The Hacking Jacket Guide

The Hacking Jacket Guide

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.

Hacking Jacket with bowler hat, buff moleskin vest & gloves and breeches

Hacking Jacket with bowler hat, buff moleskin vest & gloves and breeches

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.

Hacking Jacket Details Explained

Some Hacking Jacket Details Explained

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:

  1. Short lapels meet at the mid- chest area.
  2. 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.
  3. Three or four button front.
  4. Lightly tailored at the waist.
  5. Slanted, roomy hip pockets with flaps, also known as hacking pockets; sometimes a poachers pocket
  6. 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.
  7. Flared, roomy skirt.
  8. Long center vent.
  9. Pronounced shoulders.
  10. Traditionally cut a little longer.
  11. One breast pocket (with but also occasionally without flaps)
  12. 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.

Sean Connery as Bond in Hacking Jacket

Sean Connery as Bond in Hacking Jacket

Style Guide

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.

Black Hacking Jacket with ghillie collar, stock and stock pin with tattersall vest, breeches and riding boots

Black Hacking Jacket with ghillie collar, stock and stock pin with tattersall vest, breeches and riding boots

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.

Polo Ralph Lauren Hacking Jacket

Polo Ralph Lauren Hacking Jacket

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!

19 replies
  1. Christopher Long
    Christopher Long says:

    Excellent article. Strictly speaking, the ‘black hacking jacket’ shown above is known as a hunt jacket or hunt coat and is worn exclusively for foxhunting. The foxhunting season proper starts at the end of October – during September and October, correct wear for hunting is a tweed hacking jacket, but once the season starts, it is a black or navy hunt coat. Other sources (in the UK) include Cordings, Pakeman Catto & Carter, Hackett and Oliver Brown, but RTW tweed hacking jackets are relatively easy to find.

  2. Alexandr Cave
    Alexandr Cave says:

    The hacking jacket, or ratcatcher as it is known to huntsmen, is widely available in the UK probably because it has always been a favourite equestrian coat – to be seen in large numbers at gymkhanas and during the foxhunting cubbing season. Keepers tweed (32oz or 970g) being the preferred cloth.

    It is interesting you suggest avoiding double-cuff shirts with the hacking jacket, as I would say they were just the thing, as the traditional narrow sleeve and cuff of the jacket hold the shirt-cuff nicely. But the shirt material needs to be on the weighty side.

    I would recommend a traditional weight Oxford cotton (or flannel) shirt with double-cuff if you can find them – the London shirt makers usually have them readily available in pale colours (blue is most common) and white. It is a long time since I saw a flannel double-cuff shirt, but the two in my wardrobe are a testament to their availability.

  3. Bromley Steele
    Bromley Steele says:

    This side of the pond the best source for RTW is Horse Country Saddlery Warren, VA. If bespoke is what you are after,
    Leonard Logsdail cuts a handsome coat and the selection of tweeds and linings is overwhelming. Rumour has it that a few hunts are going to Ratcatchers during the season. Perhaps Squire Cave may have heard something?

    You producing a very superior blob.

  4. Kory D.
    Kory D. says:

    Excellent article. I have always been drawn more to the hacking jacket even before I knew what it was called. It can be difficult finding a proper one here in California but I am always on the look out for a quality vintage one.

    • Alexander Cave
      Alexander Cave says:

      Kory -

      Have a look at http://www.davidsaxby.co.uk or http://www.savvyrow.co.uk for vintage items – they tend to have the genuine article in a style, cut and variety of cloths to appeal to most tastes. Some older hacking jackets will have a well cinched waist and flared skirts which gives the distinctive silhouette, and may seem overly exaggerated at first. Jackets cut an inch or two longer than standard also tend to look more elegant.

      If searching on-line, try using google.co.uk as it will bring up suppliers using British-based domains that might not be automatically found using google.com. Good luck!

      • Sven Raphael Schneider
        Sven Raphael Schneider says:

        We have written about David Saxby before and I visited him before. It’s a nice little store, one with vintage goods, the other with new items and he even has a new website but as far as I know you can’t order online. I have never bought anything from savvyrow myself but it seems like a good place for vintage items.

  5. Joseph Sparks
    Joseph Sparks says:

    What you describe as a poachers pocket is designed for a broken shotgun and would therefore not feature on a jacket meant for riding.

    • Christopher Long
      Christopher Long says:

      My hunt coat (a Mears Pytchley) has two – I believe this is more or less the standard.

    • Alexander Cave
      Alexander Cave says:

      Have you been watching too many gangster movies, Mr Sparks, I wonder, in which the hoods pull shotguns from inside their coats…

      But I am teasing! The poacher’s pocket, or game pocket, is usually a large, water-proof lined feature of the size you would conveniently fit a hare or rabbit.

      Both the length of of the hacking jacket and pocket size would make fitting a shotgun – broken or otherwise – quite impossible. There may be long coats with just such a suitable pocket, but most sportsmen would prefer to put the failed gun back into its slip or case. The idea that coats are made with pockets for this purpose beggars belief, but more details would be most interesting.

      A hack or hacking is informal riding, usually following a route across open country where it is quite usual to encounter game, but I have never seen or heard of a rider carrying the means for killing, trapping or catching any sort. Only one of the two hacking jackets (both now more than 20 years old) I use regularly has such a pocket but I cannot think I would ever use it for game. The small folding knife and other items I carry ‘just-in-case’ are better carried in the outside pockets.

      The term poacher’s pocket has become generic for the large internal pocket, usually positioned in the skirts of the coat, that is a regular feature of tweed jackets intended for the full range of country pursuits. The original poacher’s pocket was one which the poacher made for himself, often out of a sack which was sewn into the lining of a long (coming below the knee) coat, so that any poached game (pheasant or partridge particularly) could be carried unseen. Walked-up game is most often taken home in purpose-made game bags, or slinging straps.

  6. Duncan King
    Duncan King says:

    If we’re recommending suppliers, I have to mention Walker Slater of Victoria Street in Edinburgh, for both RTW and MTM tweed clothing of all kinds in fairly contemporary cuts, and for a very traditional approach, still in Edinburgh, there’s the excellent Stewart Christie & Co of Queen Street. Walker Slater have recently introduced the option of online ordering for some of their RTW lines (including some hacking jackets), but as for Stewart Christie, you’d need to visit them in person. We know a thing or two about tweed here in Scotland.

    As for cuffs… The notion that double cuffs are excessively formal seems to be more of an American thing. They’re really rather common here.

  7. Christopher Long
    Christopher Long says:

    In the matter of poacher’s pockets, they can be invaluable for many purposes, including whilst riding. Hip flask, packet of sandwiches, map, binder twine – there are many things other than a broken shotgun that one might need to carry. I value my poacher’s pocket highly.

  8. Joseph sparks
    Joseph sparks says:

    Wikipedia has an interesting article on the Shadbury,which I got to whilst researching stock pins.

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