Like the daffodils that optimistically start sprouting in my garden in January, year after year I make the mistake of thinking winter will end sooner than it really does. In my mind, Edinburgh in February is a smooth and increasingly salubrious downward slope into the warm and sunny days of spring; in reality, it inevitably remains a frozen hellscape whose lingering grimness makes it seem worse at times than any other part of winter.
For this reason, I’m hanging on tightly to my winter duds for a few weeks yet. It isn’t just a question of practicality, though. This winter I found a cosy coat rotation I liked so much that I’m reluctant to pack them away at the end of the season. It comprises a tweed Balmacaan I got last winter, a vintage loden coat I bought back in college, and one of my most recent wardrobe additions in the form of an old clasp-closure fireman’s coat.
I found it at a local thrift store back during the height of summer only to sit around counting the days until it finally got cold enough to wear it. The jacket consists of a thermal liner combined with a worn red canvas exterior plus a tan corduroy collar and matching leather trimming at the arms. I bought it for a song, although based on its embroidered label it was once a bespoke commission by Fay.
If you’re already a fan of this style of coat — variously called fireman jackets, bunker or turnout coats, hook jackets, clasp-closure coats, or some similar iteration — you’ll likely have come across the name Fay before. This hardy design has been used by firemen for more than a century and brands including Polo and Engineered Garments have created their own versions of it over the years, but Fay is perhaps the name most widely associated with the style in fashion circles.
The brand dates to the 1960s when a small concern based out of Maine created a jacket with four metal-plated hooks that proved popular among local fishermen and firefighters. The business was taken over in the 1980s by Diego and Andrea Della Valle who transformed it from a producer of technical garments in New England to one making workwear-inspired gear for Italian urbanites. The four-hook coat became known as the ‘4 Ganci’ (‘gancio’ being the Italian for ‘hook’) and it remains Fay’s flagship product today.
Owing to its robust design and distinctive look, the jacket has gained a cult following the world over, meaning you may have seen a 4 Ganci or similarly-styled fireman jacket being worn by some of your favourite menswear mavens, including old-school icons like Steve McQueen (he did play a firefighter in The Towering Inferno, after all) and contemporary figures like Mark Large, Tony Sylvester, and Alessandro Squarzi, the latter of whom has been heading up Fay Archive since 2019 and in doing so has done much to reinvigorate an appetite for the 4 Ganci with a range of classically-inspired modern incarnations.
My own hook coat has already seen several decades of wear, though it continues to be unfailingly warm, weather-resistant, and bursting with character. In fact, there’s no question that I get more of a kick out of it for being an already beat-up coat. I’m reminded of Aaron Levine talking to Put This On about buying a Ralph Lauren Purple Label topcoat made on Savile Row that would originally have cost $10 000 for a just few hundred bucks on eBay:
‘[I]t was pristine when it arrived to me because the person who bought it — someone who probably bought it decades ago — may have thought, “I can’t wear this $10,000 coat.” So the coat sits in their closet for years until they decide to do a cleanout. At that point, it winds up on my eBay search, and I get a chance to buy it. Now I get to wear the hell out of it because I only spent $300 on this.’
While my coat is worth considerably less and definitely saw a lot of use in its day, I felt a similar sense of liberation in finding a garment that would likely have cost me well over £1 000 new only to wear it with reckless abandon in the knowledge that it set me back just a few quid. And I plan to wear it every chance I get while the weather still remains cold enough to do so, only to hang it up in the back of my closet and start counting the days again until I can clip those hooks into place and put a few more scuffs on its well-worn canvas.