The Armoury x Ascot Chang Safari Jacket

We break down the history of the safari jacket and what makes our linen model special in the latest product spotlight.

In the summer of 1974, there was a big flap over safari jackets. Abercrombie & Fitch and their competitors were embroiled in a legal battle over the term “safari.” This was, of course, before the teenybopper days of Abercrombie – back when they were still dressing adventurers and explorers, as well as selling sporting goods to men such as Ernest Hemmingway and Teddy Roosevelt.

Safari is actually a Swahili word meaning “to sojourn,” which is what made the fight so contentious. Abercrombie’s competitors said it was too generic to protect – as though anyone could have exclusive rights over words such as camping or hunting. Abercrombie, on the other hand, insisted they’ve held a registered trademark on “safari” since the 1950s. In an article in the New York Times, their treasurer said anyone could claim their goods are suitable for safaris, but only Abercrombie & Fitch had the right to describe something as a “safari jacket.”

The company has since moved on from their adventure themed clothes, but the fight was important in the 1970s because well-dressed men wore safari jackets everywhere -- from downtown shopping centers to countryside resorts. And for good reason. These no-nonsense pieces of outwear make for great companions in the warmer seasons. They’re lightweight, cool wearing, and have ample pocket space for anything you might need to carry. Easy to throw over silk or cotton shirts, they play well with everything from jeans to chinos to wool gabardine trousers.

They also come packed with good amount of romance, which is what made them so popular in the first place. Bush jackets, another term for the style, were immortalized during the heydays of 1930s Hollywood jungle films. Clark Gable looked dashing in a mid-weight safari suit when he played Victor Marswell in Mogambo. His had a belt at the waist, epaulets at the shoulders, and enormous pockets across the chest and hips. Spencer Tracey wore something similar in Stanley and Livingstone, although his had broader lapels. Then there were real life adventurers, such as Ernest Hemingway, who liked wearing his bush jacket with tall boots when he was at Mount Kilimanjaro. It wasn’t until Yves Saint Laurent made the style a centerpiece in his 1968 “Saharienne” collection, however, that safari jackets became a chic and popular style item.

Safari jackets disappeared for a while in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but they seem ripe again for reintroduction. It’s hard to look good when temperatures soar, but these natural fiber jackets were literally built for such conditions. They’re made from mid-weight breathable materials and come totally unstructured – no haircloth, canvas, or padding, which means there are fewer layers to trap heat.

We have two this season from Ascot Chang. One comes in a tobacco color that easily pairs with dusty neutrals such as olive and khaki; the other a dark blue that functions just like your staple navy sport coats. Both are constructed from airy, mid-weight linens that have been woven by Spence Bryson, one of the best English producers for such fabrics. Being a slightly heavier linen means the jackets will rumple more than they wrinkle, while also retaining that important breathability that makes these practical during the dog days of summer.

We’ve also made some important stylistic adjustments to the jackets of yore. Ours does away with the fussy long belt at the waist. Instead, we’ve put in a half belt at the back, which you can adjust with some simple side tabs (useful for giving the jacket shape). We’ve also opted for a gull collar to push this closer to regular outerwear than shirt jackets. Something like a traditional sport coat’s lapels, rather than a shirt’s fold-down collar, which means this is easier to wear up for a causal look.

In order to give a freer range of movement, while still retaining a refined and tailored looking silhouette, we’ve given the back an inverted box pleat. When your arms are down, the pleat closes and forms a simple line between your shoulder blades. When both arms are extended, however, it opens up to allow for a more comfortable movement (important on material such as linen, which inherently has less give than wool). Additionally, the shirt-like cuffs are easy to unbutton and fold back – making for not only a more casual look, but also allowing you to get the sleeves out of the way when you need.

Safari jackets were literally designed for adventure and travel, which means they can take you anywhere. Wear one in lieu of a sport coat with tailored trousers and a button-down oxford, or more casually with jeans and soft suede chukka boots. They’re the perfect choice for when you’re shopping in the city, wine tasting in the country, or vacationing in Palm Springs. If you buy one of ours, you can even legally call it a safari jacket – for now.