The Jacket Aesthetic

by Drew Shiel

I’ve been looking, fairly closely, at the sports jacket. As discussed, it’s an off-shoot of the suit jacket, which in itself gave rise to the odd jacket, the blazer,  and a few other variations.  Now, I want to take a step back, and consider not just the history, which is worth looking at in and of itself, but a broader aesthetic, that of respectability.

We’re talking here about a class of garment which has some distinct characteristics. It’s fairly form-fitting. It covers the arms. It closes with buttons, partially, down the front, with lapels above that. It has a distinct collar, which merges with the lapels. It has pockets (well, usually; I’ve seen tuxedo jackets that don’t). It’s in a slightly stiff fabric; enough to hold its shape.

Within the class of garments, there’s a hierarchy of formality – the tuxedo jacket is more formal than the suit jacket which is more formal than the blazer which is more formal than the sports jacket which is more formal than the odd jacket, more or less.

What makes that look more respectable than, say, an anorak? Obviously, there’s an element of usage in here; it’s respectable because it’s worn by respectable people, who wear it because… it’s respectable. We’re not getting anywhere on that line.

Are there elements of the actual physical shape of the garment which make it respectable? I think there are. Consider this, for a start: it’s very hard to hide anything under such a jacket. The FBI just about manage to get underarm holsters in there, but hiding them under the lines of the jacket is non-trivial. Anything more than a leaflet in the pocket distorts the lines, and it’s worth noting that the fit gets tighter and the pockets less of a feature as the formality increases. So there’s an element of safety there; the person wearing the jacket is not hiding anything.

Considering they’re worn for business and politics, that’s amusing, but the basic ideas of our clothing culture were, I suspect, set in an era when violence was more of a worry, and whether the man you were meeting had a hidden weapon was a real concern.

The fact that the jacket opens down the front may also be significant; it allows access to inside pockets. It is a garment which allows things to be kept safe, but still accessible. Papers, say. So it still allows the keeping of secrets – that goes some way toward explaining the business and politics usage.

It’s clear, then, that the garment is heavily stylised to carry meaning. The meaning comes down to “I am not going to hurt you, and I can keep secrets”. Broadly, that describes a respectable man. There are, of course, further nuances with specific kinds of jackets, and I’ll look into those in more detail in other posts.