If there is one style of casual jacket that has endured since the 1930s then it is the short, zip front leisure jacket. From the groups of cyclists who filled the lanes of rural Britain as they escaped the cities at the weekend, to the professional and amateur golfers, or the young ramblers at the Kinder Scout trespass, short leisure jackets – usually in khaki of stone coloured cotton - were a defining style of the period, worn by both men and women alike.
This jacket, which eventually became widely known to generations of teenagers as a ‘Harrington jacket’, has its roots in the increased leisure time enjoyed by the working and middle classes of the UK during the inter-war years. In earlier years men wishing to go cycling or play golf would often wear heavy woollen Norfolk jackets to protect themselves from the weather. However, with the booming leisure industry of the 1920s and 1930s, combined with technology allowing bikes to travel faster, people wanted increased comfort and movement. Then, as textile technology improved the ability of lighter weight stormproof garments to resist the almost constant British rain, lighter jackets became possible. Tightly woven cotton fabrics meant that rainwear no longer needed to be heavy oilskins or rubberised cotton.
Perhaps the most iconic version of this style is the Baracuta ‘G9’ golf jacket. Launched in 1937, its popularity soon spread worldwide. After starting life in the sportswear market, it became famous in the 1950s after the company began exporting the jackets to the USA. In an era of leisure and casual clothing, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen all wore the ‘G9’, however it was Ryan O’Neill’s character ‘Rodney Harrington’ in the TV series Peyton Place who gave the jacket its most common name.
Having returned to public consciousness in the UK, the jacket soon became a favourite on the London Mod scene. However, it was the adoption of the jacket by a later youth movement, the Skinheads, that really cemented the fashion. No longer was the fashion for original Baracuta jackets, instead cheaper knock-offs became available in every clothing market across the country. By the time of the early 1980s Skinhead revival, the Harrington jacket was available in an array of colours, with green and red rivalling the more common black jackets.
Despite the high profile of the G9 Harrington jacket, it was just one of many casual jackets that existed in the 1930s and it was by no means the first. The sportswear brand Bukta offered the style for golf wear, describing their ‘Bux-Gab’ (or Bukta Gabardine) jacket as the best ‘rainbeater’ that money could buy. The outdoor clothing company Grenfell also made jackets in this style, advertising them to the golfing community. The name given to the jackets, both by manufacturers and the public, was also variable: ‘lumber jacket’, ‘windcheater’, ‘windbreaker’ or ‘windjammer’ were all used to describe the style.
The jackets came in a variety of styles. Zip fronts were the most common, although button fronts were also available. Some had buttoning cuffs whilst others had elasticated cuffs. Khaki cotton gabardine was the standard fabric although suede, faux suede, and moleskin versions were also available. Most had a stand-and-fall collar, others had knit collar and cuffs, while the Baracuta ‘G9’ had a short collar that buttoned closed at the front. Zip and buttoning pockets were both available and, while most had pleated patch pockets others had slit pockets. Sleeves were either set-in or raglan.
One distinctive features of British leisure jackets of this period was the striped elastic used to hold the jacket in position at the waist. As this style of elastic is no longer manufactured, SJC has rewoven this style of elastic and created a beautiful interpretation in order to give the jacket that genuine mid-20th Century British look.