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The Origin of the Reefer Jacket


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#1 Sator

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Posted 15 December 2009 - 08:48 AM

The traditional term for the double breasted jacket is the reefer jacket or coat. This contrasts to the single breasted lounge jacket. That is to say there is strictly speaking no such a thing as a double breasted lounge jacket. Indeed, the lounge and the reefer jacket are two different garments with totally unrelated historical origins. The reefer jacket has nautical and sporting origins, which it partly stills retains when made up with gilt club buttons, and is sometimes called a "blazer" for that reason.

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W.D.F Vincent summarises things well (circa 1905):

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It is interesting that even then the reefer coat cyclically went in and out of fashion - just as it continues to do today. The tone of the language suggests that at the time of writing the reefer was not exceptionally fashionable. This contrast to the greater enthusiasm that J.P. Thornton gives to the reefer around 1911:

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Thornton even mentions that for a while the reefer jacket was superseded in popularity by the lounge and morning coat in the 1880s to such an extent that it virtually disappeared altogether. However, it should be mentioned that similar such swings in the popularity of the reefer coat have persisted throughout the 20th century and into the current millennium.

One of the earliest references to the reefer coat occurs in Devere, 1866:

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Note that he calls it the "Reefer or Pea Jacket". The term reefer is traditionally applied to both coat both when it is intended as an undercoat as well as an overcoat, as in this example:

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You can see the similarity between this and the square cut coat published by Devere. Here is a reefer from 1931 cut as an undercoat with vertical side pockets similar to the ones found on modern overcoat styled reefers:

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The reefer coat took longer than the lounge to gain widespread general acceptance. Although both are of sporting origins (as all coats are), the reefer continued to be regarded as a casual garment into the early decades of the 20th century, and took longer to shake off its image as sports wear. You can sense this in the following illustration from Vincent's CPG:

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Whereas the gentleman in the lounge coat looks properly dressed with his dark coloured coat and cane, the fellow in the reefer jacket carries a tennis racket! Apparently, some firms even went so far to forbid their employees from wearing a reefer jacket to work. When the Duke of Windsor started to wear his reefer jackets in official public outings with wide lapels, often matched with suede Chukka boots, it was considered frightfully caddish:

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Even if it took longer than the lounge coat, the reefer coat gradually started to climb up the formality scale and became fully accepted as town wear alongside the lounge coat. You can sense this in the following 1963 illustration, which makes fascinating comparison with the previous one from W.D.F. Vincent:

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Gone is the tennis racket, and is replaced by the well furled city umbrella - which is carried by both the figure in the lounge suit as well the figure in the reefer. The reefer coat had fully come to town and come of age.

#2 Sator

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Posted 15 December 2009 - 08:59 AM

For all of those interested in seeing A.A. Whife's instructions for cutting a reefer jacket see this thread.




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