time frame. In 1941 a lightweight field jacket came into service, this garment had been in planning since the late 1930’s and took direct inspiration from civilian outdoor market creations, such as the windbreakers (in American parlance) worn for hunting and outdoor pursuits. The outer shell of the M.41 jacket was of cotton poplin that dried quickly in comparison to wool serge and incorporated a zip fastener, these refinements were at the time somewhat revolutionary in terms of military design. By 1942 the U.S. had developed a uniform for their paratroopers, this uniform used bellows type pockets that the paratroopers could cram more vital supplies such as ammunition and rations into. Another American led step forward took shape in 1943 when the M.43 combat suit was brought into universal issue. The M.43 field coat was the grandfather of the M.65 sharing a similar colour format and style.

The next step in design occurred in the 50’s when a short lived M.50 jacket was replaced with a refined version initially designated M.1951 field jacket, but in November of 1956 it was to be re-designated M.1951 field coat, this name change again reminds us the garments in question are very much American and the widespread use of the term “coat” often replaces what Europeans regard as a jacket. The M.51 jacket/coat was liked by the troops and was cut in a sharp military style with pointed tips to the collar and a hood that was detachable, thus could be worn on the field during operations or detached for smartness when carrying out garrison duties. The shade of the 9 ounce water repellent cotton sateen used for the vast majority of M.1951’s was a shade known as “107(OD-107)”. With uniform research and development continually rethinking and improving an experimental trials garment known as the T-63-5 was tested from 1963, from this a true military classic was born. The subtle improvements that brought about the M.65 set this jacket apart from the earlier M.51. One major change was the now widespread use of Velcro, this revolutionary material being invented in 1948 and only patented in 1955. It was not only to achieve military success but was also widely used by NASA and in fact within the fashion world as a whole. The M.65 was to incorporate in its design specifications Velcro cuff closures that replaced the M.51 button system and a Velcro collar closure tab. The jacket also incorporated removable quilted lightweight nylon 5 oz polyester filled liner. The hood design of the M.51 was to be changed radically upon the M.65 design; a zippered pouch was to run along the rear of the collar where the lightweight hood was to be stowed when not worn. The jacket remained hugely popular with the U.S. forces from its inception until its final official withdrawal in 2009. Although it is entirely possible certain diehards are still sporting M.65’s even today. The jacket and clones of it also enjoyed massive success worldwide and can be seen worn by troops of many and diverse nations. In terms of finding the right M.65 there are many factors to consider, but for the purist, genuine issue used examples are a must. The M.65 ages beautifully and gracefully, the OD107 shade fading to many varied and beautiful sage green colours. The wear to the high points extenuating the design layout of the jacket’s overall shape and that certain lived in look that is a premium amongst the stylish. The jacket itself has been copied widely over the years ranging from superb garments made by the same factories that fulfilled government contracts in U.S. to poor clone garments produced throughout the world. The jackets were produced in the universal shade of OD107 until 1997; camouflage versions exist in woodland and desert camouflage amongst many others. Earlier experiments were carried out and rare test garments exist in the extravagant Mitchel camouflage. When choosing an OD107 version, as afore-mentioned the fade is often something that can give a true vintage item so much character. Size is ever a matter of taste, however an M.65 that is too big simply looks wrong. Earlier versions again are at a premium amongst purist and collectors. Early features include a folded and sewn collar tab, this is prevalent particularly on pre 1967 runs of the jacket, early labels having DSA prefixes and some models having a liner fabric that contrasts greatly to the outer shell, this liner fabric fading to a wonderful green/grey colour. It is no wonder the M.65 has become so popular for a number of reasons. Primarily it is a simple but superb example of design. Secondarily perhaps it has been worn by many principle film characters and can be seen as an icon of American dress. The garment gives a smart robust military bearing to all that don the M65. Characters such as Travis Bickle in the cult film ‘Taxi Driver’ played sublimely by De Niro wore an M.65. This stroke of wardrobe genius perfectly enhanced the disaffected character of Bickle as an ex U.S.Marine who continued to sport his M.65 jacket whilst contending with the hell of civilian life indeed spoke volumes.

Yet another troubled ex U.S. soldier character on the big screen was known simply as Rambo. This larger than life character was to drift into a one-horse town, clad in an M.65 and was to change the fictional town forever! Many other iconic characters have been seen wearing the M.65, not all being soldiers. Figures as diverse as Henry Rollins the legendary ex punk singer and spoken word aficionado regularly wears an M.65, other wearers as contrasting as Woody Allen and of course an enormous amount of other influential characters in our modern world. Thus it is no wonder that the M.65 can be seen from the streets of Milan to London but also can be seen on the other side of the world still sported in the mountains of Afghanistan. This is a garment that simply cannot go out of style.

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