Unexpected Layering: The Jungle Jacket

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 We went full “Jumanji 2: Welcome to the Jungle” for this article.

There’s a reason field jackets have dominated the menswear scene for the better half of the last century.  We’ve seen the rise of the M-65 and the Barbour waxed jacket translate into the love of the bespoke safari jacket for you menswear enthusiasts. It just seems that  not much can beat the basic green jacket, no matter the specific piece. If its vaguely militaristic/hunting-esque, it’s versatile, functional, fashionable, and makes everyone looks good.  This charm means that  it goes well with tailoring, which makes it a “must-have” for any menswear enthusiast.

 Our M-43 field jackets have served us well during the fall/winter, but as temperatures rise in Southern California, we needed an alternative.  Linen safari jackets have become sort of a meme in the menswear world (and the only options are bespoke) and we couldn’t just wear our chore coats the whole time; we wanted something that evoked the ruggedness of the field jacket while still being weather appropriate.  That’s where the jungle jacket came in.


The Tropical Combat Coat evolved from the lightweight HBT jacket of WWII and was first designed in 1962 for use by Special Forces troops in Vietnam.   Unlike the heavy field jackets of the previous years (M-43, M-51), this was made as more of a shirt jacket, with no structure and a slightly shorter length.   While it does have a total of four patch pockets, it’s distinctive feature is that it’s breast pockets are slanted.  Not only that, but the pocket flaps themselves are cut at a slight angle!  Obviously there were a few design variations, but the basic concept is the same.


It was extremely popular for use during and after the war due to how light it was, being perfectly at home over a tee shirt or bare skin.  However, because it’s more of a shirt-jacket, it’s not as popular among regular menswear guys, as they still prefered the M-43 or M-65, as these pieces were more fit for use as outerwear.

Today, it can be pretty tough to find a good jungle jacket.  That’s probably because the jungle jacket is a specific, vintage design that isn’t really accessible to the masses.   Most of the time, you’ll be able to find BDU’s which are more “straightforward” in design, thanks to its block-shaped pockets.  It may not be as fancy as the jungle jacket and it’s slanted pockets, but it’s a good place to start.    If you really want the jungle jacket, you’ll have to search eBay/etsy and be prepared to spend at least $60+ for one.  That’s usually the case with vintage military/workwear type of stuff: the more details, the rarer and more expensive it is.

Inspiration

Obviously you’ll remember our BDU article which showed a lot of camo jackets as inspiration.  As pointed out by some military-knowledgeable readers/friends, they were wearing jungle jackets.   No wonder my BDU looked a little boring in comparison! All due to a simple change in pockets.  It’s sorta like how lapels or shirt collars can make or break an outfit for us here at Street x Sprezza.

I was first introduced to the jungle jacket (in a camo variation) thanks to this picture from Kenji Cheung, the co-founder of Bryceland’s.  The combination of rugged military/workwear and tailoring is one of the reasons why we like that store so much; it’s a huge contrast to the “normal” pairings found at other houses.  I even made a similar look with my BDU.

However, the real driving force for Spencer and I to get a jungle jacket was coming across the instagram account of Tony Sylvester, the lead singer of Turbonegro.  I am unfamiliar with his work (I mainly listen to film scores), but I started to notice him after seeing him pop up a few times on Ethan Newton’s instagram and thinking “goddamn, that’s some great style”.

Tony has a lot of great looks that I’m sure we will take inspiration from in the upcoming spring/summer season, but here are a few great jungle jacket outfits. It’s a shame that some of these involve heavy layering and turtlenecks, but we’re way past that now.

Uniqlo to the Rescue

It was clear that we wanted a jungle jacket.  Not that our M-43’s and BDU’s were bad, but we wanted something even more versatile and lightweight that could serve in any capacity we wanted.  And like I said earlier, finding affordable originals and reproductions was a little tricky as most were going for around $60-100.  That price isn’t bad for an M-43, but it was certainly pricey for a simple, shirt jacket that we could just crumple in our car and throw on.

Amazingly enough, I noticed that Uniqlo sold the jacket on their website!    The price was around  $20-30 (I paid the former while Spencer paid the latter) which was right what we wanted to pay.  The next best part was the color options.  Obviously, jungle jackets are found in olive green or camo, since they are military wear after all.  Uniqlo offered them in navy and khaki, which opens it up to more outfit combinations!  I was especially interested in the navy as I’ve been wanting a blue casual jacket to interchange with my chore coat (as the olive would do for my field jacket).   The only drawback was that the material wasn’t 100% cotton; it contained 3% polyurethane for stretch.

In the end, Spencer and I got navy and olive in medium and small, respectively.  We had them shipped for free to our local uniqlo and within a week and a half, we had our jungle jackets!

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It’s a pretty damn good repro for a fast-fashion retailer.  The collar might be a little bit smaller than the originals, but everything else is great: the hidden placket, the buttons, and even the design of the pockets. There’s even a pen slot on the left breast pocket! There aren’t any fussy epaulets or any other miscellaneous details, which makes for a very clean and versatile garment. Usually military wear doesn’t translate well into a mall-brand.  Perhaps the Japanese really do love American clothing!

Obviously this is a very casual, unstructured item, so the nuances of fit don’t really apply.  You’ll notice that the shoulders are slightly big, but that’s all.  The jacket is pretty roomy in the chest, which is good since I’ve been experimenting with a looser cut lately; it also was needed, since I really want to do the “military + tailoring” look. However, I noticed that the jacket was just a tad short.    While the jacket body is pretty full, I personally found the arms to be a little fitted.  It didn’t matter much when I was wearing it with a tee shirt or a dress shirt, but it was definitely difficult to wear over a sport coat.  It might just take some getting used to.  I also had to cuff the sleeves to get them to fit right.

I can definitely feel the stretch in the fabric whenever I fist the pockets, which is a good thing since I really have a “problem” with doing that.  None of my jackets have ripped so far, but overall, a little bit of stretch (in certain pieces) doesn’t really matter. I wouldn’t have stretch in a dress shirt, suit, or jean though.

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You can see here that the jacket is made of a cotton rip-stop fabric, which, in the 1960s, replaced the poplin fabric that military jackets were typically made of.   You can tell with its subtle checked weave.  Props to uniqlo for making such a great reproduction.

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Like the originals, these Uniqlo repros utilize bellowed pockets.  This means that the pouch acts like an accordion, in that it is able to expand outward.  The extra space is emphasized with the use of a reverse box pleat, which is a clean alternative to the normal box pleat that’s seen on safari jackets.  I mean we definitely like having reverse box pleats, especially on tailoring!

With Tailoring

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While I did wear my navy jungle jacket out before this one, I consider this to be more in line with how I’d wear my jungle jacket.  I mean, this one is the classic olive green!

You can probably tell that the inspiration for this definitely came from Bryceland’s/Tony Sylvester with its americana-workwear inspiration.  Blue, greens, and browns are common colors for this style and I definitely have a lot of those in my wardrobe! Instead of the chambray/denim shirt that is extremely popular, I opted for my unique diamond print spearpoint shirt.  It was made by my old flame Natty Shirts a year ago, commissioned after I realized I wanted a “workwear shirt” like the ones from RRL.  I don’t really wear it often (especially not with tailoring) but I felt that it was appropriate for the outfit! I’m still looking for a good denim/chambray though.

The shirt is worn with a black knit tie (a classic) with some pleated “dress” chinos and split toes.  Super laid back even though it’s technically a tie+chinos look!
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This is how its worn over a sportcoat.  The plaid jacket isn’t exactly super fitted (it’s a sack-jacket) and it’s a slightly heavy material, but I’ve done similar looks before. It’s not too bad, but you can see that the sportcoat extends past the hem of the jungle jacket.  A small dealbreaker for sure, but we’ve seen guys wear a down vest and a suit before.

You can also note that the arms are slim, as I stated before.  It was a little tough getting my jacket sleeves through it, but it worked for the purposes of this picture.  I think I’ll just stick the jungle jacket with just a dress shirt or tee; if I want to put it over a sportcoat, I’ll always have my M-43.

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Here’s the navy jungle jacket worn with some tailoring. I already talked about a similar outfit before, but it’s important to see the different vibes you get compared to the classic olive.  I think that the navy is a little bit more classy, which works in tried-and-true menswear combinations, like a striped shirt + patterned tie and grey flannels.  It’s probably because a navy sportcoat would have been the “normal” choice.   Perhaps we can think about it as the “navy blazer” of military/workwear!

This outfit has a bit of an ivy flair, since it incorporates a blue stripe OCBD, red regimental stripe tie, tattersall waistcoat, and white socks with loafers. Instead of that navy blazer, I wear the jungle jacket to give it a rugged vibe which coincides with the use of the knit cap. It’s dressy, but not fussy.

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Spencer goes with the more traditional route by simply wearing the navy jungle jacket over a striped shirt, foulard tie, and chinos. Again, a navy blazer would have been the “correct choice”, but having military outerwear just makes it a bit more accessible to regular people.

Casual Style

Now that we can see how well the jungle jacket looks with tailoring, let’s see it worn with casual style, a segment that seldom pops up o the blog.

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Spencer’s here!  For my outfit, I wanted something that had the same easygoing, thrown together vibe as this Tony Sylvester look. Because I was wearing a plain jacket, as opposed to his camouflage one, I knew I needed some pattern in my outfit, so I went with a 1950s tropical print sport shirt. I finished off the look with Uniqlo U wide legged seersucker pants. I originally planned on wearing it with denim, but the wide-leg and draped fabric of the Uniqlo trousers gave it a more contemporary look. The lightweight nature of the fabrics is gonna make this one a go-to look during the summer!

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Making good use of that pen pocket!

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Ethan is back.

Like the chore coat before it, I’ve been wearing the jungle jacket a lot.  It’s super light weight and easy to throw on over anything I want!  The difference between this and the regular chore coat is that this jacket has way more details like a substantial collar and quadruple patch pockets to fill up the “empty” space on the chest.  The chore coat works for minimal outfits, but the jungle jacket adds some extra pizazz when needed.   Can’t you see how well it works with a simple striped tee, denim, and vans?

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So, I’m not a fan of layering over shorts because I think that defeats the purpose of them. You’re wearing shorts because it’s hot.  But that was before I had any semblance of lightweight, summer-appropriate “outerwear”.  The jungle jacket does that job well.

The jacket is worn over a red stripe tee and some gurkha shorts; the PTO engineer cap finished off the look.  It’s super casual and comfy, with the jungle jacket in no way being “too much” since it feels more like a shirt than a real piece of outerwear.  The way the proportions are played with (contrast the high rise of the shorts with the longer length of the jacket) is definitely a little different and perfectly appropriate for a casual look.

It’s really a new step for me and is inspired by Tony Sylvester and a handful of other Japanese-Americana looks.  I’ve been wanting to wear my gurkha shorts more often and I think this is one way to do it.

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Worn with a polo and wide legged chino trousers. 

Conclusion

Who would’ve thought that we’d be wearing military (inspired) wear with tailoring? Not this guy.

Overall, this jacket was a great buy and it’s already getting a lot of use. It’s adds something extra to simple tailoring (sans sportcoat) and is a perfect match for casual outfits.  It comes at a time when it’s pretty difficult to layer and make interesting outfits; it takes a lot out of me to even wear a sport coat and tie during the summer!  In fact, I find it a little odd that most guys aren’t grabbing this up! It’s unstructured and completely functional, which means that guys will use the pockets and be comfortable wearing it; it’s pretty much similar to the chore coat just with a bigger collar and more pockets.  When spring/summer comes, you can put away your heavy field jacket and put on the jungle jacket instead!

Unfortunately, it seems that stock is limited at Uniqlo, with the small being sold out in the classic olive green.  As you can tell from the post, the navy jacket isn’t bad either, though it has a”dressy” vibe instead of rugged, which you would achieve with the olive (or khaki).  You can always just look on eBay or even try your hand at your local flea market! I know I’ve seen some at the Rose Bowl. Just don’t forget to remove any military patches.

As Spencer and I move forward in our menswear journey, we’ve both realized that there is more to style than just wearing suits.  It took us a long time to break out of wearing sportcoats all the time, but I’m pretty happy to where this had lead us! We’ve been experimenting more with workwear and while we don’t go fully into that look, it’s been great to incorporate it into our existing menswear taste.  Stuff like this jungle jacket or the chore coat add just a bit more character to what would be a “normal” (or solid) outfit!  I suggest you try them out for yourself.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan W. & Spencer O.

Street x Sprezza 

 

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