Not content with being a thorn in the west’s side, president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been getting in their face too – as a style icon. It is not his skinny trousers that have made him a sartorial role model (though there have been plenty of those on the catwalk), nor his trendy loafers, nor even his refusal to wear a tie.
Rather, it is his signature fawn-coloured cotton blouson jacket – known locally, natch, as the Ahmadine-jacket – that has elevated Ahmadinejad to clothes horse of the month. Iranian entrepreneurs have reportedly ordered container-loads of copies from Chinese manufacturers for loyal followers to wear.
Interestingly, Ahmadinejad is not the only world leader to display a fondness for zip-up outerwear. John F. Kennedy was likewise a fan of the windbreaker, though only while sailing; Bill Clinton was snapped so often in one it almost became his trademark; and George W. Bush sports one pretty much every time he makes an announcement on an aircraft carrier. Indeed, the blouson is practically official attire for American presidents; not surprising given the United States Air Force provides windbreakers embroidered with the presidential seal to each commander-in-chief on Air Force One.
Perhaps this also explains John McCain’s recent penchant for his blouson: what better way to demonstrate one’s electability than to dress the part?
As to why the power players are so attached to their windbreakers, it’s probably no coincidence that internationally, the blouson is the also the public service utility garment of choice, associated with everyone from postal workers to firefighters, police officers, delivery men and, latterly, London’s parking wardens.
To wear a blouson is to demonstrate one’s solidarity with the proletariat. It is ideal for suggesting a kind of “in the field of action” persona that a suit, uniform of the desk-bound, simply does not convey.
Of course, there are also simpler attractions, which may explain why western men have been so quick to follow their eastern counterparts in embracing the jacket. “The blouson is a great item and we sell a lot of them,” says tailor Richard James. “It’s a men’s wear classic, not a trend item.”
“The thing about it is that Pete Doherty can wear it and so can Jeremy Clarkson,” says Kevin Stone, creative director of blouson specialists Baracuta, which have seen sales increase 50 per cent year on year. “The blouson just looks cool.”
This may have something to do with the blouson’s historical relationship with pop idols. It was in 1937 that John Miller, a British garment factory owner, launched his G9 blouson, a cotton jacket with a stand-up collar, knitted cuffs, raglan sleeves and slanted flap pockets, which was soon adopted by Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen, not to mention James Dean, who famously wore a red windbreaker in Rebel Without a Cause, and Elvis, who also sported the style in King Creole. By 1967 it became widely known as the Harrington, after Rodney Harrington, a character in the TV series Peyton Place.
“All those connections have helped the blouson,” says Stone, but ultimately its functionality explains its appeal: it is lightweight, rainproof and ageless.
Casual but smarter than, for instance, a denim jacket and less serious – or less loaded with connotations – than leather, the blouson can still be worn with smart trousers, as opposed to simply jeans.
Think of it as the evolution of the “tailored jacket with denim” semi-formal dress code that has been ubiquitous in recent years, but more relaxed and luxurious.
This is certainly what men’s wear designers seem to have been thinking, anyway. Witness Belstaff’s blouson, for example, which comes with patch pockets and an archive feel; Dsquared2’s version, with corduroy inserts; Dries van Noten’s, in metallic purple; Ferragamo’s, with trench coat-style collar; Hermès’ bold plaids; and Krizia’s orange or yellow style. Indeed, one appeal of the blouson is its similarity to a blank canvas.
“Blousons are very flexible. They can be worn with just about anything and look good and they tend to make a man look immediately younger,” says Carlos de Freitas, head of men’s wear for Dunhill, which offers a two-way, reversible blouson, one side complete with a fisherman’s jacket-style array of pockets.
“After the longer line of a tailored jacket, the blouson plays with proportion and cuts the silhouette up in a way that looks new again. But with the unpredictable weather at this time of year, they’re also just practical, comfortable items.
When a man puts one on, the first thing he will do is put his hands in the pockets, like he’s home.”
Where to get one