It’s fair to say that menswear’s relationship with shearling is, well, woolly. The fabric’s air force origins and association with heroic aviators mean that shearling jackets will always have an air of flyboy cool. But then you remember John Motson. And Del-Boy. And the suspicion that somebody wearing one has a dozen knock-off watches hidden inside.
Cast aside the checkered history, though. Evaluate the shearling jacket today, and what you have is an unmistakably stylish and practical coat that pairs with more outfits than you might give it credit for. Warm and tactile, it looks, feels and generally is luxury. Wealth in sheep’s clothing, if you will.
Shearling jackets are crafted from costly stuff. Unlike your dad’s woolly jumper, shearling is the actual skin of a lamb or sheep with tanned suede on one side, and the treated coat left attached on the other.
The process of treating it can make both leather and animal hides comically expensive, and then there’s the legwork in actually fashioning a garment out of it. It takes much longer to produce a shearling jacket than it does, say, a cotton bomber jacket, and even clothing manufacturers need to pay the bills.
If cost and ecology play a part in your decision making, then it doesn’t hurt to consider an imitation. PETA claims that several million sheep die every year as wool is sheared too early, or just because of the general pitfalls associated with industrial farming. So never discount faux shearling, which can look as good as the real thing and save you several hundred quid in the process, says The Guardian’s deputy fashion editor, Helen Seamons.
“I find real shearling to be ethically dubious, so wearing faux is a personal preference,” she says. “However, you do need to spend time looking for something that doesn’t look cheap. Online shopping won’t give you a real picture of the garment, so invest some time going in-store to feel the actual product.”
Know that certain touches will make for a more convincing shearling jacket, too. Seamons says that if you’re buying faux (also known as borg), you’re better off skipping the full shearling look in favour of jackets with faux shearling details, like collars or linings, which are usually better executed on the high street.
“Also, just remember to keep it clean – there’s nothing worse than a ratty jacket,” Seamons says.
Harder than finding the right jacket, however, is the outfit that sits with it. A shearling jacket is versatile but you’d be hard pushed to call it a wardrobe staple. Wearing sheepskin means you’re not dressing like the rest of the flock, so style it with care.
“As a rule of thumb, shearling outerwear – borg jackets in particular – tend to work best with a casual look,” says Seamons. “Think a denim or flannel shirt with jeans or chinos.” That doesn’t mean it should be dismissed for the evenings, though. “Black shearling details to peacoats are perfect for smart events, and work well with tailoring.”
The most common shearling jackets are the bomber and pilot’s styles, but you can also find trucker jackets, biker jackets and shearling overcoats. In almost all cases, the safest way to style is with a pair of black or indigo jeans, some rugged boots and a light knit or T-shirt underneath. Monochrome is another safe approach. A shearling jacket can complete an all-black look just as well as a symphony of neutrals. It’s a statement coat – let it do the talking.
If you opt for a heritage-looking pilot’s jacket, there’s one safety announcement before you take off: bank sharply away from cream-coloured chinos because you’ll stray into Biggles fancy dress territory. Keep things fly with some smart wool trousers instead.
Nordics know a thing or two about style. They’re also well-versed in cold weather. So, consider Acne’s shearling jacket the best of both worlds, with minimal versatility that’ll clinch the cost-per-wear ratio and battle the frost.
Schott is to leather jackets what Heinz is to ketchup: one of the first and still one of the best. So its shearling offering is second to very few, finished to sublime quality and styled with a healthy amount of Americana. A coat that should last you decades.
Turns out Del Boy is en vogue again. His go-to shearling overcoat was mimicked by none other than Colin Firth in the latest Kingsman movie, and you can now own the exact style thanks to Mr Porter’s exclusive collection. Baker boy or cowboy hat strongly discouraged.
Reiss does affordable luxury at the top end of the high street, so it’s a good first stop if you want to buy shearling that won’t cost a fortune. Its latest version harks back to Marlon Brando’s iconic hide from On The Waterfront. This modern update features the same high popped collar from the 1954 classic, alongside subtle leather accents and a versatile monochrome palette. If it’s good enough for Brando.
Combining two staples in one piece is an easy way to economise. And no, we’re not talking about T-shirt collars sewn into Oxford shirts. This season, Parisian brand Ami has created a wool-blend bomber jacket complete with real shearling collar, offering two modern essentials within a single piece.
These days, Stone Island is more likely to be worn by A-listers sitting front row at fashion week than football hooligans throwing chairs at terrified German locals. Case in point, the David-TC shearling jacket, a simple yet well-crafted autumnal pick that errs on the quieter side of a lifetime stadium ban.
Trust Topman for an affordable and directional take on new menswear trends. The high-street stalwart recognises that head-to-toe shearling is best saved for Teletubbies costumes. Instead, flex just a touch of the good stuff at the collar with the brand’s faux iteration, a sharp wardrobe must-have that channels shearling without risking statement or novelty.
ASOS remains a one-stop-shop for affordable menswear. The online giant mixes timeless and trend-led styles, so if you’re looking for faux shearling, its offering spans everything from traditional bombers to all-over borg designs.
Zara has form with producing affordable versions of high-fashion trends, and is especially good with tactile fabrics. So it’s not a surprise that the Spanish superbrand’s take on faux shearling is a success. Look out for faithful heritage touches to its aviator jackets, including lined collars, elasticated waists and practical front pockets.
The Land Of The Free is also one of the best-dressed, and for that, we can thank Levi’s. The godfather of Midwestern workwear brings the same expert touch to its sherpa jacket, combining a foolproof denim shell – the very stuff Levi’s pioneered back in 1853 – with a comfortable faux shearling lining. The brand’s iconic trucker jacket has now been going strong for 50 years. A genuine (and affordable) classic.
Decent clobber needn’t make a dent to your bank balance. River Island – the British retailer famed for affordable takes on seasonal trends – takes all the hallmarks of a sound shearling jacket, and simply makes it cheaper. Which, granted, means no genuine leather or shearling, but nobody will notice the difference anyway.
What do the Spanish know about winter dressing? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. Mango, founded in Barcelona over 30 years ago, proves an equal adversary to any Northern European label, with a brown faux-shearling jacket that mixes classic looks with trusty insulation.