A Norfolk jacket is a single-breasted, loose-fitting blazer that features a belt or half-belt, two box pleats on the front and one pleat on the back. Originally made for English sportsmen, the jacket was designed to fit more loosely through the shoulders so that hunters could easily lift their arms and fire a rifle or shotgun. Since first being introduced in the 1860s, the Norfolk jacket has enjoyed periodic popularity as a versatile, more casual alternative to other types of blazers.
The jacket is believed to have first been worn in the mid-19th century either by the Prince of Wales or by the sport-loving, gun-toting 15th Duke of Norfolk. Although the jacket has long been associated with late 19th-century and early 20th-century Edwardian style, it has resurfaced periodically in recent decades when designers have wanted to evoke the look of a genteel, country gentleman. Later designers found that the jacket could nicely accompany many types of trousers, with one advantage being that it merely had to complement the pants rather than match them.
Frequently made of tweed or another type of wool, the jacket has one or two breast pockets as well as sizable side pockets. The pleats allow the wearer to enjoy freer movement of the torso, a critical asset when the wearer has to turn and fire at fast-moving game. The front typically has three buttons, a style that remained in vogue for men's jackets for much of the Edwardian era. Indeed, the Edwardian era saw the advent of the “sports” style of clothing for men — clothes that feature the shorter, single-breasted style of coat.
The Norfolk jacket was a favorite of outdoor sportsmen of the 19th century, whether worn for hunting or fishing. Its wool construction allowed for comfort and warmth. The loose breeches that often accompanied the jacket made it appealing for 19th-century hikers, as shown in many contemporary illustrations. The jacket was rarely worn without knickerbockers; it wasn’t until the 20th century that designers combined the jacket with different trousers. English schoolboys continued to wear Norfolk jackets as part of their uniforms well into the 20th century.
With its shorter coat, the Norfolk jacket presaged the modern men’s suit. The jacket itself endures and commonly is seen in police and military uniforms. Variations of it still can be found in stores for both men and women. Modern versions are made of a variety of materials, including silk, cotton and linen.