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The Globe and Mail

The best of men's jackets – then and now

When men’s-wear designers are in need of a little inspiration, many drop by The Vintage Showroom, a London-based enterprise that sells and rents out sportswear, workwear and military apparel from the early 20th century. Curated by clothing dealers Douglas Gunn and Roy Luckett, who scour flea markets and abandoned warehouses all over the world, the collection is now on glorious display in Vintage Menswear: A Collection from the Vintage Showroom. The 300– page book, showcasing such rare items as sailor smocks, early hunting coats and metalworker jackets, is also a handy guide to some of the best coats of the current season.

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THEN: While professional motorcyclists (including the legendary Irish rider Sammy Miller, who dominated in trials riding in the 1950s and 60s) have sported the Belstaff Motorcycle Trialmaster Jacket for decades, this ruggedly handsome waxed-cotton coat with four patch pockets and a belted waist is perhaps more famous for being worn by a pre-revolutionary Che Guevara during his transformative trek across Latin America in the early fifties.

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NOW: The slimmer and lighter weight Belstaff Roadmaster Waxed-Cotton Jacket ($760 through www.mrporter.com) is the perfect jacket topper for cruising around the country on two wheels or navigating the city on two feet.

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THEN: In the first half of the 20th century, Hercules was one of Sears’s most popular house brands, one the retailer used to market everything from heating and sewage systems to fire extinguishers and even life insurance. But the brand was best known for its line of workwear and uniforms, including the Hercules Varsity Jacket, a favourite among students in the 1930s. At right is a wool and horsehide model.

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NOW: Both casual and versatile, the Brooks Brothers University Varsity Jacket ($498 through www.parkandbond.com) features a melton-wool body, leather sleeves and such vintage-inspired details as a ribbed hem and cuffs, nickel snaps and a detachable chenille B.

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THEN: In the 1950s, writer Hunter S. Thompson purchased an Alaska Sleeping Bag Company hunting coat that didn’t meet his expectations. So he sent the mail-order retailer a letter questioning whether the coat’s leather detailing was real, as advertised: “If the garbage on this coat is leather, I’ll eat it,” he wrote. Years later, the company closed, but not because their parkas – a down-filled fur-trimmed one is shown here – were poor in quality, but because they rarely got to customers on time.

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NOW: What do you get when a British designer specializing in outerwear collaborates with an outdoor-brand behemoth? One seriously well-made jacket called The Nigel Cabourn X Eddie Bauer Polar Parker ($2,610 through www.rodengray.com), hand-stuffed with down and trimmed in fox.

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