For a strange time in the mid-2000s, menswear was #menswear: a conservative, traditional outfit that relied on a very Mad Men understand what “real” men looked like. Classics were riding high, especially if it was at the dandy Roger Stone end, and even more so if it was done on Savile Row. They littered Essex pubs, WordPress blogs and street corners during the now defunct London Collections: Men, a fashion week for guys who loved off-the-shoulder overcoats. And they also liked safari jackets. A lot, in fact.
Because, of all the classics of men’s fashion, the safari jacket was, and remains, one of the most honorable. It often sat on shirts, pants, and ties (Windsor knot, duh), and exemplified the kind of legacy that the #menswear episode bragged about so much. It was Great British men’s clothing. Probably the one big thing this anemic nation was also doing during its colonial teenage years.
Defined by multiple pockets and a utilitarian lean (shoulder pads, a belt, and a khaki or desert hue are all classic attributes, making it nearly interchangeable with its field jacket cousin), the safari jacket is typically made from from a lightweight or lighter cotton. poplin fabric. Which is specially designed for the equatorial climates where he grew up. The safari jacket was a lightweight uniform for European soldiers during World War II, and was later a staple of Ernest Hemingway, who even designed his own exclusive version with American clothier Willis & Geiger Outfitters. Wowee Ernie on this custom drip.
Long after the Axis forces waved the white flag, the safari jacket continued to fire on all cylinders. Designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Ted Lapidus were frequently depicted smoking and fashioning in polished, fitted versions, and the piece itself saw another boom in the sixties and seventies. The safari suit ran off with bell bottoms. Then he retired in his most traditional sense and was co-opted around 2008 by Surrey boys with strong jaws and good hair.
But during her travels, the safari jacket has left the beaten track. It’s no longer a classic piece for classic dressers (there are still plenty of them, if that’s your thing). In the A/H ’22 showcase, the big houses bulldozed the traditional version of Saint Laurent and Lapidus. They are taller, in every sense of the word, and in keeping with the general tenor of menswear, they are more wavy. Tripping, even.
Look at Prada, and the safari jacket was all shoulder and shaman. A cinched waist exaggerated the wide fit at the top and bottom. The sleeves fell well past the fingertips. And further still, it went down the rabbit hole in a hallucinogenic bright orange print that blurred Western scenes, snakeskin and desert flora. A pointed but pressing reminder to always empty your boots on the porch. Paul Smith was on a similar track. Although instead of a pure LSD illusion, the British designer opted for optics with tightly cut geometries that distort the shape of the safari jacket. Watch carefully and risk a crisis. Wear it elsewhere with contrasting checks and be very Paul Smith.
Other labels have remixed the Sahara without going that far. Dior and Hermès arguably sat at the quieter end of the trip; the part in which the safari jacket intervals the full moon party with a week-long visit from a deep-pocketed aunt and uncle. Under the direction of Dior creative director Kim Jones, the safari jacket felt witty Parisian in a cushioned fit that offered plenty of angles around the hem and collar. A safari jacket, in its purest form, was never designed for city life. And yet, Dior’s A/W ’22 ode to the Christian who founded the brand recalled its global heritage at the very place of its creation. Monsieur Dior’s safari jacket is now more than comfortable in the 16th arrondissement. And for Hermès, it was more sober, and more technical, in black, oversized and replacing a belt with a zip (!!!). In a piece as legendary as the safari jacket, this little technical update is decidedly modern and unorthodox.
These small changes create a butterfly effect for menswear in general. They add up. And, a zip here or there (in tandem with the occasional crazy big print) helps push the envelope in a field that was once unapologetically steeped in old ways. There are a lot of people still chained to the #menswear era. Slowly but surely though, a classic gone rogue can help them navigate the new.
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