Fall is a great season for sports coats, which are also know as odd jackets, because unlike a suit the trousers and jacket don’t match. Although many refer to sports coats as a broader category, few know the intricacies of the few casual jackets that have a distinct history and style of their own. This identity puts them in a class of their own, such as the Norfolk jacket or Half Norfolk jacket that we covered comprehensively or the Hacking Jacket, which will the the focus of today’s article. Interestingly, the Hacking Jacket does not seem for some unfathomable reason to have much of a following outside the United Kingdom. This article is a humble attempt to right this wrong, for in my opinion a Hacking Jacket should have the pride of place in a gentleman’s wardrobe.
History of the Hacking Jacket
The Hacking Jacket, as one can infer from its name, has like most pieces of classic menswear an equestrian history. The name is derived from the word hack or hackney, the saddle horse chosen for ordinary, informal pleasure riding as opposed to the horse used for jumping or hunting. In the 18th century a gentleman more often than not would require a jacket that he could wear while taking a leisurely ride across his land to check that all was in good order. He would require the jacket to be hardy, allowing for a certain amount of freedom of movement, easy access to his pockets, protection from the elements, and most importantly a jacket that would still look good after his ride. The tailors of the day rose to the challenge and created a jacket that met all these requirements, and so this jacket was referred to as the Hacking Jacket. By the 20th century the Hacking Jacket became extremely popular among the British landed aristocracy and made the transition to everyday wear. Its fitted silhouette became the model for the modern suit jacket for men.
Characteristics of the Hacking Jacket
Due to its informal nature, a hacking jacket is always made of tweed and not of the more formal melton cloth or cavalry twill used for more formal horseback attire. Generally, it features 3 or four (single breasted) leather or horn buttons in the front, short lapels, a throat tab, a long center vent, a full cut skirt, two side pockets, a ticket pocket as well as a flapped outside chest pocket. On the inside, you will find a large poacher’s pocket in case you need to pick up something. Usually, all pockets are cut rather roomy and sometimes they are also slanted, which is why pockets with a slant are often referred to as hacking pockets. To protect the wearer from the elements, the fabric is sometimes backed with some waterproof material and the cuffs may be fitted with windproof wrist lining, while the back is often lined in a checked wool for extra warmth.
Despite being an informal garment, there are varying degrees of formality in a hacking jacket, which is often expressed by the choice of fabric. Very informal jackets feature plaids and bold checks in brown and green tones while more formal ones are black, dark grey, tan or dark brown tweed without bold patterns.
In the following, note the hallmarks of a hacking jacket:
- Short lapels meet at the mid- chest area.
- Short Ghillie collar with a throat tab: a strap with buttons at each end that fastens across the neck when the collars of the jacket are upturned. It is used to protect the wearer from wind. Sometimes, you will also find a visible tab above the gorge of the left lapel.
- Three or four button front.
- Lightly tailored at the waist.
- Slanted, roomy hip pockets with flaps, also known as hacking pockets; sometimes a poachers pocket
- Ticket pocket – this is a third smaller pocket located just above the right hip pocket which was designed to keep loose change, tickets, or other small objects corralled.
- Flared, roomy skirt.
- Long center vent.
- Pronounced shoulders.
- Traditionally cut a little longer.
- One breast pocket (with but also occasionally without flaps)
- Made of tweed.
The modern hacking jacket retains all the above characteristics; the only major changes are in the choice of material and an increasingly tapered line of the cut. The short lapels of the ghillie collar and light fit ensure a secure semi- fitted jacket that facilitates free movement in the saddle. A longer lapel and less than three buttons would make the jacket gape while riding. The slanted pockets ensure easy access while riding. The flaps were added to prevent items from falling out while riding, and the throat tab protects the wearer from wind. When not in use it is discreetly hidden underneath one side of the collar. While many city jackets feature a single vent it was originally designed for horseback riding, because opens over the back of the saddle and the front panels sit neatly on the thigh.
The hacking jacket was meant to create a refined silhouette in the saddle and this effect is equally flattering for the contemporary wearer. A well fitted hacking jacket with its typical structured, elongated cut enhances a slender frame; it also improves posture by encouraging the wearer to bring his shoulders back, stomach in and backside forward. I would recommend this jacket to people who have a slight hunch when they walk. Most tall men have this unconscious habit. I know I have and I definitely present better posture and a neater silhouette in a hacking jacket.
The hacking jacket can be paired with a pair of woolen trousers, flannel being the material of choice, but corduroy also works equally as well. As the jacket is patterned, it is best to go with solid colored trousers. Flat fronts are recommended as pleated trousers do not compliment the silhouette of the hacking jacket. Once again the more adventurous can mix and match. Jodhpur trousers and Jodhpur boots are a good choice for those who have the confidence to carry them off.
Shirts should be soft and made of cotton or wool flannel, but button down oxfords are my shirts of choice. Just like with any sport coat, a dress shirt with French cuffs would be inappropriate as it is too formal. Opt for button cuffs instead. Solid colors or gingham checks work best. Accentuated by a woolen waistcoat, is is easy to add a contrasting or matching color. Traditionally a 3-fold necktie or stock tie were the correct accessories but today a knit tie or a bow tie work just as well. Personally, I like to combine a hacking jacket with knit ties, printed madder ties and bow ties because they underline the informal nature of the garment and add a unique touch to the outfit at the same time.
When it comes to shoes, my personal preference is for oxfords, cap toes and wing tips with or without brogueing. I would wear monk straps at a pinch. Considering its equestrian roots, a Jodhpur boots or Chelsea boots make for great alternatives. Traditionally the bowler hat was the headwear of choice but today, hardly anyone wears them anymore.
For a casual look, a hacking jacket can be paired with a classic pair of jeans or with chinos, turtle neck sweater and a faux-ascot.
Interestingly, both Sean Connery & Roger Moore wore hacking jackets in James Bond movies, although the more iconic pictures were taken of Connery in a brown hacking jacket. In this famous pictures with his Aston Martin DB5, he pairs it with an off white shirt, sans pocket square, brown knit tie and cognac flat front trictone trousers with side adjusters, frog mouth side pockets without cuffs paired with dark brown derby suede shoes and black dress socks. Note, he opted for French cuffs with cuff links rather than the traditionally correct barrel cuffs. I don’t know why, but maybe it had something to do with the Rolex Submariner 6538 that he wore with an undersized striped RAF watch strap. More importantly, the look as a whole is understated and elegant and perfectly suitable for city wear because he made the outfit his own: that’s probably the most important lesson here.
Where to buy Hacking Jackets?
In the US, they seem to be rare and mostly available via bespoke or vintage with the exception of Ralph Lauren, who sells them every once in a while. Most MTM suppliers don’t really have a hacking jacket concept, which is why I would not recommend buying one that way. Instead, purchase one from across the pond. In the UK, there are still a number of manufacturers that offer decent hacking jackets, such as Alexander James, Barrington Ayre, Bespoke Mears, Country Supplies, Bruar, A. Farley or A Hume.
Moreover, you may find hacking jackets at Walker Slater and Stewart Christie & Co in Edinburgh. In London you can get them from David Saxby or Cordings of Piccadilly, and other online stores include Pakeman Catto & Carter, Hackett and Oliver Brown. In the U.S., the Horse Country Carrot Warrenton, VA and Leonard Logsdail in New York offer them. Note, these are just sources but we haven’t tested them all, and as such this is no seal of quality and we cannot make any recommendations at this point.
This article is a collaborative effort of Vikram Nanjappa and Sven Raphael Schneider.
Do you know of any other suppliers of Hacking Jackets? Please let us know in the comments!