by Betty Eo
I didn’t have to think too hard about what sort of uniform I wanted. It was going to be an embroidered satin jacket.
I love jackets. This one is obviously special because it’s made with love and it’s got my name on it (literally, over my heart). The execution as a whole, though, is a manifestation of everything I want in a jacket. It’s a shrunken down version of a traditionally masculine style while maintaining its casual, boxy fit. It references sportswear, menswear, military history, popular culture, handicrafts, and my Korean heritage. It’s not a uniform but MY uniform.
I love sportswear. I wouldn’t call myself athletic, but I’ve come to appreciate sportswear for the comfort, casual, laid-back vibe, and the range of movement it allows. This jacket could be a baseball jacket, or a high school varsity/letterman jacket if it had contrast leather sleeves. It even reminds me of those Starter team jackets from the 1990s that came with a quilted lining. It could even pass as a bowling jacket. That’s a lot of uniforms right there.
Although the style is sporty, the jacket actually references the military. They’re often called ”souvenir jackets” or a “tour jackets,” typically worn by veterans of Korean and Vietnam wars. As the names indicate, they were made to be keepsakes or memorabilia. Ornate embroidery on the back usually mapped the country and towns on their military tour, complete with dates, and sometimes showed off typical Asian symbols like dragons and tigers.* The jacket design, a collarless zip-up, is also similar to what we call bomber jackets or flight jackets, which were made popular by Skinhead and Mods, and pretty much anyone now who shops at military surplus stores. The satin bomber was also popular as concert merch during the 1970s and 80s. Look on eBay and you’ll see listings from major bands of that era.
I’ve always wanted a Korean War tour jacket for myself but they are hard find and usually too big. This jacket is perfect for showing my Korean heritage without directly referencing war. I also chose a traditionally Korean style of embroidery with its ornate, detailed representation of white cranes. Cranes represent many good things in Korea, including happiness, longevity, nobility, spirituality, good fortune, etc. I like to think I balanced out the war with peaceful sentiments, and a heavy silhouette with light imagery.
I must also mention two films that showcased iconic satin jackets: Grease (1978) and Drive (2011). In Grease, bubblegum pink satin jackets were worn by a most stylishly clique of high school girls famously known as the Pink Ladies. Ryan Gosling’s unnamed character in Drive wore a dusty gold satin jacket with a huge yellow scorpion on the back, a prop with seemed to get as much attention as the movie itself. The jackets stand out in both films because they were unique and prominent, almost like silent characters.
You can find me wearing my casual-sporty-symbolic-iconic jacket-uniform every fall and spring.
*It’s interesting to note that while doing research for this project, Jamie found that tour jackets were very polarizing among soldiers. One veteran on a forum claimed that in the Vietnam conflict at least, the men who bought the flashiest, most militaristic tour jackets tended to be the ones who had desk jobs and saw the least combat, while combat soldiers decorated theirs with anti-military slogans, their nicknames, and reminders of their civilian identity.
Bio Betty Eo was born in Suwon, South Korea and has been a longtime resident of Chicago. Her background is in Photography/Film/Electronic Media and Library and Information Science. Her current interests include metadata, mental energy, manga, and sportswear.