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Coats and jackets

January 12, 2015

For some time now, I’ve been noticing a confusion between the words coat and jacket. I always thought the distinction was plain. Jackets are shorter than coats, usually waist-length, or only just below, while coats are longer and could come down to thighs or knees; and coats are bulkier, less close-fitting, and are worn over jackets. Yet last week when I checked in my coat (a thigh-length black raincoat, underneath which I had on a tweed jacket) at the British Library the assistant referred to it as a jacket (‘Is it just the jacket, sir, or do you have a bag as well?’), and I realised I’d heard this mistake a number of times. A couple of years ago a student in an A-level class told me I was wearing ‘a long jacket’, which was in fact a coat. What’s going on? Are the meanings of these words changing?

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2 Comments
  1. I suppose it probably has to do with suits falling out of favour as casual wear; &, at the same time, the increasing popularity of warm, bulky, unfitted jackets like leather or denim, which are more like coats, aren’t they? You’d take them off indoors.

  2. Mark Brafield permalink

    I was once taken to task for referring to the top half of my suit as a ‘jacket’. I was told that a gentleman would only ever refer to this garment as a ‘coat’ (being presumably the same gentleman who would never do up the bottom button of his waistcoat). This is a rule I have rather pompously kept to ever since, although I relax the rule if I am not wearing a suit, in which case the equivalent garment on my top half becomes a jacket. I am afraid, however, of sounding like someone I once met who insisted upon referring to the pair of trousers made for him by his tailor as ‘a superb trouser’. Next week; the horrors of evening dress, including people who wear coloured bow ties with a black dinner suit, or winged collars with the same, or slip – on shoes. Shudder.

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