The jacket is a staple in any great outfit. It completes a look while keeping you warm and protected from the elements. From formal dinner coats to the laid-back hoodie, the long-sleeved outerwear is here to stay. But how did it become the versatile clothing item we know today? Here’s a brief history of your favorite jacket styles.
It Started in the Gut
Unlike the fashion statements that we have today, the earliest jackets were born out of necessity. To survive the harsh winter, ancient people wore wool coats and leather cloaks. The Inuit people of the Canadian Arctic and other northern tribes even wore “gut skin parkas” made out of sea mammal intestines. The innards go through a scraping and drying process to make them waterproof. These early jackets were a part of the basic male attire as it kept them dry while hunting in the rain or during kayaking. Today, you can find modern waterproof outerwear for sale. With brands like Obermeyer offering men and women’s ski jackets.
The world of formal clothing, believe it or not, was much complicated back then than it is now. The 1800s saw the rise of formal jackets closely modeled after military and equestrian (horse riding) designs. They were first popularized by a man named “Beau Brummel,” who turned the extravagant clothing of the ruling class into neutral and accessible designs that everyone can wear.
The jackets Brummel made retained the coattails of royal coats, but he toned down the excessive accents and bright colors. This became the basis of formal coats people wear ‘til now. Fast forward to today, and you’ll see that suit coats fall beyond the waist. And the casual variation known as the “blazer” is perfectly fine to wear with casual clothes like t-shirts and jeans. Coattails are almost nonexistent. They’re often reserved for full-on formal events attended by politicians and celebrities.
From punk rock frontmen to your favorite fashion influencer on Instagram, military jackets continue to dominate the casual clothing scene. The trend started with women in the 19th century wearing clothing similar to military officer uniform. The trend picked up once more when rock icons like Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, and The Beatles started sporting jackets from their local antique stores. This is more than apparent in The Fab Four’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. The 90s also saw Michael Jackson wearing Victorian jackets with padded shoulders and flashy accents.
The most popular design nowadays is the Olive Green Bomber Jacket. It’s based on flight or “MA-1” jackets worn by pilots during the world wars. The Olive Green color, on the other hand, comes from the camo colors trend during the early 2000s.
The denim jacket is a symbol the Wild West and youthful rebellion. And like its legwear counterpart, it was created for workers. Levi Strauss made the original denim jacket in the 1880s. He wanted to create a durable but breathable coat that railroad workers and miners could use. He came up with the iconic design we known now and named it “The Triple Pleat Blouse.” And the rest was history.
The jacket found its way into the big screen during the 60s Western film craze. It remained steadily relevant throughout the 70s and 80s as rock stars like Bruce Springsteen and John Lennon adding it to their arsenal of effortlessly cool looks. Not much has changed in the design of the classic denim jacket, and rightfully so. This is one of the few cases where the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” actually applies.
The humble hoodie, like the denim jacket, is made for laborers. It was created and popularized by Champion Products in the early 1930s. Its former president, Harold Lipson, stated that the hood was sewn into the sweatshirts to protect laborers and athletes from the cold. The hoodie became especially popular in the mid-70s as hip-hop artists wore them in their album covers and music videos. And like the denim jacket (again), it still remains relevant — on and off the court.
Jackets continue to serve a dual purpose for us — to make us look cool while keeping us warm. While their function might be simple, they helped define generations of clothing styles. From sophisticated tuxedos of the Victorian Era to the practical denim jackets and hoodies of the modern age, there’s a jacket for everyone.