Those "Asian" Silk Bomber Jackets Have A Really Interesting Backstory

If you’ve gone shopping recently, you might have noticed that silk bomber jackets have taken the market by storm. You might have also noticed that, more often than not, they feature intricate East Asian-style embroidery — or as some e-commerce sites have (unfortunately) called the designs: Oriental. For many, the style only became popular after Ryan Gosling wore one in Drive. But those who know their way around a thrift store have been spotting the pieces long before, and they know the style is called "Sukajan" or souvenir jackets.
Photographed by Victoria Adamson.
Long before it made its way into Gucci’s spring ‘16 collection (and, eventually, onto the racks of every fast fashion retailer possible), the Sukajan jacket was born in post-WWII Japan, as a literal souvenir for American troops who wanted to remember their time spent abroad.
Photo via Japan Lover Me Store.
Local craftsmen, like Tailor Toyo, would refashion traditional fabrics into baseball jackets, which were commonly worn by American soldiers. On them, they embroidered pan-Eastern motifs, including dragons, cherry blossom trees, maikos or geishas, tigers, and koi fish (some of which weren't even Japanese, which is basically the definition of Orientalism). Ports of occupation, dates of service, and other mementos were added as a personalized touch.

Today, if you visit any thrift store in an East or Southeast Asian country with a recent history of Western occupation, you’ll likely find tons of these jackets lining the racks (they've actually become a popular souvenir for modern-day tourists to bring home). Needless to say, there’s quite a bit of bad blood regarding these jackets in Asia, where they're considered a reminder of wartime, times when its nations, cultural tokens, and people were patrolled by Western forces. In Japan in particular, Sukajan jackets, along with other varsity jackets, green-canvas military jackets, and leather bombers, are often considered emblematic of the rise of Americana within the country. Many used to also consider the item to be a symbol of anti-establishment sentiments, the same way punks in London wore military jackets and combat boots.

Though much of their significance has been lost on current fans, Sukajan jackets have recently become an It item for Westerners again. But it's not just a silk bomber or everyday embroidered topper you see in the window of nearly every store, it's a piece with a long, complicated history. Feel free to pass on the knowledge if you're out with a friend who's tempted to buy one.

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