Dig deep enough and you’ll find most of our clothes have utilitarian roots. Peacoats were made to keep sailors warm on ships; hunting jackets to protect wearers from brush. Of course, few of us use these things for their original purposes anymore. Chinos, for example, were originally worn by British military men who needed something durable overseas, but now they’re just part of the work uniform of cubicle farmers. There is one activity, however, that we still engage in: travel, which is why it’s useful to have a travel jacket. I use something from Brooks England because of its ample pocket space, but truthfully, you can wear anything so long as it’s comfortable and has secure storage. I recommend something with a zippered pocket so things don’t fall out when you’re running to catch your flight.
Few travel jackets, however, beat the one Andy Warhol wore to China in 1982. As the story goes, he and a group friends originally traveled to Hong Kong at the invitation of a young tycoon named Alfred Siu. “It was really a disco trip,” says Warhol’s friend Christopher Makos, who went along with the artist. “Siu commissioned Andy for portraits of Prince Charles and Lady Di to decorate his new nightclub in Hong Kong, and then surprised us with a Beijing trip once we arrived.” Being that China had only opened up to the West a few years earlier, Warhol and his companions were quick to go.
Warhol wore a single uniform for his entire three-day stay in China (rarely taking the clothes off, even when he slept). He had a pair of boots and some jeans, along with a white button-up shirt, wool tartan tie, and navy sport coat. For outerwear, he used a fantastic utility jacket that looked like it came out of an Engineered Garments catalog. It had a stowaway hood (which could be zipped into the collar), a throat latch for extra protection, a front that closed with both button snaps and a zipper, and maybe two dozen pockets. Some of those pockets were closed with zips; others with Velcro. Markos noted that the jacket was worn out of pure practicality. “[Andy] used to have a tape recorder, camera, film, and stuff. Those safari jackets were useful.”
As for what he thought of Chinese people and their Mao-collar jackets, Warhol said: “I like this better than our culture. It’s simpler. I love all the blue clothes. Everyone wearing blue. I like to wear the same thing every day. If I were a dress designer, I’d design one dress over and over.” Perhaps fitting given that the artist was known for wearing sport coats with jeans 99% of the time, and then leather jackets here and there during his off-hours.