Last week, when proudly sporting my new-ish khaki coat dress around the house, my husband playfully asked me, “Are you going on safari?” (See the outfit on my Instagram handle and judge for yourself.) At first, I was a bit miffed at his joke, but quickly decided to take it in stride. After all, safari-inspired styles have had a long history in fashion.
It all began in 1836, when William Cornwallis Harris led an expedition to record wildlife and landscapes in Africa. The trip's format consisted of light walking in the morning followed by energetic day walking, a restful afternoon, and a formal dinner with time for drinks, tobacco and stories in the evening. Thus, the first safari was born.
New clothes were needed for this new form of travel. According to the Dictionary of Fashion History, the clothes that were created for cross-country expeditions in the nineteenth century, especially those in East Africa, had "to be both sturdy and lightweight." They typically included, "a pith-helmet-style hat… a shirt, jacket and trousers of sturdy cotton, often pale coloured, boots and puttees, strips of protective leather or fabric wrapped around the legs. The style of jacket [has a] belt, vented back, pleated outside pockets with flaps and buttoned fronts.”
By the early twentieth century, when Vogue featured a safari outfit on its 1902 cover, the clothes were not just intended for practical use, but were items of fashionable dress. See how safari styles have changed throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in the slideshow below. Check back this week for part II of this post – how to rock safari style the 2014 way!