Friday, 22 October 2010

Covert Coats on The Portobello Road and Beyond

At the time when I was selling second hand clothes, I would regularly visit Portobello Road on a Friday morning at the crack of dawn just as the stallholders were unpacking, in order to pick up the bargains. Out of black plastic bin liners would appear all sorts of goodies.

One morning I spotted the edge of a velvet collar attached to a khaki coat. I pulled it out of the bag and discovered it was a covert coat. I gave it the once-over, checking for condition and general wear and tear. I immediately knew it was a bespoke coat, so I checked for a makers label, which would be sewn discreetly inside the inside breast pocket. There I found the name of the renowned Savile Row tailor – Huntsman. It cost me all of a tenner.

Later back at the shop, I would sort out my haul from the market. What would need repairing, what needed to be laundered and what I would send to the dry cleaners. My customers were aware of this weekly ritual and they would often be waiting for the shop to open to see what new old kit was on offer. No sooner than I had unlocked the door, a man pounced on the Huntsman covert coat and asked how much I wanted for it? “Oh give me a hundred pounds” I replied casually, and the deal was sealed.

This was the manner in which all the covert coats I found were sold - in a flash!

This very British coat is an enduring classic, and as with most traditional men's clothes they are derived from hunting or shooting attire,with the covert coat originally being made for riding. Of course, if you want to break the mould, our grey covert coat is a very smart alternative. The word covert comes from the French word couvert which means shady place or thicket.

Khaki, the acknowledged colour for these coats, would be perfect cover when hunting or shooting. This West of England cloth with its marled effect is tough and purposeful.

It is easily identified by its fly front, ticket pocket and the four rows of stitching around the cuffs and hem, otherwise known as tracking. Myth has it that the stitching denoted your rank in the stable yard: the more rows, the more senior you were. I think this is a nice tale but it was probably more for practical reasons - to stop fraying when caught on brambles out riding.

Velvet collars are optional but were first worn so that when collars became greasy due to long hair, the velvet collar could easily be changed. I prefer the story that one wore a velvet collar to indicate which hunt you belonged to, so collars would be in a whole array of colours.

I have just made a covert coat this season, where rather than putting on a velvet collar, I have turned the material over so that the collar is a slightly different shade to the coat. It's very subtle and I rather like that

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