The Norfolk Suit

What is a Norfolk jacket?

A Norfolk jacket is a loose fitting, single breasted jacket with the cut allowing comfortable movement for sports, work and outdoor activities. The defining feature of its design are the front and back straps that extend from the shoulder to the hem. It also features a belt or a half-belt and large patch pockets to  provide extra storage. It was designed to be warm, and durable and perfect for unpredictable weather conditions and long hours spent outdoors. 

Where does the ‘Norfolk’ originate from?

A similar type of garment was originally worn by the British Rifle Corps in the Volunteer Movement of 1859-1860. ‘’The Norfolk shirt’’ appeared as a part of popular shooting wear in the 1860s, however the exact origins of its name remain unclear. 

One theory traces the possible invention of the jacket to the 15th Duke of Norfolk. Another one suggests that it was Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester who adapted an existing jacket model to accommodate for all the necessary hunting equipment and allow unrestrained elbow movement during shooting. The belt and shoulder straps recall the military equipment traditionally used to support cartridge cases and, in the civilian version, the straps help support the pockets when used for carrying the essentials of the field such as shotgun cartridges, game birds and the essential hip-flask. According to this theory, the origins of the Norfolk style could date back as early as the 1820s, however there is no evidence to confirm any of the claims. 

The Norfolk jacket is often claimed to have been popularised by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in the 1880s, who wore it as leisurewear, helping to make the style one of the staples of late Victorian and Edwardian gentlemen’s wardrobes. However, evidence shows that the style was widely advertised in the 1870s, suggesting that the royal role in spreading the style is debatable. In 1871 W.A. Todd of Norwich described themselves as the maker of the original Norfolk jacket and claimed they sold them worldwide.

The Norfolk Craze

The 1870s and 1880s saw a rapid growth of interest in sports and outdoor leisure activities across Europe and America, amongst both men and women. 

These new pursuits required suitable clothing that would be comfortable and less restraining. The Norfolk jacket, originally used as part of the shooting wear, became acceptable for any form of outdoor exercise, such as cycling, fishing, country walking, golf and more. Initially considered as part of ‘country wear’, by the 1890s the Norfolk jacket could be seen worn by smart young men in the cities, representing a more relaxed style. The style was also particularly popular for young boys and was advertised as being a durable garment to be worn by schoolboys.

 

By the early 20th Century the Norfolk jacket was just as likely to be seen being worn by working men out with their cycling and sports clubs as on the country estates of the landed gentry.

In the 1900s, the Norfolk jacket was adapted into women’s fashion, becoming a part of a sports suit featuring a long skirt and a jacket with a slightly more fitted waist, following the fashionable Edwardian “S-bend” silhouette. The style was even available in a version known as a ‘Maid’s Suit’ and was a favoured garment for domestic staff.

Picture source: Victoria & Albert Museum online collection.

What defines a Norfolk jacket?

The Norfolk jacket has undergone several style transformations throughout the decades, however  it is easy to differentiate three main styles:

  • Full Norfolk Jacket - This is the traditional, single breasted version with three or four front buttons, and a separate belt with a centre button closure. The jacket has front and back straps, cut separately and laid on the coat. There is a centre vent at the rear and expandable patch pockets with flaps, to allow easy access but prevent the items from falling out. Some of the jackets would also have a storm collar that can be put up to protect the wearer from cold.
  • Half Norfolk Jacket - This option looks more like a regular sports coat, it features reduced straps and a half belt, together with the centre back vent. It also has patch pockets with flaps and notched lapels. Some examples have a chest panel and yoke, with the straps extending downwards from them, rather than from the shoulder.
  • The Norfolk Suit - In the 1920s and 1930s, the Norfolk jacket started to be worn with regular trousers, as part of more casual daywear. In the 1920s, as golf grew increasingly popular, Norfolk jackets became the template for the golfing jacket. However, these soon lost their shoulder straps and full belts and became the forerunner of the popular belt-back sports jackets of the 1930s. Although difficult to find today, this look incorporates the late Victorian sportswear tradition into a more versatile, modern look. 

The Urban Norfolk Jacket in Black


Although the Norfolk style is mostly associated with tweed fabrics in warm colours for country wear, there are examples of Norfolk jackets and suits made of solid dark grey, navy and black worsted wool for the city. Black has been the most popular and versatile colour used in urbane menswear throughout the 19th and most of the 20th century, being associated with elegance, simplicity and power. It was especially popular at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, and was the staple colour for an Edwardian gentleman. Even today, black is considered to be the most ‘classic’ colour choice for any occasion; it never goes out of fashion and suits everyone.

The SJC Norfolk Suit Inspiration

While sourcing original antique garment samples for our latest Winter collection, we came across a very unique piece - an original 1917 tailored Norfolk Jacket, made in Chicago by Edward Strauss. It features distinctive gauntlet cuffs, a purely decorative feature that was borrowed from the highly decorative ‘Rah Rah’ suits that were fashionable in the early jazz period. The jacket was  found in an abandoned house in Wyoming, plugging a hole in the wooden walls, found together with some other rare workwear, including an early cinched back XX Levis piece.

Although the black colour of the fabric has almost completely faded on the outside, it can still be seen on the inside edges of the garment and under the collar and straps.  A highly rare bespoke piece that must have been a truly stunning piece when new. 

 

The original Silesia cotton lining is almost completely gone, which allows a peek inside the construction of the jacket, which has been tailored with pad stitches into the waded canvas.  

The colour and cut of the jacket may suggest that it has been used for daily wear in the city, which inspired us to try to recreate this beautiful piece, making it a perfect addition to a modern gentleman’s wardrobe.

The SJC Norfolk Suit

SJC Norfolk Suit is inspired by the fashion of the mid 1910s, but is also a bow towards the 1940s “Sherlock Holmes in Washington” style sported by Basil Rathbone. 

SJC was inspired by the pattern of the jacket, and choose to produce it in a heavy and warm 16oz moleskin fabric in black which we wove specifically for this project. Moleskin lends itself to both true workwear vibe whilst maintaining a smart casual silhouette. Simon paired it with a straight leg, flat fronted moleskin trousers based on the hugely popular Mulespinner trouser, and a single-breasted waistcoat. These three pieces allow one to create a full ensemble or mix and match separate pieces. The feeling created when wearing it is one of elegance, warmth and total free movement. 

  • 16oz moleskin fabric, is soft and comfortable to wear, tough and perfectly warm for these cooler months.
  • The straps on the jacket create a very comfortable cut, allowing free movement for any kind of daily work, travel  or sports activities.
  • The black colour makes the design features subtle and versatile, thus possible to wear as an elegant Norfolk suit or mix and match the pieces with different styles.
  • The belt accentuates the waist and provides an eye-catching detail for the silhouette.
  • The trousers have a cinch back belt and all-button fastening and slanted pockets.
  • The jacket and waistcoat are lined with viscose satin, breathable and comfortable to wear. 
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