History of Jackets; Late Blooming Trend to Modern Staple
Imagine life without the jacket as we know it today – okay so maybe it wouldn’t be unimaginably different, but a jacket is that perfect go-to between the chilly Winter months and the warmer Summer season. An easy and stylish way to layer up when the sun sets or keep the rain at bay on a damp day. As fashion has developed over the years, this versatile garment has evolved with it, albeit much more slowly than other garments. Jackets only began changing with the eras since the 1700's, and with it came an endless array of styles, such as bombers, tailored, blazers, macs, puffer, gilet, dinner jacket and so much more. Read on to discover the history of jackets, and what led to the wardrobe staple we all know and love today.
Early Jackets; For Men’s Eyes Only?
The history of jackets seem to date as far back as the Middle Ages, as what was known as a jerkin – a men’s close-fitting jacket often made from light leather, sometimes without sleeves. A jacket became standard clothing for the working class by the early 18th century, for anyone working in agriculture as well as servants in city homes. Because of the working-class association, jackets didn’t become popular with other classes until about 1790.
Jackets developed from being loosely cut to fitted lounge jackets and became very popular with middle-class men in the 1830s. Smart, double-breasted jackets were a fashion staple for sporting activities in the countryside, soon developing into evening ware as a dinner jacket – which later became known as a tuxedo jacket. Jackets are one of the few garments in history which have been worn in the same style for the last two centuries but have also evolved into a range of other styles.
Coats Take it Up a Notch
As with men’s jackets, women’s jackets developed from more formal outerwear. Modern fashion trends, generally set in motion in the Renaissance, didn’t affect outerwear until much later. Significant outerwear changes only really took place in the 18th and 19th centuries, where sleeved coats and jackets became the primary choice of outerwear for both genders.
Back in the early 19th century, coats were divided into overcoats and under-coats. An overcoat is what we’d refer to now as a coat – a thicker, sturdier and longer garment to protect against the elements. An under-coat was known as a ‘jacket’ - a specific type of shorter under-coat. This still applies to this day, where jackets are typically shorter (around waist length) and lighter than a heavier Winter coat.
Women’s Outerwear; to Sleeve, or Not to Sleeve?
Cloth wraps and capes were worn as outerwear in the Greek, Middle Eastern and Roman civilisations, and although the length and styles developed over time, this remained the popular choice for outerwear through to the 1600's. It was only around this time that sleeved garments began being worn, and we saw the development of the coat and jacket.
Women’s coats and jackets originally developed when they adopted parts of male dress for horse-riding. In the late 1600s-early 1700s, the style of men’s waistcoats and suit jackets were taken directly and applied to women’s riding coats, although women’s coats were designed to fit over full skirts. The riding coats shortened over time – at the start of the 1700s they were just above knee length, and by the middle of the century they had shortened to hip length and had become more fitted.
In the 1850’s shorter jackets became a trend, worn for fashion rather than simply horse-riding. Women’s magazine Correiere Delle Dame announced in 1857 that the arrival of a new ‘jacket’ – the shortened version of a formal day coat – would soon be a staple for both men and women’s wardrobes.
Despite this, capes and shawls persisted as the top choice for women’s outerwear and continued to be worn throughout the 19th century. Capes were simply more accommodating to changes in dresses and other garments – the loose nature of the garment meant it could easily sit on top of other clothing, no matter the shape or style. Fur also soared in popularity in the late 19th century and 20th century and was soon used to accessorise other outerwear. Fur was originally a luxury item, but due to the mass-production of cheaper furs it became much more affordable. However, escalating material costs and labour decreased the popularity by the late 20th century.
The Macintosh Makes a Splash
Both women’s and men’s jackets were originally cut in wool, tweed or cotton, and later for women, fur. Although these provided protection from the elements for centuries, they weren’t quite suitable for the rain.
Technological advances by Charles Macintosh, A Scottish chemist, meant that waterproof fabric was finally produced in 1823. There were some drawbacks to his original idea of piecing wool together with rubber dissolved in coal-tar naphtha, as it would become sticky in warm weather and too stiff in cooler climates. However, these problems no longer mattered in 1839 when vulcanized rubber was invented, and Macintosh created the first ever real raincoats (hence the name, ‘Rain Mac’) which are still hugely popular today.
The Functions of Jackets
Although jackets are now worn whenever it’s a bit cold or drizzly outside, various modern jacket styles were originally designed with very specific ideas in mind.
- Anorak – Waterproof jacket, inspired by jackets from Polar regions.
- Bolero – a short, tailored jacket, originally worn by matadors.
- Bomber Jacket – Also known as a flight jacket, designed after similar jackets worn by flight crew of the US air force.
- Biker Jacket – Inspired by motorcycle riders.
- Camel Coat – originally made from the hair of a double-humped Bactrian camel.
- Car Coat – A coat short and square in style, made to be worn whilst driving a car.
- Duster – A loose fitting jacket, originally worn by horsemen to protect their clothing from dust trail.
- Field Jacket – This jacket was originally designed for members of the military, also known as an M65 jacket.
- Trench coat – a light, belted jacket inspired by those worn by soldiers.
Are you feeling inspired to create a cutting-edge jacket? After discovering the history of jackets, design your own jumpers and jackets to add some serious style to your wardrobe, and don’t forget to finish off the look with your own branding too.