Remember when Nehru jackets were all the rage in New York? Or when every Chinaman in China ran around in a Mao suit waving a little red book? Who remembers when the Bushjacket (otherwise known as the safari suit) first caught on in Malaysia?
I wouldn't state this as a fact but I think it was Ghazali Shafie (erstwhile Malaysian Home Affairs Minister) who introduced the bushjacket to the rakyat in the mid-70s. At any rate I'm fairly positive it was the politicians who popularised this eminently practical (but inherently predatory) sartorial concept. Originally designed to be worn by Great White Hunters on Safari in Africa, the bushjacket projects an image of action and adventure - yet it looks formal enough, in a paramilitary fashion, to be worn on ceremonial occasions. And there are so many other winning features of the bushjacket: (1) You don't have to tuck it in, so that tell-tale paunch won't be too obvious; (2) No need to wear a tie, which eliminates the bother of having to exercise good taste, not to mention the savings in time and money; (3) It somehow succeeds in looking efficient and egalitarian in its simplicity while the boldly placed pockets, when scrupulously buttoned down and kept conspicuously empty, help create an impression of incorruptibility.
Once the bushjacket found favour with the politicians, the businessmen quickly followed suit. Sales of neckties plunged. Fancy silk scarves saw a sudden revival. Many a Managing Director and even Chairmen of the Board were soon seen traversing the hot humid distance between air-conditioned company headquarters and air-conditioned company limo in the cool, dapper comfort of their custom-tailored, short-sleeved, open-necked bushjackets: free at last from the Colonial bondage of jacket-&-tie!
It wasn't long before every tailor shop in town boasted a bushjacketed mannequin in its windowcase. Prices became competitive and soon fell within the reach of every Chong, Nik and Samy. Office boys and junior clerks got into the act. Chauffeurs adopted the bushjacket as their uniform and began to enjoy a measure of deferential treatment from parking attendants. Now that it was so easy for anyone to look like a boss, some ground rules had to be laid down:
i) Chauffeurs can only wear olive-green or hospital-white bushjackets.Gradually, shop assistants were trained to distinguish the status of Bushjacket Bosses by the quality of the material worn. The really big bosses always sported bushjackets made of thick, tweedy fabric: this showed that they hardly ever had to leave the comfort of their posh offices.
ii) Office boys and junior clerks must not wear matching trousers with their
iii) Maroon is reserved for security guards; dark blue is for technicians.
Variations on the theme emerged. A few radical conservatives gave pinstripes a try - but, fortunately, the idea never caught on. Some tried tartan and some did away with the epaulette straps (those totally useless things attached to the shoulders); others made do with only three pockets (to de-emphasise the paramilitary look). In reaction, a handful of mavericks took to wearing flak jackets on the field. The really individualistic ones went back to wearing jackets-&-ties.
And so passed the Era of the Bushjacket 'Boss'... but not entirely. If you keep your eyes peeled you can still spot a few of these fellows parading the corridors of power and the five-foot-ways of opportunity in their custom-tailored, crease-proof bushjackets. Most of them have given up trying to wangle a collateral-free loan and are now settling for a reasonable extension of their overdraft facilities. Some have even given up platform heels and have gone on a cholesterol-free diet.
rakyat - Malay word for 'public'; the masses.