Cigar Aficionado

The Safari Jacket

Never stalked elephants in Kenya? Weren't a tank commander in North Africa? It's best not to dwell on such technicalities when considering wearing one of the most dashing and versatile items of men's apparel ever invented for summer—or any season: the redoubtable safari jacket. Originally military garb, it was lightweight and utilitarian, but requisitioned with healthy doses of style that allow it to double as the uniform of the day for harrowing civilian missions.

Like the trench coat, safari jackets were born of British army duty and pressed into mufti action because of their many attributes. Essentially a loose shirt molded into an officer's jacket with sharp-looking gusseted vents and a khaki color for desert use, it was outfitted with plenty of durable pockets for carrying ammo and such. All of this lent itself perfectly to safari use by such great white hunters as Hemingway, and, of course, the look made its way onto the big screen draped on the frame of Clark Gable in Mogambo. Generations of foreign correspondents and photographers also saw the advantage of all that cargo space to carry notebooks, pens, film and eventually tape recorders.

What does this have to do with your summer of commuting back and forth from the office to your vacation retreat? This is the coat that can exist in both worlds quite comfortably. Toss it on at the beach or in the wild for a cover-up with room for everything. At work or for an evening engagement, it doubles as a semi-dress-up jacket when buttoned up and paired with a stylish shirt and even a tie. On urban expeditions, it's easy to pack such modern weaponry as cell phones and PDAs. And with the four-pocket models—two chest, two at the hips—you've always got plenty of space for cigars and accoutrements.

Your biggest decision with a safari jacket is how GI you want to take it. In the years since it was government issue only, designers have tweaked the form quite a bit. You can still run with epaulet straps on the shoulders, cargo pockets and a wide khaki belt around the waist, but on many jackets those have been shed or concealed, with interior drawstring waists and hidden pockets. Robert Talbott offers its Carmel Coat with understated pockets, water-resistant fabric, leather trim and horn buttons. Pictured here is a classic (with just the suggestion of a belt), the Arrezo from the Beretta 1526 collection in a soft cotton and linen blend with horn buttons and a roaring-lion-print lining. The Italian gunmaker/outfitter also offers jackets with padded shoulders to accommodate a rifle butt should you actually have to shoot something.

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