Saturday, March 21, 2009

There is little in the lexicon of men’s clothing that compares with the NORFOLK JACKET for sheer nattiness...

Made of sturdy wool cheviot, Harris or Donegal tweed, with bi-swing back, bellowed flap front pockets, pleated back, and self belt, a stylish Norfolk Jacket gives the wearer a look of preparedness. Which, after all, was the original idea.

The garment first appeared on the aristocratic back of Coke of Norfolk, earl of Leicester, in the early 18th Century, when it was customary for English noblemen to wear country jackets associated with their districts. Undoubtedly a man of great style who took his hunting seriously, the Duke of Norfolk, as he was not-so-commonly called, had his tailor fashion a hunting suit of a burly tweed fabric strong enough to thwart any wayward thorns, fitted with ample pockets for storage and a belt that fitted snugly about the waist to keep out the cold. For shooting partridges out of pear trees or picking off wild geese soaring over his 43,000-acre estate, there is little doubt the sporty duke turned himself out in good kit. As well he should have, since King George IV was often a guest at his hunting parties.

And so the Norfolk jacket actually began as part of a suit. Years later, not long after the 20th Century began, it would be revived, not for hunting but for golf, paired with knickers or plus-fours in matching tweed fabric. Throughout the 20’s, golf legends Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen championed the look to such an extent that both men might well have been the garment’s poster boys.

The typical Norfolk features a belted back and bi-swing shoulders.

In later decades, Ivy Leaguers would take to wearing the Norfolk jacket on campus with “odd” trousers rather than those that matched—a look that became defined as “British country dressing” and forged a new casual style for men when not “in town.”

Lately the Norfolk jacket has reappeared, revived by certain men’s wear designers and clothing makers who, rummaging through the fashion annals, have turned out modern versions remarkably similar to those worn by style-conscious men in the 30’s. Made of English or Italian wools, cheviot or Harris tweed, in heathery, natural earth tones, many of today’s versions of the Norfolk hint of the past but look altogether appropriate in the present, fitted as they are at the waist and constructed of much lighter (and decidedly more comfortable) weight wools and wool blends.

The Norfolk jacket may still be subtly aristocratic, but it’s doubtful the modern, urban man wearing it will be gunning for grouse in the Scottish moors anytime soon.

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