We are fast approaching the time of year in the UK where the days are starting get longer and the weather is starting to turn milder. It’s becoming the transitional time of year where winter woollens are providing too much insulation, but the tropics of the UK don’t quite allow short-sleeved tees alone.
We men always have the inter-seasonal conundrum of finding a decent jacket that provides just the right amount of warmth, AND shelter from the inevitable spring showers. This year, it seems that there is only one choice of outerwear which is coming out on top – the safari jacket.
Historically, safari jackets represented the central item of the traditional British military tropical uniform, worn by soldiers in the African bush. The jackets inherently contained four or more expandable pockets, an attached waist belt and epaulettes. They were designed to be light-weight for easy mobility, but warm enough for when the African sun set. They were engineered for comfort and function and traditionally came in earthy tones, which enabled the wearer to blend into the African bush landscape.
The safari jacket grew in popularity following post-war periods when surplus vintage stock was sold to the general public. A very similar process occurred following World War II, when the MoD sold surplus stocks of duffel coats to Harold and Freda Morris – who together founded the brand Gloverall – now synonymous with good quality duffel coats steeped in history.
In fact, before it was acquired by GAP in 1983, the global brand Banana Republic started off as a catalogue company that specialised in the sale of vintage military surplus stock items from around the World – one of their specialities being the safari jacket.
The safari jacket became further popularised during the 1940s and 1950s by the American author and journalist Ernest Hemingway, and received another revival during the 1970s when Yves Saint Laurent himself regularly wore a safari suit. Following this, Roger Moore epitomised the ‘cool’ of safari when, as James Bond in ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ and ‘Octopussy’, his wardrobe contained an army green safari jacket. And if it’s good enough for 007…
The spring/summer 2012 fashion weeks in London, Paris, New York and Milan showed much support for activewear influences on outerwear for men – and you don’t get much more active or adventurous than safari. Fashion writer and editor Michael Fisher sums up these influences on SS12 menswear perfectly:
‘The safari influences from the runways are undeniable, and self-belts, contrast stitching, cargo pockets and masculine neutrals keep it sophisticated.’
More specifically, the Independent described the YSL SS12 show as containing ‘a sense of jungle-bound adventure in safari jackets with laced waistlines’, and Milan Fashion Week was described as ‘safari chic.’ But it wasn’t only YSL who continued to promote their founding Father’s favourite item of outerwear. Other brands such as Ozwald Boateng, Topman Design, Ermenegildo Zegna and Louis Vuitton joined the call of the wild and followed suit.
However, my favourite of the bunch was the fantastic show by Corneliani at Milan Fashion Week. The show contained a solid safari influence throughout, with several safari jackets in distressed fabrics and worn colours paired with earth-tone shorts. Accessories included neutral-coloured scarves, worn trilbies, snakeskin bags and khaki messenger satchels.
The show itself produced an even bigger safari impact, with a sand-covered runway and a moving film projected desert road backdrop. It really did give the impression that the models had just walked out of the sun-bleached Sahara. The visual impact was amazing and granted an air of raw authenticity to the clothes – most notably the safari jackets:
Similarly, advertising campaigns and lookbooks for high fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton and Tommy Hilfiger have featured on location safari-style shoots to advertise their safari-influenced collections. The Louis Vuitton campaign not only displays the safari-influences on the clothes fantastically – it also contains some fantastically shot and well-composed photographs.
The fashion press has also gone wild for safari jackets. Esquire columnist, and all-round fashion connoisseur, Jeremy Langmead wrote in the February issue about his predicted popular trends for the coming season, and number one was the safari jacket. Langmead thinks that slim, tailored safari styles give good shape to the body and work better than the traditional bulky, expandable-pocketed jackets. He also favours neutral khakis and greens for colour choices.
In the same issue of Esquire, safari jackets were number two on the Esquire Spring Style Special List – again in simple, sleeks styles. GQ write that safari jackets have ‘infiltrated spring’s catwalks in diverse guises’, which shows that the style can be variable and chameleonic. Corneliani and John Varvatos have both designed a suede version, whilst Hugo Boss and Ian Velardi have created leather and denim versions respectively. Although earthy green, beige and khaki tones seem to be the preference for most of the designers and brands, Trussardi 1911 opposed this trend and featured safari-influenced jackets in bright blues and oranges.
It is clear for any avid follower of men’s fashion to see that the SS12 collections contained an underlying theme of function and style in the outerwear pieces – and no piece epitomises this more than the safari jacket. It is casual enough to be worn by day, and there are enough variants in fabric and colour to appeal to the masses.
The safari jacket excellently compliments the 1970s trend which has been emerging recently and the penchant for earthy, neutral tones such as khaki, beige, ivory and olive represent the go-to colourings for tonal outfits this season.
So whether heading out into the arid desert (or at least local beach), or tackling the dangers of your very own urban jungle – the safari jacket represents a spring/summer outerwear piece which should appeal to everybody.
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