A brief history of the safari jacket — and the best to button up…

Belted, buttoned and buckled, the iconic patch-pocketed style is over a century old. Here’s how it came to be…

Attention adventurers! It’s time to unfurl your maps, broaden your horizons and delve into the darkest, wildest corners of your wardrobe. Because — beyond your everyday shirts and behind your workaday blazers — you’ll find that rarest of buckled, belted beasts; the safari jacket.

It’s an odd, hybrid creature – a jacket born out of necessity during the Second Boer War. Back then, at the turn of the 20th Century, as troops of the British Empire were battling the Boer Republics in Southern Africa, soldiers needed a uniform that could beat the heat. Cut from affordable ‘cotton drill’ fabric and coloured with cheap khaki dye, the resulting look was adopted across the continent — sweeping Africa from the Sahara to the Serengeti.

Once the armies left Africa, the style stayed put — and became the unofficial uniform of bushmen for decades to come. Featuring bellowed pockets, a revere collar, shoulder epaulettes and a belted waist, its function became fashionable and, by the 1930s, western tourists and travellers began buttoning up the style in droves.

Enchanted by African nature and culture, wealthy Europeans and Americans (including Ernest Hemingway, pictured above) began buckling up the best; shelling out on safari jackets to ensure they looked the pioneering part when jetting off to Africa. 

Hemingway himself created a bespoke ‘bush jacket’ in 1936 with expeditionary outfitters Willis & Geiger — a brand that also dressed Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Sir Edmund Hillary. And, a whole year before the famed author commissioned his creation, the term ‘safari suit’ was added to The Oxford English Dictionary, after featuring in an American newspaper. 

By 1939, stateside lifestyle retailer Abercrombie & Fitch began selling safari jackets wholesale — successfully advertising the style to customers who lived far from the garment’s natural, original habitat. 

By the 1950s, Hollywood had cottoned on to the slick safari style — and Clark Gable brought the jacket to the big screen in adventure-romance Mogambo. It was a costume choice that kicked off a slew of cinematic safari jackets, including Charlton Heston in The Omega Man, Stewart Granger in King Solomon’s Mines and — perhaps most famously and flamboyantly, Roger Moore during his tenure as James Bond.

By the 1983 — the year Octopussy was released, in which Moore buttoned up two separate safari jackets — the style had become so popular that Prince Charles even wore a short-sleeved, sand-coloured safari suit when he visited Ayers Rock during a tour of Australia. 

The following decades saw the style fall from favour, descending into dress-up and cliché. From the early 1990s to the mid-2010s, you’d either see a safari shirt paired with a pith helmet — or you’d see no safari shirt at all. Thankfully, during the last few years, these shirts have returned; belts, buckles and all. So, whether you’re after the practical pockets, the stylish spread collar or the statement belt, these are the best safari jackets to buy today…

Hemingsworth ‘Hemingway’ Khaki Safari Jacket

Once you’ve finished browsing the Hemingsworth collection on Gentleman’s Journal Shop, why not take a look at this handsome jacket? Named for the famed author who popularised the style, it takes its one-piece collar and side split hem from the brand’s ‘Cabana’ shirt, and the sliding buckle, half-back belt from the ‘Clipper’ swim shorts. 

A brief history of the safari jacket — and the best to button up…

Hemingsworth Khaki Safari Jacket

£395.00

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Orlebar Brown ‘Bond’ Safari Jacket

In a superspy-approved shade of sage green, this faithful recreation of 007’s military-style jacket from The Man With The Golden Gun is a must-have for any fans of the franchise. Complete with epaulette detailing and imitation mother-of-pearl buttons, it’s cut from fabrics including cotton and lightweight linen for a breathable, Bond-approved bit of summerwear.

A brief history of the safari jacket — and the best to button up…

Orlebar Brown ‘Bond’ Safari Jacket

£395.00

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Hackett Corduroy Safari Jacket

A slightly heavier option, this corduroy spin on the safari style will see you through summer — and on into autumn. From Hackett, this jacket sticks to the tried-and-tested pattern; incorporating an unlined construction and bellowed patch pockets. Available in either regular or long versions, it’s the perfect, softly-ridged way to bring the vintage style back to life. 

A brief history of the safari jacket — and the best to button up…

Hackett Corduroy Safari Jacket

£395.00

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Suitsupply Houndstooth Belted Safari Jacket

Another heavier jacket — and another to feature a belt — this houndstooth design from Suitsupply is stitched from a soft, rich wool-cashmere blend from Italy, and is cut to the brand’s suitably subtropical ‘Sahara’ pattern. It forgoes any shoulder padding for a more comfortable, casual look, has four black buttons and a quartet of box-pleat patch pockets. 

A brief history of the safari jacket — and the best to button up…

Suitsupply Houndstooth Belted Safari Jacket

£299.00

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Budd Linen Button Cuff Safari Shirt

For something a little sleeker, look to Budd Shirtmakers. Styled on the heritage British brand’s collaboration with journalist Simon Crompton, this safari shirt has hidden its buttons behind a neat placket and details its pocket flaps with rakish points. Finished with Corozo nut buttons and slimly tailored from linen by Harrison’s of Edinburgh, it’s a homespun, effortlessly elegant option. 

A brief history of the safari jacket — and the best to button up…

Budd Shirts Linen Button Cuff Safari Shirt

£695.00

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Private White V.C. ‘Safari’ Brushed Cotton-Twill Jacket

The often-wet wilds of Manchester’s city streets may be a far cry from the sun-baked Serengeti — but Private White V.C. has stitched the spirit of a classic ‘Sahariana’ jacket into this cotton-twill jacket. Detailed with epaulettes, a surplus of handy pockets and brushed in an earthy olive tone, it may be without a belt, but the British brand has furthered the expeditionary feel of the jacket with mottled horn buttons. 

A brief history of the safari jacket — and the best to button up…

Private White V.C. ‘Safari’ Brushed Cotton-Twill Jacket

£416.50

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Turnbull & Asser ‘Christo’ Jacket

Taking direct inspiration from the vintage travel clothes worn by Prince Charles, royal-warranted Turnbull & Asser has done a majestic job in making this linen-cotton safari jacket. Brought to life in Britain, it features arch-cut flap pockets, brown contrast buttons and a boxy silhouette. 

A brief history of the safari jacket — and the best to button up…

Turnbull & Asser ‘Christo’ Jacket

£895.00

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Gant Belted Safari Blazer

For a final flourish, Gant has gone back to belts. The American-Swedish style brand has crafted a traditional take on the safari jacket; using lightweight linen, an unlined construction and classic utilitarian details to offer up the breeziest of summer looks. If you’re looking for a classic jacket — well-made and historically accurate — this is the one for you. 

A brief history of the safari jacket — and the best to button up…

Gant Belted Safari Blazer

£350.00

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