History of the Janker

The fabric of a janker

The Janker or Spencer is a boxy hip length jacket originally worn in the Alpine region. Jankers are made of loden. Loden is made from the coarse, oily wool of mountain sheep and has a traditional bluish-green color. The name goes back to the Middle High German word lode or the Old High German word lodo that means coarse cloth.

#fashionhistory Janker
Janker worn with a plaid shirt and wool pants

To produce loden a loose weave of strong yarns undergoes a process of shrinking due to hot water under which it acquires a dense, felt-like texture. Brushing of this cloth increases the teasel. The nap is clipped. The process of shrinking, brushing and clipping is repeated until the fabric provides good insulation for the weight, and becomes windproof and very durable. Note that melton, the fabric of the original Duffle coats is produced in a similar way.

The two basic versions of jankers

The short all-day version has a thick coarse loden fabric like the ones shown above. The seam and closure often don a knit contrast in the same color as the janker or a contrast. The two small pockets on each side of the front have knit or color contrast. The pockets are just large enough to hold a handkerchief, or some change. Fancy men jankers may have a belt with button on the sleeves like in the photos above. One button of the front closure buttons often has a different contrast than the other buttons.

Jankers made for men feature dear horn buttons (see photo above), but metal buttons exist that look coin like with some eagle imprint. Women jankers rarely have horn buttons, but coin or edelweiss featuring metal buttons.

#fashionhistory janker fabric and buttons
Zoom-in on the janker to show the coarse fabric, horn buttons, and stand-up collar details

A janker in a long version serves as a coat and is called Innsbrucker (photo below). It is great for humid weather.

#fashionhistory Innsbrucker janker men's coat
Tight long janker also known as Innsbrucker

Janker cut for women

The everyday jankers for women have princess darts in the front, and back for fit. Sometimes there may be some embroidery or trim along the front closure and/or pockets.

Colors and embroidery

The everyday jankers typically come in gray, green or brown for men, while women have the additional choice of red and black. Jankers for men have a crew-neck, sometimes a stand-up collar, and often no pockets. While the crew-neck is very popular with women, there are also versions that feature a blazer-like collar on the front and a sort of crew-neck in the back. To not flip back, the collar is fixed in place by two oblong cut dear horn buttons. This version often has embroidery of edelweiss or other Alpine flowers on the collar.

janker styled with gray pants
Sunday’s best janker worn with gray wool pants and plaid shirt

Sunday’s Best

The fancy Sunday’s best jankers (photo above) are made from thinner, and finer loden than the ones worn during the week (for work). Sunday’s best comes in two color options for men, gray or brown. The men’s version of Sunday’s best covers the hips. The front pockets have green contrasts, and in the back, there may be a box pleat to allow movement for the shoulder blades. The pleat goes to the waist. Here a Dragoner buttoned half-belt ends the pleat. When the pleat opens up, it shows the green contrast.

Around the pockets, the contrast may feature some stylized oak leave with embroidery instead of a simple contrast. The stand-up collar, and contrasts at the button openings and belt are green as well. The closure may be all the way up to the neck, or the sides of the jacket may be folded to the side. In this case, the sides are often hold in place with an oblong dear horn button with contrast button hole. Even with this type of collar, the stand-up collar often remains around the sides and the back of the neck.

fashion janker with suede collar
Zoom-in on a janker to show details of the contrast. This janker features a suede collar

Sunday’s best for women is also available in brown or gray with green contrasts, but the embroidery or contrasts can be red as well. Furthermore, black as main color with red or green contrast/embroidery or red as main color with green contrast are very popular. The length is still just to the top of the hip bone or shorter. The boxy versions have a contrast pleat in the back that is not closed.

What strikes me most about the jankers is that in the Alpine region of the Old World, the nice clothes are reserved for the weekend, while here in the New World weekend clothes are the more relaxed ones. A whole new world. 😉

Manufacturing jankers

Still today, these jankers are produced by little family-owned companies in the Alpine region and provide employment to many (wo)men there.

How to style a janker

Today women wear the boxy style janker, i.e. the men’s version with jeans. Traditionally, the women’s version is worn over dirndls as outerwear.

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Photos: N. Mölders

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