I walked with a Crombie

About a year ago, I sneered that there was nothing “authentically skinhead” about real Crombies. With no small amount of inverted snobbery, I suggested there was no point in getting one unless you were an “MP, diplomat or KGB agent“. Well, that was then. But last month, I sussed an unbelievable bargain for a Crombie Retro Coat in mint condition. Now I think real Crombies are the dog’s bollocks.

So now that I’ve reached crombie nirvana, I shall celebrate with this little feature. Since the Torygraph already printed a decent general history of the Crombie a few years ago, I will focus on the skinhead angle, while also incorporating my own experience with different versions of the coat.

First things first. In his famed fashion notebook found at the end of Nick Knight’s ‘Skinhead’ book of 1982, Jim Ferguson makes the following claim:

The ‘Crombie’ is usually considered the skinhead coat – but only in the broadest sense of the word ‘skinhead’ can this be accepted. Skinhead haircuts & Crombies missed each other by the better part of a year and ‘Crombie boys’ as they became known often had shoulder length hair. The first time I ever saw a skinhead haircut and a Crombie on the same person was in 1978 or 9.

Most available photographic evidence seems to support this. Crombie coats make a noticeable appearance from circa 1970 onward, when things gradually turn ‘suedehead’. Before that, you get sheepskins and macs. Even in pictures that show both skinheads and ‘suedeheads’, those sporting crombies are usually one or two steps ahead in the hair length department:

crombie-1-original-9
Chelsea Shed Boys in June 1970
1970 tottenham hotspurs skins and suedes
Spurs skins and suedes in 1970

Ferguson’s account also matches the experience of original skinheads from ‘up north’, where crombies only caught on after the Sunday TimesMeet the Crombie Boys’ expose of March 1971. However, many originals from the Greater London area beg to differ. The crombie, they insist, was a London skinhead coat long before the arrival of ‘suedehead’.

Given the dearth of photographic testimony, I must admit I sensed historical revisionism at first. But I’ve since spoken with a good number of original skinheads both online and in real life. Their 1969-70 crombie recollections are too vivid and detailed to be fabrications. Unless these people are all part of some big crombie conspiracy, I decided eventually, the crombie was a skinhead coat. As for Jim Ferguson… well, he lived in Leicester.

Some remember buying their first crombie as early as 1967 – these fellas had a mod background and later belonged, by their own admission, to the ‘soft end’ of skinhead. Others, notably members of younger, more hard-core mobs, remember switching from macs to crombies in 1969. This was the first generation of skinheads in the proper sense – kids who embraced the name given to them by others. In 1969, most had their coats made to measure. They called them ‘crombies’ without necessarily being aware that it was the name of a cloth brand.

A ‘crombie’ was any gentleman’s topcoat that had the characteristics of a chesterfield overcoat: typically black or navy, single breasted, three-quarter length and made of heavy fabric. ‘Crombies’ were usually fly-fronted, well-waisted, and had a long rear vent. More often than not, they had red lining and two flapped side pockets and a breast pocket. True to the chesterfield’s ever-changing nature, though, ‘crombies’ often incorporated elements of the covert coat, such as velvet collars or ticket pockets. The main character in Bronco Bullfrog (1969) sports a variation that boasts the latter detail, but not the former:

crombie-1-original
Bronco Bullfrog (1969)

The reason why most original skinheads don’t remember anyone wearing a real Crombie back in the day is simple: J&J Crombie Ltd of Aberdeen did not produce any coats of their own until 1985. Rather, the company provided cloth for various coatmakers. Only one East London skinhead I spoke to recalls buying a crombie off the peg in early 1969. It was made of Crombie cloth by Dunn & Co, and it had ‘Dunn & Co’ and ‘Crombie’ labels sewn into its lining.

By late 1969, off-the-peg ‘crombies’ of varying quality became widely available in London. They were usually sold off the back of a van in places such as Brick Lane market and were never made of Crombie cloth. Many of these sellers were Asian, and – as one original skinhead shamefacedly told me – kids often sent others to get a coat for them as they didn’t want to be seen buying from a ‘paki’. In London in 1970, these ‘market crombies’ quickly became the most widespread skinhead coats, worn to the football ground just as much as they were during the week.

I’m lucky enough to own a navy ‘market crombie’ with red lining from that period, Made in Britain by a company called Evron. It stands out for being particularly well waisted and boasting a somewhat flared bottom, which gives its shape a nice flow. Some of the cheaper market crombies reputedly resembled horse blankets, but mine is of decent quality, fairly heavy, and made of 80% wool. I would say it’s the old-school equivalent of today’s Warrior and Relco coats, although the dandyish cut is superior. At 39 inches back length, it’s a tad shorter than today’s Crombie ‘retro’ coat, but a good couple of inches longer than the likes of Warrior and Relco.

rsz_1etsy60scrombie_1

What, then, is the ‘correct’ crombie length? Well, just above the knees is what most top-ranking original skinheads would argue, although a couple of inches shorter is also acceptable. Midway down your thigh is too short, and below knee-length makes it an undertaker’s overcoat.

Right:crombie-1-original-4

Right (second left), wrong (first right):
crombie-1-original-1

As you can see, not all suedeheads were style gods. Conversely, not all 80s skins were scruffs dressed in donkey jacket ‘crombies’ from the Last Resort shop.

Right:

crombie-3-revivalist-11
1980

Wrong:

crombie-3-revivalist-12
1980

What’s available for the discerning skinhead today, then? Here’s my takes on but a few models – by no means an exhaustive list.

BUDGET

‘Men’s wool & cashmere luxury blend slim fit crombie coat’ by De La Crème fashions
rsz_crombiedelacreme
This Walthamstow based brand deserves a special mention for special shittiness. Because their coats are extremely low priced and look passable in pictures, many beginners fall for them. No need to discuss details here, just read some of their eBay reviews: “paper thin”; “scratchy like a horse blanket”; “open threads”; “neither ‘wool’ nor ‘cashmere'”; “moth holes upon arrival”; and so on. A mate had been waiting for his ‘luxury crombie coat’ for two weeks, then tried to contact the company via eBay, phone and email for another week – to no avail. Requests for a refund were ignored until eBay intervened. Only in response to negative feedback did ‘De La Crème’ bring themselves to reply, inventing a story about “technical problems with our eBay account”. Read the fake customer review on their website for laughs, otherwise avoid like the plague.

RRP: £54 (better flushed down the toilet to spare you some nerves)

Lambretta overcoat
rsz_1crombielambretta

Lambretta offers a fly-fronted crombie for cheap. With its short square cut, it looks like a close relative to the De La Crème coat. Not having tried it myself, I am in no position to pass judgement, though I wouldn’t expect too much.

60% wool 40% polyester. Straight cut, suede collar. Two inside pockets, chest pocket, two flapped side pockets, one non-flapped ticket pocket.  Available in black or navy with repeat logo lining in red and blue. Weight: ? RRP: £75

Warrior and Relco crombie coat
rsz_crombiewarrior
These two are very much the same, presumably made in the same factory to the same specifications, but differently branded. The straight, boxy cut and short back length (37 inches for a size M) puts them squarely in the same camp as the notorious Last Resort ‘donkey jacket crombies’ from the 80s, on which they appear to be modelled. That being said, I won’t slam them. Made of 50% heavy wool, they are fairly good quality and unlike most crombies, they will keep you warm in the winter. Good for knocking about in cold weather – or to wear to an Oi gig, where 1) nobody can tell one crombie from another, and 2) some pisshead is bound to vomit all over yours. I’m not giving my Warrior coat away.

50% wool 50% ‘other fabric’. Straight cut, no velvet collar. Short centre vent. Inside pocket, chest pocket, two flapped side pockets, no ticket pocket. Available in black with red lining only. Weight: 1.57 kg. RRP: circa £100-140 depending on outlet. The Warrior-branded coats tend to be cheaper.

The Platinum Tailor overcoat

rsz_crombieplatinum
I was eyeing up this coat for weeks. At 115 quid, this looked like a pretty good quality crombie.  ‘Covert’ coat details not unlike the far more expensive Adam of London and Jump the Gun models, but, as I hoped, more suitable for the winter. Ending below the knee at 44 inches, it would need to be professionally shortened – a £30 job in most places.

In response to my first email inquiry, the Clapton based company assured me the coat was “of medium thickness” and would “probably be ok for the English winter”. The one person I spoke to who owns a Platinum Tailor crombie wasn’t so sure, though: “It’s a good quality coat – certainly better than the ‘crombie’ I owned in 1971. But I won’t be wearing it between November and April”. I still wanted to try it, but the company ignored my simple request for flat measurements. Once, twice, three times. A chance was missed – I gave up.

90% wool 10% cashmere. Waisted cut, velvet collar. Centre vent. Two inside pockets, chest pocket, two flapped side pockets, one ticket pocket.  Available in black or navy with red lining. Weight: ? RRP: £115

1980s ‘skinhead crombies’
You can get lucky in FB groups such as ‘Skinhead Sell, Swap & Buy’. Some vintage 80s skinhead crombies are inferior to Warrior and Relco (Last Resort, Kensington Market, etc), others are pretty neat (e.g. 1980s Merc coats).

MID RANGE

Adam of London and Jump the Gun overcoats
rsz_adam_jtg_crombie-1
When I got my navy overcoat at Adam of London’s shop in Ladbroke Grove, Adam told me that Jump the Gun overcoats were “boxier” than his. London being the home of wheeler-dealers, this was not strictly true: in fact, Adam and JtG offer the exact same coat under different brand names.

The cut closely resembles Crombie’s ‘retro’ coat, although the Adam/JtG is one inch longer, just touching my knee. Given the ticket pocket and velvet collar, its details are more ‘covert’ than ‘chesterfield’. This elegant, well waisted, quality crombie comes at a fairly steep price. First point of criticism: it’s way too thin to be of any use during the cold months. Secondly, the shoulder pads are too broad – I’m happy with my natural shoulder width and don’t need enhancement. That being said, I do recommend the coat for milder weather.

100% wool. Waisted cut, velvet collar. Long centre vent. Inside pocket, chest pocket, two flapped side pockets, one flapped ticket pocket. Available in black, navy, brown, charcoal or camel with red lining. Weight: 1.25 kg. RRP: £225.

Merc ‘Lord John’ overcoat
rsz_1crombiemerc
Legend has it that the ‘Lord John’ overcoat offered by Merc a few years ago was decent. The most recent model, however, was not fly-fronted and therefore not worth considering. Skinheads don’t wear crombies with exposed buttons – they just don’t.

Crombie cloth crombies
Browsing eBay for Crombie cloth coats by various coatmakers, you can get lucky. Keep in mind, though, that Crombie do not manufacture only one type of fabric. Behold the dark navy Centaur crombie I briefly owned last year, for example.

rsz_crombie1
Looks nice, doesn’t it? So nice I turned a blind eye to the absence of a breast pocket and red lining.  However, the scratchy feel of the fabric prompted me to return it. The difference between the Crombie wool used for the Centaur and the melton wool used for the Crombie ‘retro’ coat is like chalk and cheese.

UPMARKET

Crombie melton wool retro coat
resizecrombie1
The king of overcoats. The bee’s knees. Just the right length and cut, made of luxurious melton wool, fits like made to measure. You won’t be able to afford it, though – unless you, like me, are offered the bargain of the century. Don’t bother waiting for the sales – Crombie reliably inform me that these are part of their core collection and never go on sale. You can get a somewhat cheaper pure wool ‘retro’ for £695 – no velvet collar or red lining there.

100% melton wool. Waisted cut, velvet collar. Long centre vent. Inside pocket, chest pocket, two flapped side pockets, no ticket pocket. Available in black or navy with red lining. Weight: 1.57 kg. RRP: £895

CONCLUSION

There’s a distinct gap in the market for a low-mid budget crombie that is waisted, of adequate length, and thick enough to get you through the winter. A case for Brutus maybe?

For the time being, Warrior is probably your best bet if you’re on a budget. The difference between a cheapo ‘crombie’ and a serious one, though, should be quite clear from the images below. On the left, the Warrior; on the right, the Crombie ‘retro’.

rsz_1warrior_crombiersz_3crombie_retro_coat_1

Oh yeah, I did find two images of crombie-wearing original skinheads in the end…

crombie-1-original-2crombie-1-original-11

Merry xmas to all Creases Like Knives readers!

Text: Matt Crombieboy

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13 thoughts on “I walked with a Crombie

  1. Definitely seen in 1969 in London, the era of short hair. Definitely a piece of skinhead gear.

    I wore mine for work way into the 1970s, when I didn’t give a hoot about fashion but had to look smart for the office. Mind you, by then I not only had long hair but a beard; all I would have needed was a homburg and I would have looked like a Chassid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a wonderful coat made for me by Hector Powe of Nottingham in 1964.
      Navy Wool/Cashmere.Velvet collar scarlet satin lining.
      It cost me 40 GNS.A months wages.
      It was the Dog’s undercarriage.
      It was stolen In The Dungeon Club Stanford Street Nottingham during THE WHO playing there that night.

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  3. An excellent review. You are right in saying that the Adam and JtG ‘Crombies’ are exactly the same thing. In fact, I once bought a Crombie from Adam that had a JtG label inside. The Adam/JtG Crombies are slightly too long as they come down about 6″ below my knee at least. Also, I may be wrong here, but I thought Crombie started making military coats under contract back in the 19th century (in the 1850s) — 1985 was just the first time they entered the civvy market as far as I know.

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  4. Your blog inspired me again. But being on the broke side I gave the Platinium Tailor a go instead of anything fancier. I’m skinny built and their 38 fits like a 42 while the shoulders are a good fit. Quality is alright, a tad lower than what you’d get from Ben Sherman. That being said the wool is very nice. It felt a bit light and thin for the temperature but after a few minutes it warmed me up alright. Again, same feel as the Ben Sherman overcoat. That being said, I wouldn’t wear it in Berlin winter. The lining seems alright as well but it feels kinda fragile. I’m no expert by any means, but I feel it won’t last too long. And yeah 44 inch is way too long! I decided to keep the coat and bring it to the tailor. Which is kinda funny considering the brand name. The total cost of 35 euro for a good fit isn’t too embarrassing.
    I would still think it’s worth the price as a good base to be tailored.

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    • So, I used the coat 2 years ago for a couple of months. 2 years later, the temperature is dropping and I thought it’d be smart to used it again. The lining is ripped here and there, and wool is pilling at the bottom.
      Back then I was comparing the jacket to my Ben Sherman, and I will do it again. I equally used the Ben Sherman, and it shows no sign of wear, in or out.
      The cut of the ‘Platinium Tailor’ is really nice, like, tailored, but the fabric they use felt fragile, and now I can say it definitely is.
      I was definitely ready to go for the real deal this year but unfortunately, Crombie ceased its activity due to the current situation and since this article was written, Merc has been producing a proper hidden buttons coat they named ‘Walesby’. I might have to go that route.

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  5. I’ve chasing my tail with this one too.
    Nevertrust in japan do a nice rendition, sizing can be a problem though

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  6. There is also ‘Bruce Field’ french Brand that offered a pretty convincing ‘covert’ overcoat in the low-mid price range named ‘Risco’. Downside is it looks a bit short and it is difficult to get the measurements from their page.

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  7. There’s a great feature in Tony Beesleys Sawdust Ceasars book by Dave Fawcett (rip) aka Harry from Sale were he mentions a made to measure Crombie overcoat with a silk hanky in the top pocket. He was a Mod and one of the Soul crowd that went to the Twisted Wheel and all his photo booth snaps show him with cropped hair 66/67.

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  8. Thanks for the fascinating article.

    My first crombie was made to measure from Burtons in early 1971. Just turned 15 and paid my Mum back 10 bob a week from my window cleaning round.

    I went to the Spurs v Liverpool game in September that year and as I was walking to the ground, a police van pulled up and dragged me into it. I was taken to the local station and accused of nicking a load of off the peg crombies from the local Burtons, along with a gang of other Scousers. I protested my genuine innocence and about half an hour later, all these older Scouse lads were brought into the station. I’d never seen them before. I told the police that mine was made to measure and from Liverpool, but they didn’t believe me. I was only believed when a Burtons employee came to the station to verify the crombies came from his shop and he spotted a tag in my inside jacket pocket with initials. That confirmed if wasn’t from his shop and it was indeed, made to measure. I then started getting cocky and gave the police some verbals, which resulted in me getting a few smacks around the head and being literally booted out of the police station. Got to White Hart Lane with 10 minutes of the match remaining and the game ended 2-0 for Spurs.

    The away game at Newcastle was also a disaster, but that’s another story, unrelated to crombies.

    Happy Days LOL!

    Cheers, Dave

    Liked by 1 person

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