It doesn’t do to be nervous around safari jackets, even if you have no intention of going anywhere near the crash of rhinoceros. Iconic figures as diverse as Ernest Hemingway and Yves Saint Laurent were distinguished protagonists of the look, underlining how it stretches from intrepid big-game hunters to urban sartorialists.
Full of promise, the safari jacket is a reliable seasonal staple in any man’s wardrobe, and rarely do the spring collections go by without its appearance. One reason is because it guarantees robust yet relatively smart action wear – useful for roving about in hot climes, or even closer to home. Forays into the style by high-end designers also sit comfortably alongside authentic pieces by sporting outfitters, making it easy to mix up the two. All you really need to pull it off is a bit of a tan.
The safari jacket has little in common with other holiday fare, as it has an air of authority about it (due, in part, to its colonial past, when the Empire’s enforcers dressed in the desert military attire to which its modern incarnation owes much). Like the best masculine looks, it has evolved out of pure practicality, with many a stylish accent added along the way.
A dapper interpretation is on offer from Trussardi, with its easy caban jacket (£440) and matching trousers (£198) in muted green, creating an urbane look reminiscent of Yves Saint Laurent, especially when worn with loafers and a silk scarf. You could wear this on a balmy evening out, or put the jacket with jeans and still do loafers. Berluti uses the same flap-pocket style on a cotton field jacket (£1,500), cut with sartorial elegance, yet still channelling safari style and function. Elsewhere, Bally has made safari fit for northern European weather with a cinched suede design (£2,390), while Balmain’s distinctive belted jacket with horn buttons (£1,065) has a 1970s feel. Wear this with khaki trousers and smart lace-up boots to echo Roger Moore as Bond in Moonraker.
Moore’s Bond is still the all-time poster-man for safari style. His jacket/shirt hybrids with patch pockets by legendary tailor Doug Hayward always had the sleeves rolled up. But the suits were never made with short sleeves (Sir David Attenborough take note). I was quite badly told off by Audie Charles of Anderson & Sheppard, who worked with Hayward throughout the 1970s, for suggesting a short-sleeve version existed. Style connoisseur Charles also warns against head-to-toe safari: “Be careful how you go. Don’t go out dressed as the Great White Hunter.”
To avoid the style looking like fancy dress, it needs pairing with classic pieces. Consider a safari shirt worn with regular summer-holiday garb, or treat yourself to an epaulette or two. Polo Ralph Lauren’s linen safari shirts (£110) are spot-on, as are those at Belstaff (£250), which also has a motorcycle-style safari jacket (£995). Alternatively, you can take the look so seriously that no one will dare to question how appropriate it is. Cue the sleeveless versions of the pocket jacket worn by some photographers. “Patrick Lichfield and Brian Duffy had them made,” says Charles. “If you’re travelling, your phone, passport, wallet, everything is on your person.” Polo Ralph Lauren does a good one (£255), and Charles suggests adding a scarf for extra style. Similarly, Hollywood film directors such as John Huston made safari jackets de rigueur for a generation of filmmakers. Find upscale versions at Z Zegna (£775) and Rake (£785), which has put the practical pockets on the outside of their tailored jackets.
For the quality stuff of genuine safaris, Holland & Holland is the go-to sporting outfitter, with shirts, shorts and jackets that follow the classic safari uniform. “We do the historic British look. The gabardine range in beige and khaki [jacket, £595] is what people going on active safari prefer,” says creative director Niels Van Rooyen. Its accessories are especially good, from the rugged suede boots (£450) to the scarves, a dogtooth cotton one (£95) being my favourite.
Charles Finch, of media company Finch & Partners, knows about safaris. His adventure-wear range, Chucs, has been inspired by his many excursions in the Atlas Mountains, shooting quail, and by his father, actor Peter Finch’s enthusiasm for Africa and Australia. “Adventure wear is the best phrase for it. My version of safari is anything with sand in the pockets.” Chucs makes a belted safari jacket from thorn-proof cotton (£685) and the gabardine Peter Finch shirt with epaulettes (£120). It’s proper kit, but made under the eye of a veteran style merchant. “The cotton twill Mountain shorts [£245] have a padded posterior, so you can sit on a thicket if you need to,” Finch says. “Most guides pretty much have the uniform: it has to have pockets, it has to be good cotton and it has to blend in with the environment. In the old days, some would wear ties, which aren’t such a bad thing – they keep out the chill in the evening, as well as the mozzies.” Finch goes on to explain the value of a good scarf (from £120) – his trademark – and how it not only keeps out the wind and dust, but can be wetted to keep you cool.