Revenge of the English Shooting Jacket

Here’s something that you may be surprised to see us talking about.  Although, anyone familiar with this blog over the past two years wouldn’t be at all surprised to see us talking about this after we spent multiple pages discussing the history of golf clothes!  Today, we want to talk about that stalwart of the Anglosphere, the English shooting jacket, or coat, if you prefer.

"I'll call it what I want."

“I’ll call it what I want.”

We’ve gone over the history of suits and some of their variations in the past. What’s relevant here is that by the 1800s, the modern “suit” had reached a point where you can easily trace all of the modern variations from it.  Its basic lines were very similar to the lines of today.  But, hilariously, the most common variations of suit jackets, the sport coats, have their origins in English military and hunting culture.  The blazer goes back to the H.M.S. Blazer, and its crew’s attempt in 1837 to impress Queen Victoria, who would be making a surprise visit, on the fly, resulting in a modified uniform that eventually became the blazer.  Meanwhile, the hacking jacket and shooting jackets, slightly more formal in lines than the blazer, birthed the basic sport coat that we think of now.  But, in England especially, the hacking jacket, made of wool or tweed with a single vent for horseback riding, and the shooting jacket, typified by a leather patch on the front shoulder to prevent wear from the butt of a weapon, and also made of wool or tweed, never completely gave way to the modern sport coat, and are still worn to hunt and ride.

241px-1901_Sartorial_Arts_Journal_Fashion_Plate_Men's_Norfolk_Jacket

Norfolk stylin’.

The shooting jacket started life as the Norfolk jacket, a belted, single-breasted jacket with box pleats and a belt.  It was designed specifically so that it would not bind when the elbow was raised by the wearer to fire their weapon, and became popular during the 1860s in the Prince of Wales’ personal circle of hunting pals, eventually spreading to the general populace, as these things often do.  Its basic lines can still be found in military and police uniforms around the world, but it’s rarely seen as a shooting jacket in its own right anymore.

shooteruplandih0Over time, the shooting jacket evolved into what we see today: a jacket similar in lines to other sport coats, but made with a shoulder patch to absorb weapon recoil, and made of stronger materials to withstand rain, burrs and shotgun scorching.  The materials chosen, wool and tweed, are for just that, to withstand the elements.  The lines are what we would, in the present, consider “formal,” because that was the fashion of the Victorian Era that birthed it: formality in all occasions, even the informal.  It is, in many ways, simply a more utilitarian suit jacket.  Larger buttons on the pockets are there to keep them closed, even while running at a clip, so that items won’t fall out, the elbows are fitted for the wearer to allow for easy raising of the arms to aim and shoot, without disrupting the wear of the jacket, et cetera.

While style didn’t truly enter into the equation when they first came into being, now, shooting jackets are a style statement in their own right.  Modern hunters frequently wear clothes designed purely for function, that are sometimes beyond unattractive…

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So, some people, including in the US, where the shooting jacket never truly caught on, are going back to the wool and tweed jackets of yore, to hunt in style.

To that end, we’ve jumped into the fray, making our own English shooting jacket for the express purpose of having it auctioned off at a Naples, FL wine festival.  Made of a thick wool tweed with intricate detailing throughout, with upper shoulder and chest patches for resting the gun, and to receive the recoil of a long arm.  The elbow patches are a stylish touch, and also for durability when shooting.  There’s extra tension in the elbow region when positioning oneself to shoot, an inverted pleat down the back, patch pocketing, and a half-belt along the back waist, all adding to the unique look and style of the jacket.  We’re really proud of this one, so take a look at it below!  Hopefully, our minor contribution can help these lovely jackets get a new foothold in the hearts of hunters and shooters in the US.

Bond, James Bond, Part 2: Sean Connery and George Lazenby (1962-1971)

It’s time to return to the world of spies and vodka martinis, “shaken, not stirred.”  And just in time, too, because today marks the North American release of the 23rd official James Bond film, “Skyfall.”  We’ll be first in line to see it!

But before we head on an adventure with Daniel Craig’s Bond, it’s time to take a trip to the past, to where we left off in the James Bond fashion chronology, all the way back to 1962. The process of bringing James Bond to the screen from the page was not an easy one, to say the least.  We won’t go into the details here, it would take far too long.  But the lasing legacy of the long process was the choice of Sean Connery as James Bond.
As we told you last time, Bond in the novels was a sort of portmanteau of Ian Fleming himself crossed with his former buddies in British Intelligence circles.  When Fleming imagined Bond, he basically imagined a more dapper version of himself.

“Goldfinger,” starring your Fifth Grade math teacher!

The film’s producers at first didn’t stray too far from the idea, wanting Cary Grant for the role.  Grant, though, refused to sign a multi-picture deal, and the producers were banking on a franchise.  They went through British actor Richard Johnson, Patrick McGoohan and David Niven, never able to reach consensus.  They even ran a contest to choose bond, eventually settling on a 28-year-old model named Peter Anthony, who was nowhere near prepared for the role.  Legend has it they even considered future Bond Roger Moore, though he denies it.

Finally, a scruffy, 30-year-old Scotsman in unpressed clothes came in to try out for the part, and absolutely oozed a macho, devil-may-care attitude.  He didn’t look like the novel’s description, but he felt like the character, through-and-through.  The producers knew on the spot that Sean Connery was their man.

How could they not?

There was, however, a problem.  He had zero fashion sense, and was as sophisticated and cultured as a dump truck.  Director Terence Young, himself a suave and debonair playboy of the highest order, took Connery under his wing, introducing him to the high life and high fashion of London.  He took him to his own personal tailor, Anthony Sinclair, at 43 Conduit Street.  The paired-down look of the suits Connery ended up wearing throughout his time as Bond became known as the “Conduit cut”: lightweight 100% wool in navy blue and shades of grey with a subtle check, “waisted” in a slimline, single-breasted, two-button format.  The idea was for Bond to look well-dressed, but not stand out in a crowd, sound advice for a spy.

Connery had never worn a suit for any length of time before, and was apparently insanely uncomfortable in one.  So Young had Connery wear the suits CONSTANTLY, all day, every day, during pre-production, until they felt like a second skin to him.

It seems to have worked…

For all intents and purposes, Young turned Connery into a more gruff (and Scottish) version of himself, rather than of Fleming.  This act has influenced the way Bond has been portrayed ever since, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, dark with a dash of humor, as opposed to the more brutal, cold-hearted version of the character from the books (although that’s come back a bit…more on that later).  Bond became a fashion icon in his own right, now that his internal monologue was missing.  Instead of commenting on what other people were wearing, he dressed to the nines himself, but then, so did his adversaries and allies.

In the first of Connery’s Bond films, 1962’s “Dr. No,” Bond informs CIA agent Felix Leiter that his suits were tailored in Savile Row, even though they were not, a slight nod to the books and to Fleming.  The fashion in the first two films, “Dr. No” and 1963’s “From Russia With Love,” retains the basic look that Young gave Connery, all designed by Sinclair, and all accompanied by shirts from Turnbull & Asser.

The suits are remarkably simple, and, in fact, Bond never even dons a belt, so as to keep the sleek lines of the suits uninterrupted.  The pants all sit at the waits, not the hip, another way to keep the lines more unified.  Bond wears, almost exclusively, dark blue grenadine ties for the entire films.  He frequently wears a white linen pocket square, neatly folded into the front of his jackets.  And, hilariously, despite Bond’s hatred of Windsor knots, he wears them in “Dr. No,” before properly shifting to four-in-hand knots from “From Russia With Love” on.

Interestingly, the suits in the first two films are more timeless than suits in the films that followed.  They could all be easily worn today.  The next three films, 1964’s “Goldfinger,” 1965’s “Thunderball” and 1967’s “You Only Live Twice,” all featured far narrower lapels, muted browns, and old-fashioned three-piece cuts, all very, very ’60s, though we do mean that in a good way.

Rumor has it that some American tailors were used in “Goldfinger,” which makes sense, since more fashionable (for the time) details like pageboy waistcoats suddenly show up.  The number of materials and colors also expands dramatically.  But the basic cut remains the same, until the next film in the series, 1969’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

OHMSS brought in not just new fashion, but a new Bond, in the form of Australian model George Lazenby, after Sean Connery declined to return for a sixth, extra contractual film.  Peter Hunt, director of OHMSS, was a fashion-conscious gentleman in his own right, and was given broad leeway in the way this new Bond would be presented, using his own favorite tailor, Dimi Major of Fulham, London W1.  Possibly because of Lazenby’s more “pretty” look, and experience as a model, as well as acknowledgement of the more brazen and colorful styles that had come to dominate fashion in the seven years since “Dr. No,” Bond was given a much larger and more colorful wardrobe.  A modified version of the “Conduit cut” from prior films was still used in the London scenes, but unlike before, Bond wore more than that sleek, simple cut when out of the glare of MI6, even wearing an astonishing cream-colored suit at one point.  Did we mention the ruffles?

But come 1971, Connery came back for one more Bond, “Diamonds Are Forever.”  The film is a bit of a wacky outlier for the Bond series, and even though Connery brought the more muted styles and colors of his films back with him (likely along with tailor Anthony Sinclair), some of the OHMSS style remained, likely a result of the American side of the production not collaborating with the English side completely.  Connery even wears a cream-colored suit himself, at one point.  And even the muted, London suits are slightly changed, with the wider lapels of the ’70s making their appearance felt.

This brings us to the end of Connery’s tenure, until his brief return with the unofficial “Never Say Never Again” in 1983.  Roger Moore and excesses of the ’70s are next, and we’ll pick up there in Part 3.  Until next time…

Ahhhh!

Bond, James Bond, Part 1: The Ian Fleming Novels (1953-1962)

Today, October 5th, 2012, is the 50th anniversary of everybody’s favorite superspy action movies: the James Bond series!  On October 5th, 1962, “Dr. No” premiered in the United Kingdom, and introduced the world to the words “Bond, James Bond.”  Along the way, the films also introduced the world to the finer things in life, from exotic locales and fine dining, to the best drinks money could buy and absurdly elaborate underground volcano lairs.

Why are they using the caldera as a skylight? Espionage, that’s why.

But, from our point of view, most importantly, they introduced the world to the idea of men dressing to the nines while still being tough.  Before Bond, really, suits and tuxes were primarily something you wore to a formal event or to work.  Bond wears tailor-made suits while dangling from helicopters by his feet with a nuclear bomb in one hand and a gorgeous Russian spy in the other.

Or while holding on to a breathless blonde in one hand and a Walther PPK in the other while balancing precariously on top of one of the Golden Gate Bridge’s suspension wires, whatever.

So, what better reason to spend the next few months celebrating all things Bond fashion?  And we’re going to start right at the beginning…

Before Bond, action heroes were cowboys or soldiers or spacemen.  The bad guys were usually the ones dressed well, no doubt thanks to their ill-gotten gains!  Only private detectives were shown wearing suits while doing good, but they were usually of the rumpled, dirty, cheap knock-off variety.  Humphrey Bogart looked amazing in them, but hardly anyone else did.  Then along came Bond and his impeccable fashion sense, which, believe us, was no accident, it was because it was what his creator would have worn.

Bond was the invention of former British intelligence officer, commando, journalist, and all-around badass, Ian Fleming.  Fleming had spent World War II coming up with intelligence operations with names like “Operation Ruthless,” “Operation Mincemeat” and “Operation Golden Eye,” then put together a crack commando unit called “30AU,” and another crack commando unit called, we swear, “T-Force.”

In the midst of all of this, he was heavily involved with something called the “Special Operations Executive,” essentially the precursor to every single acronym-based-name-bearing espionage organization from every genre film, TV show, book or video game you’ve ever seen.  They were based on Baker Street in London, down the street from where Sherlock Holmes was supposed to have lived, and completely revolutionized intelligence and espionage.  Did we mention that one of their operatives was one Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee?

Yes, THAT Christopher Lee.

That’s right, the creator of James Bond spent most of World War II coming up with incredibly colorful ways to kill and generally mess up Nazis alongside freaking Saruman himself in Sherlock Holmes’ old stomping grounds.  Suffice to say, this had a profound impact on him.

After the war, he began to write Casino Royale, the first Bond novel, and nearly all of the initial Bond characters, including M, Q, Miss Moneypenny and Vesper Lynd, were all based on people whom Fleming had worked with in the SOE.  Bond himself, on the other hand, was an amalgamation of several different spies from the SOE, along with Fleming himself…

We never would have guessed.

Fleming had very, very refined taste in clothes, having grown up in Mayfair, one of the most moneyed neighborhoods in London, as the son of a British MP and a wealthy socialite.  Legend has it he could identify a tailor from the cut of a man’s suit!  These tastes, along with his, ah, extremely intense interest in women, food, liquor and cigarettes, got transferred to the James Bond character, a fact which worked as a fabulous antidote to the Post-War austerity Britain found itself in.  Fleming himself heavily favored lightweight suits, an anomaly in his time, and tended to skew towards blues and greys with pinstripes in all manner of arrangements, both single and double breasted as well as both two and three-piece.  Bond himself is described in this manner throughout the books, but, interestingly, no labels are mentioned.

“The girl looked him up and down.  He had dark, rather cruel good looks and very clear, blue-grey eyes.  He was wearing a very dark-blue lightweight single-breasted suit over a cream silk shirt and a black knitted silk tie.  Despite the heat, he looked cool and clean.  ‘And who might you be?’ she asked sharply.
‘My name’s Bond, James Bond …'” –Thunderball

Savile Row fashion is heavily implied (though Fleming himself didn’t care for it), but never named.  What is named is what everyone else is wearing.  In fact, as anyone who has read the books can tell you, Bond CAN’T STOP talking about people’s clothes.

“It was tied with a Windsor knot.  Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot.  It showed too much vanity.  It was often the mark of a cad.”From Russia With Love

He actually sizes up some of his archenemies in this manner.  For instance, he immediately notices, in Moonraker, that villain Hugo Drax’s cufflinks are Cartier.

But Bond’s own clothing in the books remains a mystery (although it has been suggested that Bond’s suits were from Anderson & Sheppard of Sevile Row, though that makes little sense).  But then, so was Bond himself.  The Bond of the novels is dark, and downright humorless.  His high-minded fashion sense is more an engine of his distaste for other people wearing something wrong rather than pride in himself for wearing something right, likely an idiosyncrasy belonging to Fleming.

The novels began to be published in 1953 with Casino Royale, and by the time “Dr. No” came into theaters in 1962, 9 years, 10 books and an episode of the CBS anthology series “Climax!” that adapted Casino Royale had elapsed.

With Barry Nelson as American agent “Jimmy Bond.” Oh, how we wish we were kidding.

After all of that, one would think that Bond’s fashion sense would have been locked in.  …Not exactly.  Elements, like the lightweight suits, were, but the overall style, as we said, had not been heavily touched on.  That iconic look that everyone thinks of came from Terence Young, who directed “Dr. No,” and dressed the rather rough and tumble unknown Scotsman Sean Connery in what he thought Fleming’s style should be, by way of his own style.

“What ish thish shtuff you’re putting me in, man?”

But that’s a story for next time.  We’ll continue with the next installment, focusing on the all-important Sean Connery years of Bond-dom, after a brief detour…

Fashion Back Then

Since the beginning of time, man has relied on clothing for numerous reasons.  Cavemen used fur to protect themselves from inclement winter conditions.  Much further ahead in time, there was the doublet, a snug, fitted and buttoned jacket with minimal stitching and a quilted lining (“doubling”) that originated from under armor wear who’s main purpose was to add warmth.

We browsed back in time and found some important garments from different eras along with their purpose and meaning.  Some of them are still part of trends or the everyday fashion of today.  Some others were left behind, thank God, like the cod piece: in the 14th century, men wore two separate leg hose over linen drawers, leaving a man’s genitals covered only by a thin layer of linen.  The codpiece covered this gap.  …Well, it still does exist in some way, as the protective cup in the jockstrap.

Many of these items appeared and were, at the time, stylish, but their main purpose was usually functional, like the ruff (a detacheable colar and cuffs that could themselves be laundered separately, preventing the jacket from getting soiled).

During Elizabethan times, a Sumptuary Clothing Law controlled and specified social structure.  English Sumptuary Laws governing the clothing that Elizabethans wore were well known by all of the English people.  Penalties for violating such laws could be harsh: fines, the loss of property, title and even life (hello, Fashion Police).

Further back, Roman clothes separated the social castes of the Empire.  Slaves, merchants, nobility and Roman Senators could all be easily identified at a distance by their clothing.  Even before that, Egyptians also had a flair for fashion, but the most attention on dress for both men and women was reserved for decorative collars and headdress.

Men’s fashions through the years have been highly influenced by military models.  Changes in the European male silhouette were frequently forged in the theatres of European wars, where gentleman had the opportunity to make notes of foreign styles: an example is the “Steinkirk” cravat or necktie.  Another European example is the frock coat, a knee-length men’s coat that was characterized by a larger chest circumference and smaller waist circumference.  The bottom of the coat, extending from the waistline, resembled that of a flowing skirt.  A frock coat was first seen during the Napoleonic Wars. The Austro-Hungarian and German army officers would wear them during military operations to keep warm and protect their uniforms.  It became more popular and viewed as a fashion statement amongst non-military men during both the Victorian and Edwardian periods. A double-breasted style topped by peak lapels would be worn in a more formal setting, whereas, a single-breasted version with notch lapels would be seen in an informal one.  Could this be one of the causes of today’s common notion that peak lapels are directly associated with a tuxedo or dinner jacket while notches are associated with a suit? It might just be, however, in our world of custom suit design, we like to leave the choice of whether or not to override these traditional views to the individual’s discretion.

In early 1900, King Edward VII aparently grew so rotund that he was unable to fasten the last button of his waistcoat and jacket.  To not offend the king, those associated with him started doing the same.  The custom then gradually spread the world ’round, or so the legend goes.

King Charles II, another noble to be, was known to have a flair for fashion and sported cufflinks regularly, quickly influencing public opinion on this new clothing accessory.  A fashionable and elegant way to fasten their cuffs, earlier fastened by a string.

Trends started and spread widely, and a generation of very well-suited men arised in mid-18th century England.  These men were known as “maccaronis.”  Later on, a similar movement referred to the male taking such pride in dressing as dandy as possible.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Beau Brummell was a model of this movement, claiming to take up to five hours getting dressed.  He also changed men’s fashion in England.  He established the mode of men wearing understated but fitted and beautifully cut clothes adorned with an elaborately knotted cravat.  Brummell is also credited with introducing the modern men’s suit.

So, as we said, fashion back then was mainly functional (well, not to Brummell, at least) and a way to establish social status (silk was only sold to the rich).  But that makes us think that we probably have not evolved much from such methods.  It’s just now a matter of labels: Cartier, Loubotin, Aston Martin, Hermes, and, of course, custom clothing.