The story of the safari jacket
Really, the story of the safari jacket is a simple one. Like so many other outerwear designs that fall into the category of ‘utility jackets’ today, its origins lie in functional military clothing.
As the name implies, the safari jacket was created for use in the African bush. The term first crops up in the late 1920s, but the design itself was introduced in 1900, as the principle garment of the British Army’s new Khaki Drill uniform, developed as a practical and lightweight solution for regiments fighting in the South African heat of the Boer War.
The uniform’s nickname, ‘Khaki Drill’, is also straight-forward in its derivation. These lightweight uniforms were made from tough cotton drill dyed in a khaki colour, partially because khaki dye was cheap to source at the time, and partially because it blended with the arid landscape of the bush. As it happens, one of New & Lingwood’s partner mills, Fox Brothers & Co. in Somerset, was one of the very first cloth mills to weave Khaki Drill for the British Army, as commissioned by the War Office.
From the outset, military safari jackets were designed with bellows pockets, revere collars, shoulder epaulettes and belted waists, features that swiftly made their way into civilian dress, with the growing trend for recreational safari jackets. From the ‘30s onwards, with European colonial power in Africa reaching its zenith, and the West’s fascination for African art at an all-time high, wealthy Europeans would spend a fortune on luxurious safaris, sporting fashionable versions of the military’s Khaki Drill uniform as they went. The safari jacket has been a warm-weather staple on-and-off ever since, with resurgences in the late 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, thanks in no small part to Roger Moore’s safari suits, worn repeatedly for his turns as 007 on the big screen.