Further than Fabric: The Souvenir Jacket’s Cultural History

Further than Fabric: The Souvenir Jacket’s Cultural History

Abby Preece, Wanna hear something weird?

When visiting family this past November, and when my uncle saw the jacket I wore, his eyes lit up. I wasn’t too taken aback, because let me tell you, this was a nice jacket. His excitement quickly changed to questions like “Where did you buy it?!” then to stories. Stories of how it was just like the one his father wore back from the Korean War. At this point, amidst his excited ramblings I had to ask myself, how did this style of a jacket go from a war souvenir to some mannequin at Urban Outfitters?

Can we maybe get an idea of what this jacket looks like???

It’s said that the colourful baseball style jacket, made out of silk, satin and back then, excess parachute material, owes its story of origin to one U.S. soldier, who asked a local tailor in Yokosuka, Japan, to embroider his name and some traditional designs on the jacket as a souvenir of the time he spent deployed in Japan. After that, the trend caught on, and it became a tradition to bring the vibrant clothing to little brothers and sons back home. Soon enough, stands began to pop up on base camps, selling them to servicemen.

The jackets were known as Sukajan, referencing the city of Yokosuka and “jan,” meaning jumper, and were almost always reversible, with different designs adorning the inside. Tailor Toyo, a tailor in business since WWII now sells their collector jackets for up to thousands of dollars, and as you can see on any Tailor Toyo jacket, the embroidery is the highlight of the clothing. When the jackets were new, most designs were of cherry blossoms and some of tigers and dragons, the same as the ones on the side of captured Japanese submarines. The designs respect the Japanese culture, showing that although the men were there under unfortunate circumstances, they still found a love and appreciation for their temporary home.

By the 1960’s, Sukajan became as much of a trend among Japan’s youth as they were with the deployed men, wearing the jackets born out of war showed a sort of rebellion against society. In the 1960s, the preppy, American look was becoming popular among the young people of Japan who wanted to emulate the cliché young, rebellious American teen, from blue jeans to baseball jackets. This mix of western and eastern style is still seen in many brands, from NEIGHBOURHOOD to Human Made, both adapting the mix of cultures into the aesthetic of their brand. This young, defiant symbol that the jackets became, went from being seen as a sign of rebellious youth, to being synonymous with gang life, more specifically the Yakuza.

With new conflicts arising in Vietnam and Korea, the jackets tradition spread to those countries as well. For those who were involved in the Vietnam War, the outerwear was often much darker, with controversial, often anti-war statements; many graced with the phrase “When I Die, I’m Going to Heaven Because I Served My Time in Hell.” The then current fashion truly reflected the morbidness of the Vietnam War, and the anti-war ideasls many people held at that time.

Come the 21st century, and brands from Yves Saint Laurent to Supreme have all put out their own versions of the jacket, the trend coming back in full force. From 1950’s Japan to 2017 worldwide. The Sukajan, born out of war, has stood the test of time and carried on its vibe of rebellion from one revolutionary generation to the next.