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THE FIELD COAT is all about comfort. It's so woodsy, so rugged, so Ralph.
Similar in spirit to bush, barn, mule and hunting jackets, the field coat is one of those tried-and-true looks that needs no gimmicks.

No flashy colors. No fancy hoods. No frivolous trims.

Even the man who doesn't recognize the name will recognize the style. The roomy shape. The corduroy collar and cuffs. The earthy colors. The big pockets.

"We're all going back to the classics; it's what Ralph (Lauren) started doing years ago," said Jack Hyde, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and a Buffalo native.

Like the hunting jacket and trench coat, the now-fashionable field coat originally was designed with function in mind. Men wore it for outings in the country, or in the fields for bird and duck hunting. Hence, fashion historians guess, the name.

"But it isn't a shooting jacket," Hyde said. A shooting jacket would have a gun patch, to protect the coat when a gun is against the shoulder.

The classic field coat has, however, protected generations of hunters from the briers, branches and the abrasive cattails common to bird and warm-weather duck hunting, according to the L.L. Bean catalog. And, of course, the older the jacket, the better the look.

Most often constructed from heavyweight cotton canvas (J. Crew's mule jacket, $168)) or cotton denim (L.L. Bean's washed field coat, $102), today's field coats offer plenty of versatility. Ralph Lauren's version, a leather bush jacket, costs nearly $1,000.

Some feature removable, button-in linings. Others are insulated. And many of the updated styles are as likely to turn up on city streets as on country roads.

Jos. A. Bank, for example, sells several styles, including a field coat in rust, sueded cowhide with a hunter green corduroy collar and cuffs. The coat is lined in brushed cotton plaid with a light insulation.

Eddie Bauer sells a quilted field coat for women with contrasting corduroy collar and cuffs and, for added warmth, goose down filling.

And the Adventure Bound shops, in Snyder and Ellicottville, sell other variations of the classic style.

"I carry something that looks very much like an Australian outback coat, and also a coat that is lined in wool and has carved bone buttons and a corduroy collar. It's a brushed cotton/nylon; it's really different," said general manager Anne Widger.

"I think a lot of people are wearing them for everyday. (Field coats) go a lot of different places -- from walking around town to going out to dinner," she said.

And, like all classics, the field coat appeals to many different ages.

"A man is going to wear that until they put him away. It doesn't have fashion; it has style," Hyde said.

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