The Ultimate Guide To The M65 Field Jacket
While the other military silhouettes have evolved a great deal from their battle-ready originals, the M65 has steadfastly maintained its war-time credentials as a rugged and versatile lightweight jacket.
Out of the grim realities of war have come numerous menswear garments that have transcended their utility in battle to become integral parts of the male psyche as well as his wardrobe. From the bomber jacket to the trench coat via the pea coat and parka, military silhouettes still provide the backbone of contemporary men’s style.
And while the aforementioned classics are sophisticated and masculine in their own unique ways, one piece of outerwear that often flies under the radar is the M65 field jacket, as worn by Al Pacino in Taxi Driver (1976), Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah (2021). While the other military silhouettes have evolved a great deal from the battle-ready originals, the M65 has steadfastly maintained its war-time credentials as a rugged and versatile lightweight jacket.
History of the M65 field jacket
As always with military garments, the ones still with us on Civilian Street today are the product of a long line of evolutions and upgrades. The ’65’ part of the M jacket refers to the date it was launched, but it wasn’t the first of the ‘M’ jackets. That accolade goes to the M41, which was a light- to medium-weight waterproof cotton field jacket featuring four front bellows pockets to carry ammunition, first aid kits and whatever else soldiers deemed important enough to store on their person.
Field jackets had existed long before the khaki green M41 in the form of hunting attire, but the onset of World War II led the US Army to outfit their GIs in the M41, which itself referenced civilian windbreakers. Previous to that, troops would have been issued heavy wool four-pocket jackets – which might have been fine for the trenches of World War I, but were not suitable for the more agile and dynamic mid-century soldier.
Two years later the M43 was introduced, cut in a cotton sateen cloth to the same four-pocket configuration. This later evolved to become the M51, and the now-iconic M65. Which in turn evolved into the equally iconic M-1951 and M-1965 variations that remain popular for civilian dress today.
What to consider when buying an M65 field jacket
The M65 is a hip-length jacket – anything shorter veers into blouson/bomber territory. Vintage versions will often have epaulets and sometimes an internal drawstring or external belt to create a waisted silhouette (the military purpose of this was to retain heat and prevent the jacket getting caught in dense undergrowth), but most modern designs have done away with any overly military affectations in favour of a more minimalist aesthetic.
The original M65 came exclusively in lightweight yet hardwearing materials such as cotton drill, sateen or a nylon-cotton mix.
Today’s styles are still likely to be cut from cotton cloths (or linen in summer-weight field jackets) but you can also find high-end luxury styles in buttery-soft suede.
While the early M41 versions came with a front button fastening, the M65 benefitted from a zip-fastening upgrade. And that’s still true for most contemporary M65 iterations. The button fastenings on the four bellows pockets also shifted away from buttons, adopting snap fastenings instead.
An exterior belt is not strictly speaking an original detail from the M65 but has become a more modern feature off the back of the popularity of belted safari jackets. Given its propensity for creating a more flattering silhouette at the waist, that’s no bad thing.
The best M65 field jacket brands
Buzz Rickson’s was established in 1993 and is deemed the ‘military wing’ of the Toyo Enterprise Ltd. umbrella. Named after Steve McQueen’s character in The War Lover (1961), Buzz is renowned for its faithful reproductions of vintage militaria, quickly becoming one of Japan’s premier heritage manufacturers.
Of course, the field jacket – in all its variations – plays a key part in the brand’s range, with everything from faithful M65 replicas to tropical combat coats available featuring authentic mil spec details such as urea buttons, brass zips and printed labelling.
If you want something that looks great and has an authentic feel, you should start your recce here.
Italian brand Ten C is absolutely committed to technical fabrics – it’s one of the few brands in the world that uses Original Japanese Jersey, which is a polyester-nylon interlock jersey that changes character with external temperature variations.
Ten C’s field jacket, with its front zip, press stud closure, drawstring waist and rolled up hood in the collar pocket, is a pretty honest replica of the original M65.
Available in dark denim, while it’s certainly pricey, the OJJ fabric is unbreakable and only gets better with age, making this an investment for life.
Although Alpha Industries is better known for its iconic MA1 bomber jackets, the American brand was actually the original manufacturer of the M65 – so you can expect a high-quality garment.
Alpha Industries offers black, navy and olive versions, all of which come in an oversized silhouette for a more contemporary look. They’re made from very tough ‘Nyco Satin’ and feature a button flap protecting the zipper, large front pockets for storage and an adjustable waistband.
You can also add in the ALS liner for thermal protection during the colder months.
The Real McCoy’s
The Japanese have always had a thing for Americana, so it’s no surprise that The Real McCoy’s can stake a claim as one of the preeminent purveyors of vintage classics. The brand make faithful reproductions of the best-loved military silhouettes from the 40s, 50s and 60s, with the M65 field jacket of course being one of them.
The Real McCoy’s replica version is a dream, using deadstock parts and cut from 100% cotton sateen cloth. It looks excellent styled with a pair of white Japanese selvedge jeans and a denim shirt, bookended with a pair of rugged boots or a suede chukka.
Private White V.C.
It should come as no surprise that Private White V.C. – a company founded by a man awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in World War I – produces a selection of excellent field jackets.
Handmade in Manchester, UK, the British label’s ‘Combat jacket’ is an accurate interpretation of the original M65 but given a luxury spin. Constructed from cotton drill, the four-pocket style comes in both navy and olive colourways and is unlined, making it a great option for spring and fall.
Military-grade copper hardware and leather finishing details give it that little something extra, and the more tailored aesthetic would make it a slick option for smarter wardrobes that team well with rugged outerwear.
Founded in 1830 in Pennsylvania, Woolrich Woolen Mills has been producing high-quality, functional outerwear ever since. The brand’s fascination with and dedication to great fabrics is always evident in its seasonal collections and the craftsmanship is second to none.
Its rugged, garment-dyed field jacket is a particular highlight: constructed from a lightweight 100% cotton fabric, it makes for a modern and easy way to layer.
A Day’s March
Swedish brand A Day’s March has quickly made a name for itself producing high-quality and versatile workwear staples that have a clean contemporary aesthetic.
The label produces two different field jacket options: a 100% organic cotton ripstop style and a sophisticated wool-blend version. Both stay true to the four-pocket configuration of the classic M65 and offer great value for money.
Japanese brand OrSLow takes its name from the way it approaches the manufacture of clothing – slowly and meticulously. It’s aesthetic leans heavily on classic Americana tropes, such as chambray shirts, and of course the field jacket.
OrSlow’s version of the M65 is a faithful replica, made from tough cotton-ripstop and cut with ample room for layering on top of tees, shirts and knits, depending on the season.
Founded by Alberto Aspesi in 1969, his eponymous brand has earned a fine reputation for high-quality Italian workwear. Aspesi was one of the first to introduce down jackets to everyday menswear, but it was Aspesi’s classics such as the field jacket that really cemented the label in the annals of modern fashion.
Today, Aspesi’s field jackets are some of the finest you’ll find, faithfully riffing off the original M65 and available in a soft yet rugged cotton gabardine as well as a contemporary technical cloth.
How to wear an M65 field jacket
Styling the M65 jacket largely depends on what it has been constructed from, since luxurious fabrics such as suede will naturally complement more sartorial looks. If you like the vibe of the original – i.e. a midweight cotton twill in the classic olive drab or khaki tones – then there are myriad ways you can wear it.
A grungy option is to combine it with jeans and a tee to reference the iconic Travis Bickle look from Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). However, the same vintage style also makes a nice juxtaposition to a tailored pair of pleated trousers and loafers.
Mixing a military/workwear classic with a smart aesthetic is something we’ve seen a lot of recently, especially at Pitti Uomo, the menswear expo in Florence. Italian showroom owner and fashion influencer Alessandro Squarzi (@alessandrosquarzi) is an excellent proponent of the M65, which he often styles with a simple white tee, selvedge denim or cotton chinos and loafers.
If your aesthetic is more fashion forward, the M65 is still really effective as a vintage layer over contemporary streetwear, adding some thought and authenticity to an already label-rich look.