Wearing the traditional safari clothes of the old Hollywood era might get a few raised eyebrows when you arrive for your African hunt. In reality, the old-time safari clothing was very practical - light-weight, lots of pockets, muted colours and comfortable.
A Spot Of History On Safari Clothes
The early Victorian explorers, naturalists and hunters adapted their usual sombre attire to more suitable outfits for life in the African bush. Black was rejected in favour of light browns, beige or olive green which provided camouflage and better protection against the heat.
Safari hats were 'scientifically' designed to shield the wearer from the dangerous effects of the sun. Sun helmets or pith helmets were particularly fashionable.
In 1888 Thomas Burberry patented Gabardine which was tightly woven worsted cotton which was waterproofed before weaving and more comfortable than rubberized fabrics. Gabardine garments became all the rage with sportsmen and particularly African hunters and explorers, receiving 'celebrity' endorsement from the likes of Denis D Lyell and Powell-Cotton, who says, "Burberry suits resist the thorns while khaki and other shooting cottons are torn to rags."
Gabardine Advert 1910
East African hunting clients from the early 1900s onwards were whisked into the safari tailors Ahmed Brothers as soon as they reached Nairobi. They were then measured and kitted out in perfectly tailored safari suits, boots and hats which were delivered to them the next day. Pith helmets and terais were replaced by Borsalino safari hats.
The 'safari look' became popular with non-safari goers in the 1950s with the advent of the Hollywood interest in Africa. The films of Ernest Hemingway's books 'The Macomber Affair' and 'The Snows Of Kilimanjaro' followed by 'King Solomon's Mines' and 'Mogambo' firmly planted the safari image in the minds of the public.
Safari style jackets were the 'in thing' to wear as casual attire in an effort to emulate the debonair looks of Clark Gable and Stewart Granger in these movies.
Essential Safari Clothing Guidelines
- Muted colours are best - khaki, olive green or brown are ideal. It is a good idea to check with your outfitter what the bush vegetation will be like when you hunt. For example, if it is very lush and green, a light khaki may not be the best idea. Clark Gable (below) might have been better dressed in dark green for his rainforest scenes in 'Mogambo'. The rule of thumb is no bright colours or white in the bush.
- Camouflage outfits are not really suitable for African hunting just in case you get confused with the local police or militia who generally wear camo. The odd camo T-shirt will be OK but draw the line at full combat gear. You will also not need to wear any luminous warning badges or stripes - with any luck you will be the only armed hunter on the block.
- Check all your safari clothes are made of natural fibres like cotton as they far more comfortable for sweating into and quiet when you are walking. There is the trend now to wear synthetic clothing based on the practicality of being washed and dried in 5 minutes flat. This is completely unnecessary as most outfitters offer a daily laundry service. If you insist on wearing these garments do not be surprised that your trousers return from the laundry with a melted hole in them because you had not warned the ironing person. Synthetic trousers especially, are also far too noisy while walking, making a gentle swish with each step.
- Make sure you are not going to be too distressed if your safari clothes suffer on your hunting trip. Don't bring clothing that is too good to get torn by thorns, get permanently stained with mud, blood and other natural bush 'stains' or undergoes subtle and not so subtle colour changes due to the sun or the zealous utilization of bleach in the laundry.
- Consider treating your clothes with Permethrin to reduce insect bites. You can either do this yourself with the many Permethrin products available or buy ready-impregnated clothes from manufacturers like 'Buzz Off'. Read more about Insect Repellents.
- Actually wearing some clothes is a good idea. Walking around bare-chested may seem the thing to do in hot weather but you are asking to get very sunburnt, not to mention scratched to bits by thorns, if you hunt like this.