The first sportswear jacket: A ‘Ricky’ or gab jacket

Wednesday, August 30th 2023
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This vintage rayon jacket I bought in Japan earlier in the year has drawn quite a bit of interest since I posted pictures during Pitti. 

A couple of different brands asked about the details and whether they could borrow it to take details for a similar product - but I had to tell them that I liked it so much, we’d be working on something ourselves that drew on it for inspiration anyway. 

I think the reason I like it so much is that it hits the Permanent Style core of being only subtly unusual. 

Yes it’s pink, but such a pale pink that someone even referred to it as grey. It’s the kind of pink, in fact, that would make a good tailored jacket - as Manish pictured in his article using a Ring Jacket example. 

And yes it’s a vintage style, but everything is understated. It’s big in the body, but not too much; it’s short in the length, but not too much; the yoke is gathered and a little flouncy - but not too much. 

Most of this comes across only when you’re close up. Showing it to a (non-menswear) friend recently, the first thing he remarked on was the material - is it wool, polyester? Rayon and viscose aren’t that common these days, and he had no obvious reference. 

The elements I love most, though, are the buttons and that gathering on the yoke and shoulders - they give character through hardware and craft respectively, and are both things a modern high-street version would never bother to do. They’d be the first costs cut. 

It wasn’t the case in the 1950s, when this jacket dates from. This is the era when leisure wear first started to become a serious business, and this kind of short, waisted jacket was worn with tailored wool trousers and a shirt - even a tie. 

You see them discussed more on period-dressing sites and swing-dancing blogs, but with a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, I think it makes a very effective modern jacket. Like the more common Harrington or a ‘swing’ golf jacket, but a little fancier and more tailored.

Which is where those details come in. Two small panels of elastic in the back, rather than anything bigger; pick stitching around the edges; so-called ‘bag-stitched’ pockets, where the flap simply dresses up a patch pocket. 

Actually, the pick stitching is something I could happily do without, simply because today that kind of machine stitching reminds me of cheaper RTW tailoring trying to imitate handwork. 

And I think wool gabardine would be more practical - but then again wool might not have lasted 70 years. Wool versions of these jackets are often more faded and have little nicks or holes. (One for those that liked how well polyester lasts.) 

But then that’s what happens with vintage clothing - you always sacrifice something in the fit or the make, with lots of character in return. This jacket has some odd touches, like the double label on the inside right. 

The original label appears to be ‘a PM Casual, from California’ as that’s sewn into the facing (what a name, what a font!). Then there’s a second label, sewn in frankly quite poorly, presumably for a retailer - ‘Stuckey’s, style store for men and boys’ in Rockford. 

The same stitching appears to have been used to sew up the outbreast pockets, so they’re not usable. This is quite rough on the inside, and was presumably done because the pockets became baggy. But either the retailer made a strange choice or a later owner matched the thread very well. 

Such are the intrigues of vintage clothing. 

This style of jacket was meant to be worn with real high-waisted trousers, and finish on the natural waist. It would have been pretty short therefore, and is a little short on me - but not by much. The sleeves are a little short too, but again not extremely so.

In the pictures here, taken at Pitti, I’m wearing it with black linen trousers, black Sagans and a knitted white T-shirt. It’s a little smart, a little dressy. The grey tote is a nice complimentary colour.

But later that week in Milan I wore the same colours, just in more casual materials: a regular T-shirt on top, black jeans on the bottom. The materials and textures are softer, and it’s more casual. 

Then it also works nicely with mid-blue jeans, perhaps with that white T-shirt or a grey. In fact that’s my favourite combination with short jackets like these, whether it’s a faded yellow Harrington or a tobacco suede. Mid-blue is the default, and I’m increasingly finding washed black jeans can be nice too. 

These jackets are quite regularly reproduced, and coincidentally Full Count brought out a pink polyester one this season. Personally I prefer the button front of mine, and the collar shape, but they are available at Clutch and through the Full Count website. (In navy and pink, and with ‘Hustler’s Mentality’ embroidery! Also, note Full Count's return/exchange policy.) 

There are some short casual jackets out there, like the McCoy’s Swing jacket and of course many styles of Harrington, but they are a little sportier, a little simpler. For a smart/casual look you’d probably better off sticking with flight-jacket style blousons instead.

Also if looking online, be aware that a lot of Ricky or gab jackets come in patterned materials, even contrasting panels. Ethan Wong has a good piece here showing a few of these more period options. 

Clothes shown:

  • Pink vintage rayon ‘Ricky’ jacket
  • Black linen bespoke trousers, W Bill linen made by Whitcomb & Shaftesbury
  • White knitted T-shirt by The Anthology
  • Brown ‘Californian’ sunglasses by EB Meyrowitz
  • Black suede ‘Classic Sagan’ shoes from Baudoin & Lange
  • Yellow-gold Reverso watch, Jaeger-LeCoultre

Oh, and while there's a little debate, the name 'Ricky' likely originated from the character Ricky Ricardo on the TV show I Love Lucy, who wore the style of jacket. 

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Ras Minkah

That watch looks very interesting. I think you’ve covered it before but would you mind sharing the reference again.

Daniel

“But I had to tell them that I liked it so much, we’d be working on something ourselves”

Been a big fan of this jacket ever sense you posted it on your Instagram. It looks so effortlessly elegant and incredibly versatile. Really glad to hear you plan on making something similar into a product.

Hoping to pick it up in the future! Do you think it will be ready for next year or are you talking much further down the road?

Peter Hall

Will you go for rayon or wool,Simon?

Or,(hopes) ventile?

Henry

Love the jacket.
Please give us this shade of pink as an option (or something similar). I’m very likely to get it.

Peter Hall

Another vote for pink.
As you mention,faded yellow( or similar soft pastels) would be pleasingly different.

Robert M

Brilliant, I’m definitely saving this as a thing to have custom made at some point (I would buy yours or vintage, but no RTW ever fits). In your opinion, would it make sense to have handwarmer pockets on a jacket like this?

Markus

From own experience, having a suede trucker jacket in the same colour, I find the colour (I think a quite common word is “dusty pink”) very versatile. I find the colour fits with many usual trouser-colours, of course black but also navy, mid-grey, cream & white and possibly olive/green.

Paul H

Interesting piece, thank you for sharing in detail. I don’t current have rayon in my wardrobe. Can you share how it wears, esp in warmer temps? I believe it’s generally thin, but I’m wondering if the smooth finish may result from a denser weave and therefore wear “hot”. All the best!

Aaron

Gorgeous. I’ve wanted one since I read Ethan’s article, especially an unlined version – I wear a Harrington as a go-to but it can get a bit warm above 15/20C.

Aaron

Oh yes and I like it very much and would like to get it at some point – I guess I should’ve asked what’s the minimum temp you’d wear that with, from Ethan’s article I imagined an unlined gab jacket as a nice in-between.

James

Very nice combination of textures and rarely seen together colors!

The shoes bring me back to an earlier post on barefoot vs no-show socks. How do you decide on which to use and when? I would think for these, more revealing styles of loafers, the former would be more suitable since the inevitable invisible sock peeking through is kind of like a magician revealing his tricks. In addition, I could never win the battle against these invisible socks falling mid foot half way through the day.

Thoughts on the matter?

Many thanks, Simon!

John

The Armoury’s Road Jacket seems pretty close in style
https://www.thearmoury.com/journal/introducing-the-road-jacket

S.F.

As you’ve noted, others have looked at these jackets in detail, but otherwise this is totally new to me. Thank you for help bring this garment and its nuances to a wider audience! I’ve struggled with this silhouette (outside of The Armory’s Wright Jacket), so I look forward to more style examples and to see it take on more mainstream adoption.

Eric Schimmel NYC

Which store in Japan did you purchase this fabulous vintage jacket?
And what are your favorite vintage stores in Japan?
Thanks

Mike

Are those dress pumps you have it paired with?

Stephen

Hi Simon,
Faded yellow or light blue may look good. Possibly a washed material. Or overall washed effect for the whole jacket as if you have had it for years and washed many times.

Alex

I really liked LEJ’s shell jacket from this last year. Broadly in the same category of jacket IMO but a little different (a bit sportier). It still looks good over a pair of tailored trousers and a t! Luke being Luke, the pink is a bit more in your face (not to mention the leopard print…)

Tim

On a tangent, i live in Los Angeles; therefore, sunglasses are an integral part of my wardrobe. I’m always interested to see what brand and style people are wearing.
Jacques Marié Mage has become quite popular I have several pairs of them and am curious what your thoughts are regarding this brand.
Thank you and have a nice weekend.
Tim

Martin

Thank you for the warning regarding Full Count´s returns policy. Their website says no returns are accepted, only exchange for different sizes. I had thought in European e-commerce the possibility of returns is obligatory.

Misbah

Simon, I notice here, but particularly in the Lookbook section, that you don’t seem to go in for patterned shirts. I assume it’s easier, and by choice, to put an outfit together which is more colour blocks. But perhaps something is lost as much as gained by that decision?
It particularly came to mind when I picked up a fairly bold striped shirt this morning and then had to work out what to pair it with.

Misbah

Fair enough, the first 20/30 or so images didn’t showcase the shirts you mentioned, so I got a false representation. Yes definitely agree, texture adds character. I find shirts with really muted (Prince of Wales) checks a great option.

Misbah

So the shirts are very muted (blue on blue) checks. But yes, they provide the pop of colour. Worn with a plain grey or birdseye grey suit and dark brown shoes. Alternatively plain blazer and blue-grey trousers. So the rest of the outfit provides the harmony.
These are Drake’s shirts which are billed as being suitable for casual or formal wear. Their collar is less formal than T&A. I think that allows me to be a notch less formal in the office.

One of the points that registered with me from your writing, Boyer, etc is that a hint of a colour in a blazer can pick out/compliment a similar colour from another item being worn.

As for my fairly bold striped shirt, it didn’t feel right for a trip to town so I ended up changing. Will put it aside for trips to the country/holiday where one feels more at ease to dress differently.

Max Alexander

That retail label refers to a Main Street menswear shop in Rockford, Illinois, a small city west of Chicago. Stuckey’s was eventually sold to Hart Schaffer & Marx, the Chicago RTW maker that suited Barack Obama (although his were bespoke). HSM is now owned by Authentic Brands, which also owns Brooks Brothers. So it goes…