Vintage Swedish Army Shearling Survival Coat "Livpäls M/1916"
Maker - Unknown
Era - First half of 20th century
Material - Sheep shearling and cotton canvas
Acquired - by Douglas Luhanko in February in 2018
We have had some heavy snowfall in Stockholm during the last week and we just happened to find a rather rare example of a Swedish vintage army coat, so we felt it was proper to show it to you and to tell the story about it! We hope it will give you some inspiration.
Two weeks ago was there was an annual Swedish antiques fair held here in Stockholm and me and Kerstin decided it was a proper Sunday activity to visit it to see what was offered. I have to admit that we didn't have too high expectations, because we were visiting on the last day of the fair, but we thought we might as well go there and see what was left.
A seller from Dalarna, a region located north of Stockholm, had some vintage Swedish army clothes hanging on a clothing rack in their booth and thats where I found this coat.
I was thrilled to see this jacket because a couple of days earlier I had just heard rumors and seen a picture of a white shearling coat worn by the Swedish army back in the early 20th century. This type of jacket is more commonly seen in the white cotton version, known as the Swedish snow parka, that remained in the service up until the 70's. If you would like to see which one we refer to we currently have one for sale in the webshop here.
So i picked it up and we now keep it as an inspirational piece in our archive. The leather is in good condition for it's age but I suspect that it wouldn't last long if one were to use it in the bitter cold winter we're having now!
As you can see in the pictures the jacket is designed to be worn as a winter coat and the length of the body and the stand-up collar combined with the long haired shearling used tells us that it was designed to protect people in extremely cold environments. The model is named m/1913 for the year it was brought into service. I suspect that the jackets were used by the Swedish ground forces and intended for winter warfare, and I have read that higher grade was indicated by brass buttons and grade markings on the shoulder straps. This version has no such details.
I think the most interesting part of the vintage Swedish military garments is the fact that the design didn't change to much from the late 19th century to the 1970s when they were taken out of service. The fact that Sweden didn't participate in any major wars during this era might be the main reason for the old-school design in the apparel and the fact that the clothes could be used for a long time since they didn't see any battle also adds to the slow evolution of the garments.
The back of the jacket is made of a large piece of shearling and you can also see that the lower part has been patched to make up the entire pice that was needed. I suspect that this is the neck of the sheep at the coats lower back, and that also explains the circular pieces that have been added.
The jacket is overlapping in the front and are buttoned with a single row of six buttons. In the armpits there's holes for ventilation and they are probably also intended to make movement in the jacket the jacket easier.
On the front of the chest we find two strange openings, one located on each side of the jacket. Im not sure of what these were used for! One reason might be that they were put there so that the wearer could reach the chest pockets on the garment worn under the jackets but I think it would be hard to use them for that purpose due to the fact that the holes are quite small. Another option might be that some kind of straps, maybe for a backpack, could be running through the holes. I also think they could have been used for fastening other gears that could come handy when out in the fields. Do you have any ideas of what the slits might be for?
I would say that the buttons are made of some kind of plastic but Im not sure, I have seen buttons of horn used but these are not horn buttons and I don't think it's made of bone either, so plastic would be my best guess. As you kan see the buttons are fastened on a reinforced leather tape that runs all along the front in order to reinforce the shearling and prevent it from ripping.
The buttons are also fastened with a piece of white leather that is tied in a knot on the inside of the garment and secured by a smaller button of the same style. The loops that go around the buttons are made of white cotton canvas, most likely considered to be tougher and more durable than a piece of leather. Note the reinforcing stitching that holds the cotton loops, the way it turns to go backwards a few centimeters and then turns again onto the next loop. All of the loops are fastened in one continuous seam! This way of reinforcing them and fastening them to the jacket is one of my favorite details on the jacket.
The pockets are large and located on each side of the jacket and as you can see, they are made of a thick white cotton canvas and the button holes are lined with leather. I suspect it was considered easier to put on cotton pockets on the jacket instead of using leather, as I think similar pockets made of leather would be bulkier.
The collar is made to be detachable and Im not sure why they were designed in this way, it's a detail that is different from the more commonly seen cotton canvas jacket. As you can see it also has a long chinstrap that can be buttoned to keep the collar in it's upright position in order to keep the wearers neck warm.
The lower back of the jacket, and as I mentioned earlier, what I think might have been the neck of the sheep. You can see clearly where material has been patched, making up for the material that was missing.
A fun fact about this jacket is that it is the jacket that was used as inspiration when designing the shearling leather coat worn by Tom Hardy playing the role of the super vigilant named Bane in the movie Batman, The Dark Knight from 2008. The designer made the coat in brown shearling leather but if you take a look at the details you will see where the design originated from, with the same pockets, collar and button solution.
The Swedish grey/green cotton version of this jacket was also used by Bruce Willis in the post apocalyptic movie "Twelve monkeys" from 1995.
We will se if it shows up in another Hollywood film in the future and I sure hope it will be this version in that case! I just think there's something special in wearing a white shearling coat.
Last week we wrote about how to determine the age of a Vintage Levi's Big E type 3 jacket and if you missed it you will find the blog post here.