Can you smell it? I can. The sinus-clearing tang of spilled scrumpy on overly polished wood, the nasal thud of decades-old nicotine ingrained in carpet, the balsamic hit of warm bodies slowly relaxing into stupors. It’s the unmistakable scent of the pub, of course, and if Boris Johnson’s post-Covid road map stays on track our beloved but beleaguered watering holes are going to be open for business again some time soon.
At least, their gardens will be. Which is potentially a better scenario than the buildings being unshuttered, given how crowd-and-contact averse we’re all likely to be when finally we’re allowed out again. If the wisdom that it takes 28 days to form a new habit is to be believed, then we’re going to be habitually anti-intimate.
So pub gardens it is. But what to wear? The adage states that one should “ne’er cast a clout ‘till May be out” (loosely translated to: “You live in England you wally, so don’t even think about taking your coat off until the end of May”) and in this case I’m inclined to agree. Given that most of our socialising is likely to be al fresco from now until at least mid-May, it’s key to stay sensibly wrapped until the weather dictates otherwise, if only so that you can squeeze in an extra Dubonnet or two before the call for last orders.
The good news is that a whole host of brands and their home-confined creative directors have spent their lockdowns cooking up garments designed expressly with staying stylish while being outdoors in mind. From clever coats that can be broken down into a range of different garments, to thermal under-layers with elegance at their core, there’s something to suit every wardrobe and bank balance.
The most important starting point in your new trans-seasonal, cross-environmental clothing arsenal should, naturally, be your coat. In my opinion the best option is a modular parka that features multiple layers that can be removed as the mercury rises and added back as the evening draws in.
Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman recently founded the enigmatically named label Applied Art Forms, and his AM2-1A parka comes complete with a liner coat and vest, both of which can be removed with the whip of a zip. What’s more, the shell comes with a range of nifty alternative collars, should the pub garden you’re attending have a dress code that dictates “no hoodies”.
“The modular parka has been inspired by pieces from my vintage military collection — but it’s also an elegant coat,” Berryman tells me. “With the unpredictable weather here in the UK it allows for any post-lockdown al fresco scenario as it can be worn with its insulated liner in cold weather or fully stripped out if the sun is shining. It’s designed to be used all year round in various configurations.”
Elsewhere, Parisian label Yves Salomon does a line of improbably chic parkas and down jackets that come complete with removable linings in shearling, many of which can also be found second-hand for less than £500 on luxury resale site Vestiaire Collective.
Should you be in the market for something infused with a little less Gallagher brother spirit, however, British brand Dunhill has, under the aegis of creative director Mark Weston, put a great deal of emphasis on stylish-yet-functional outerwear. The brand’s 3-1 field jacket, which is new for Spring/Summer 21, being a case in point. The garment comes complete with a detachable Rolla quilt gilet that can also be worn solo, and there are four voluminous bellows pockets on the front of the shell, which will undoubtedly prove useful for carrying all those extra packets of Scampi Fries and Bacon Frazzles back to your picnic bench.
It goes without saying, of course, that you’ll require something smart beneath your coat should you need to remove it altogether (we may have lost time over lockdown but we haven’t lost our manners). British brand Connolly, which started life providing high-quality leathers to the automobile industry, does an excellent line in low-key knits with a sporty edge. Concocted by the brand’s knitwear designer Lorraine Acornley to evoke its driving heritage in a contemporary way, the dense Car Vests are available in both long and short sleeve styles while for a softer look — if you’re heading to the pub on a Sunday, say — the label’s Art Cardigans are slouchy enough to be worn as layers or as makeshift coats in their own right.
No good “ready for anything the pub garden throws at you” look would be complete, however, without a good set of thermals for when conditions become truly treacherous and you’ve sat still for hours. The only place for these, in my opinion, is Japanese label Uniqlo. The brand’s Heattech jersey thermals are not only incredibly effective (be prepared to de-layer at speed if the sun comes out), but they’re also easy to conceal under clothes by way of their ultra-fine-gauge construction, and they’re surprisingly affordable, with T-shirts under £10.
The final weapon in your back to boozing arsenal is, naturally, a good pair of shoes. Chances are you’ve been shuffling between your desk and the fridge in slippers for the past few months, but this footwear might well get you laughed out of your local. The key to maintaining extreme levels of comfort whilst still looking socially acceptable? A smart pair of shearling-lined boots. At the shallower end of the budgetary puddle Sorel does a nice line in fleecy snow stompers, midway Grenson’s shearling-lined hikers are serviceable and denim-friendly, while out at the deep end Loro Piana’s nutria-lined suede chukka boots are the podiatric equivalent of walking on very, very expensive clouds.
And for that I’ll take a large Barolo (just bring the bottle) with a packet of Mini Cheddars, ta.
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