The Ivy Shearling Car Coat. Sawyer of Napa for LL Bean circa 1969.

The Shearling Coat.

Where do we begin with this?

The shearling or sheepskin coat has a checkered history on the Anglo side of the pond. A post war staple worn by the Chelsea set in their Austin Healeys with suede chukkas and a windowpane check viyella shirt (also worn by the girls – think Maggie Smith in the classic Seth Holt British noir Nowhere To Go – capri pants and desert boots in 1958) and a similar place in American style lore, adapted to the collegiate Ivy look. Then, later in Britain, a very much downmarket image of skinheads and market traders with a wheezing old Jaguar XJ6. Del Boy Trotter and Arthur Daley.

James Fox in The Servant (Factoid: Another John Rushton connection - Asst Editor on this Losey movie)

Meanwhile, year in and year out, northern Italians resorted to their shearling ‘nappa’ coats every autumn and winter along with the ubiquitous ‘tipo Clarks’ suede desert boots. Never out of fashion.

Ryan O'Neal aka Rodney Harrington & Ali McGraw in Love Story 1970

For a long time I’ve wanted a classic shearling but always held back due to the local connotations. Last winter I spent a good deal of time trawling eBay for the better English makes, Morlands, Antartex etc, but either the examples were well worn or else bid really high as they gradually crept back into hipster fashion.

The other limitation was the cut. It has to be the right one. IMHO, no turned fluffy cuffs or peeking shearling at the seams, no dark wool or double breasted front – instead a simple handwarmer pocket and three football buttons. This American take on the single breasted shearling harks back to the western days and you’ll find them listed as ‘barn coats’ or ‘marlboro man’ jackets by some eBay sellers. Think James Stewart carrying a Winchester 73 on a snowy Montana trail…

A few weeks back I was trawling US eBay on a Sunday afternoon as usual and came across an LL Bean shearling coat from the late 1960s. Apart from some ink marks it looked pretty good condition and was only $99.00 BIN (here the better brands can sell for a lot more), so I hit the button. Despite being caught by customs and their usual thieving (20% VAT on £99 and not $99!) the jacket that arrived exceeded expectations. The colour was better than the flash photos had shown and the jacket was in fine condition. A few minutes with the Meltonian Suede Eraser and the small ink marks on the sleeve were reduced by 90%.

I wonder where the London store was? Anyone know?

I know from the suede field coat I got last year that LL Bean didn’t make their own leathers and mostly they were made by Golden Bear (Slater and Sons of California). However, this jacket had a different RN number which showed the maker as Sawyer of Napa. This made me think – the Italians are obsessed by shoes and clothing in their beloved ‘nappa’ leather but I know from experience that many of these Italian terms are simply misspelled appropriations (‘nubuk’ being another).

Sure enough, a Wikipedia search finds that Sawyers patented the napa process in the early 20th Century. So this was a jacket with some pedigree. A further search showed the models below for sale on AAAT a while back. Beautiful jackets. The only difference with the Bean model being leather buttons instead of horn and no rear vent. I’d have liked a vent but it’s no big deal.

Sunbeam Alpine, snow, and sheepskin. What else?

Now, most of these Sawyer of Napa jackets are being sold on US Ebay for big money – $200-300. People now recognise that the quality of these coats, if looked after, is far in excess of anything that you can buy today even if you have several thousand dollars to spend. In fact Mrs Weejun, after the inevitable Del Boy wisecracks, couldn’t believe that my example cost a mere £65.00 for what is certain to be a very warm jacket this winter.

Worn with cord jeans or white levis on a sunny winter day, a ribbed roll neck or Sero check flannel BD under a Shetland crew and topped off with a Japanese cord buckled ivy driving cap. And, of course, Clarks Desert Boots or snuff playboy chukkas. (Funny to think that the Morlands sheepskins and the Clarks desert boots were made within a few miles of each other, Street and Glastonbury, and that that look came together and travelled the world).

Here are some more images of the look:

Advice – get one whilst you still can and pick up a bargain.

A feature on the history of Sawyer of Napa can be found here

Posted in Weejunisms.

One Comment

  1. Lovely coat and interesting history, but in the U.K. definitely a difficult look to pull off without appearing to be the social secretary of the local M.G.B. owners club. The hint of Essex gypsy can work as shown by the sadly departed (and sheepskin wearing) Lee Brilleaux and Ronnie Lane. Perhaps easier, go the cowboy route with shirt, jeans and work boots? However, at all costs, steer clear of Sunbeam Alpines, and M.G.B.s…………………..

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