TO BE trendy this season you need only sport a decorative hood attached to your coat or top, yet the best-looking hoods around can be found on that most classic of coat shapes: the duffel coat.

Fashioned with big pockets, check lining and the ubiquitous toggles, this knee-length coat was created for the British Royal Navy in the Second World War to protect its men against the biting winds of the Atlantic and North Sea. The design evolved from the need for practicality and the original duffel had a very roomy cut that allowed it to be worn over another coat. The big hood was designed to fit over the officers' peaked naval caps and the use of toggle fastenings instead of buttons meant the coats could be fastened and unfastened while wearing thick gloves.

The word "duffel" originally referred to a heavy woollen cloth, similar to that which was used to make the coats, manufactured in the Belgian town of Duffel. After the War, civilians began wearing army surplus duffel coats and, in 1953, British company Gloverall started manufacturing a commercial men's duffel coat. Women wore the smaller sizes of the men's coat until the late Sixties, when duffel coats cut specifically for women arrived on the market.

Duffel coats are worn across the world and are particularly popular with the Japanese - 40 per cent of Gloverall's market is in Japan. Well- known manufacturers of the duffel coat include Burberry and Aquascutum, as well as Gloverall, whose customers can be split into two main camps: the older customer who shops at a gentleman's outfitters and the young and trendy whose influences come out of the music scene - Liam Gallagher famously wears one. A cashmere Aquascutum duffel coat features in the January '99 issue of FHM and duffel coats are now being made for all seasons with neoprene, nylon, elysian and cashmere versions all available.

Duffel coats are always popular with children and perhaps the most famous owner of a duffel coat is Paddington Bear, who first sported one in Michael Bond's book A Bear Called Paddington published in 1958.

Susannah Conway