A shooting jacket is an item of practical rural attire specifically designed for hunting and other shooting sports, such as clay pigeon shooting. As well as oversized front pockets that allow for the carrying of cartridges and other gun-related paraphernalia, the shooting jacket also has special cuts at the shoulder to allow for easier movement and the ability to lift a gun high to shoot high-flying targets. Many shooting jackets are also waterproof with a breathable liner to cope with adverse weather conditions, and many also have concealed zips to avoid the sctratching of the gun.
The Theory of the Duke
As for the origins of the shooting jacket, the most commonly cited theory holds that the style was originally invented in the mid-to-late 19th century (sometime in the 1860s to be slightly more precise) by one Henry Fitzalan-Howard, who just happened to be the 15th Duke of Norfolk. Hence one of the jacket’s alternative monikers, the Norfolk jacket.
Having been conceived by the duke, the jacket is then said to have been popularised in the 1880s by the then Prince of Wales, who was later to become King Edward VII. As royal fashion was in those days commonly revered and imitated, Edward VII also made the Homburg hat a hit.
Although this theory sounds reasonable enough, there is not a lot of evidence to support it, and other theories are also in existence.
The Theory of the Earl
Another theory holds that the Earl of Leicester, one Thomas William Coke, was more likely the first to wear this famous hunting garment as he gadded about his 43,000 acre Norfolk estate, killing things. Coke was well-known for entertaining England’s nobility at his country pile in the 1820s, where they hunted partridge, pheasants, and doubtless, anything else that wandered into view.
The Earl and his posh pals, including the then Prince of Wales and future king, George IV, allegedly adopted the jacket with a wide belt, box pleasts and more spacious patch pockets for the carrying of hunting knickknacks. The belt apparently improved the line of the jacket, as well as keeping out the cold air.
Again, there is little solid evidence to support this theory, but it’s not implausible.
As far as verifiable facts are concerned, the shooting jacket was definitely worn by the Rifle Corps of the Volunteer Force in 1859 (which rather spoils the first theory). It also appeared in fashion magazines for young boys’ outfits in the same year. We also know for sure that it originated in Norfolk, became popular in 1860s and over the following couple of decades, became increasingly popular with the general public, as rural activities such as fishing and hunting became more widespread. Furthermore, by the 1890s, we know that stylish young men had started wearing it around town, without their gun, because it just looked so damned good.