Given the amount of time we here at FashionBeans spend banging on about heritage, I thought it was high time (and very appropriate with the changing of the seasons) to cover another of our great British brands.
Barbour is one of those brands that everybody seems to know – or has at least heard of – regardless of whether they have actually owned an item of clothing or just caught the name in passing. This is mainly due to the huge popularity of the heritage trend and the celebration of all things Great and British; forcing (in quite a beneficially way) many of our traditional brands back onto the mainstream fashion stage and into the modern fashionable males’ consciousness. The fact that their jackets are both hugely practical and useful (the reason for their existence) could also be considered to be quite and important factor as well.
However, I would like to highlight the fact that this will not be just a history of a great brand but also perhaps a bit of an eye opener, revealing to those who may not have quite realised how far the Barbour brand has come in terms of its product range and its fashion relevance. Not only are its staple jackets hugely covetable, their adventures into other areas of clothing has created a wide selection of style relevant and timeless pieces worthy of our notice.
As this is a major breakdown into all things Barbour, we have index links here so you can skip to sections you would like to:
This story begins in 1908 when the first jackets produced by John Barbour & Sons were offered for sale by catalogue – 14 years after John Barbour himself had started his dry goods retail business. These first incarnations of the now iconic Barbour jacket were oilskin and produced mainly for use by dock workers and seamen who needed tough, all weather protection.
Soon afterwards they moved into a newer fledgling market with jackets aimed at motorcyclists, the first piece coming in 1911, followed some years later in 1936 by the now acclaimed international jacket; the multi pocketed and belted waxed jacket which has recently been re-released and was worn by all British International teams until 1977. This practical and adventurous direction continued with their involvement with the military, first during the Second World War when they produced the Ursula foul weather suits for British Submariners (named after the submarine of the same name), and secondly in 1982 when the Cowan Commando style jacket became a staple during the Falklands conflict.
With this rough and ready background you may wonder how Barbour has come to be such an influential name on the heritage scene, or within fashion as a whole, especially in recent years. The primary reason for this is sudden change came in the form of an advertising campaign in their 1980 catalogue which revolutionised the whole Barbour brand image. What the (very impressionable) fashion community at the time saw was an attractive young couple both in Wellington boots, caps and Barbour jackets walking across quintessential British countryside with a jack Russell; a perfect country idyll.
This caused quite a stir and as a result a whole new trend was created; the country couple; a life of shooting, horses, land rovers, country houses and quaint villages. It became a very popular look to imitate, fuelled even more ferociously by the urbanites whom wanted nothing more than to experience a side of Britain that was otherwise closed to them. Barbour was the company to help them do it; a Sloane style Barbour jacket was an essential part of the country uniform and so it became an essential part of the fashionable cityscape; an early Town Meets Country idea if you will.
This huge social shift was to be precipitated further by two jackets that would capture the attention of the fashion conscious and help introduce a number of the features we now come to associate with Barbour jackets as a rule. Both these jackets are still very popular and have become rather iconic in their own right, despite retaining their mainly practical purposes. The beadle was a short, lightweight and thorn-proof jacket designed for equestrian use and had the now ubiquitous bellow pockets, heavy duty two way zips and corduroy collar.
The Beaufort was a developed shooting jacket modelled on the styles the French wore (who were less interested in the social and outfit based etiquette of the sport) and had 2 moleskin lined hand warmer pockets and a full length game pocket at the back that was nylon lined so as to offer easy cleaning. Perhaps most tellingly however was that it was also only available in sage; the colour which has since become something of a house standard for the brand.
Both styles clearly had a big impact on their respective markets and it was only helped further along with the awarding of two royal warrants, by both The Queen and The Prince of Wales in 1982 and 1987 respectively. But it is still clear that even today, the popularity of the Barbour brand is only on the up as more and more people (both in the countryside and in the city) look to invest in a some proper British heritage.
Here are some outfit examples of ways to wear a Barbour jacket. Right now on the FashionBeans forums, there is a thread for posting your own looks and ways to wear. Check it out, post your own outfit examples and get involved in the conversation: How do you wear your Barbour?
I suspect that we have all seen Barbour or Barbour-esque jackets being worn in our local seat of urban landscape, and I am equally sure that they have been worn with varying degrees of success. As with many things, looking like the rest of the oiks that parade the high street does not feature particularly high on the list of any sartorial gentleman, so we must then ask ourselves how to go about wearing a piece of British heritage without looking like one of the crowd?
As the country inspired jackets typical of a company such as Barbour are restricted to two types; the waxed and the quilted, we shall focus our particular attention on just these styles, beginning with the ever practical waxed jackets.
Should you find yourself inclined towards the old school biker or Sloane-esque styles, for example, the recently revamped International jacket, stick to working with British heritage items. Think brogues in either boots or shoes, perhaps in tan or brown with a pair of dark wash slim jeans. If your budget will stretch, try a pair of Grenson brogues – you will most definitely not regret investing with regards to quality, longevity, style and timeless class.
Keep things clean up top with an on trend but ever so slightly quirky gingham shirt; red and white would work well, especially layered under a piece of chunky knitwear. Why not try a cable knit jumper or shawl neck cardigan? Alternatively, you can make the most of this seasons focus on turtlenecks with a smart fine knit merino version in grey or a deep burgundy. A pair of leather gloves would add a touch of class for those chillier autumn days and perhaps store a pair of classic black wayfarers for when the sun does rear its delightful head.
The waxed Barbour jacket is an inherently informal style, so I would avoid trying to wear it over a suit. The same goes for the quilted jackets; neither style sits well with a more strictly tailored approach. Should you wish to air some alternative items, try pairing them with some rolled up chinos, boat shoes and a polo for a nod towards preppy inspired style.
Alternatively, using some Grey tweed or herringbone trousers, a pair of military boots and a crisp white shirt gives you a smart and interesting take on the up and coming Biker trend – with heritage roots intertwined for good measure.
The quilted jacket has, as many of you will know, come in for some heavy stick these past few months and is also the subject of much divided opinion; some love it for its casual, easy to wear looks and practicality, while others loath it for its lack of individuality and poor association. However, we should still remember that it has principles steeped in purpose and surrounded in heritage so it is still worth a look, but with fresh eyes, ignoring the stereotypes and forgoing the forgone conclusions. So put your drop crotch chinos away, lock up your scoop neck T-shirt and get ready to try something a bit newer and older (yes, at the same time.)
Starting at the bottom, use hiking boots and some thick ribbed socks to give you a clear base for that all important country man about town look that has become a major influence in recent months; both items are very practical and stylish. Moving up, try some checked tweed trousers or a corduroy pair – wear a slightly brighter or more daring colour than normal to inject that touch of individuality that seems always to be missing from the majority of outfits featuring quilted jackets.
Moving up further still, try a fine knit jumper or cardigan over a simple white tee and put a tweed blazer (should your trousers allow, feel free to mix in jeans) over that; an easy, simple and cunningly layered look that will keep you warn in even the sharpest of autumnal breezes. A classic leather holdall will finish this look off perfectly.
It would be foolish to just look at Barbour simply as a purveyor of high quality, practical outerwear. It has become a brand of so much more with a wide range of items from knitwear to bags that would appeal to any fashion conscious gent looking to invest in a bit of British heritage (albeit slightly incidental.)
Steve McQueen is a fashion icon for most men, and despite passing away over 30 years ago, continues to have a strong hold over any conversation regarding the coolest or most stylish men within Pop culture. To celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Barbour International Jacket, they have released a one off capsule collection, which is dedicated to one of the most famous wearers of their now iconic style.
The range is limited edition, and there are some truly amazing pieces available, so for those looking for something that is unique and separates you from the crowd – look no further:
Whether you have an interest in heritage or not it is hard to escape the fact that this award winning brand has a lot to offer the fashion world. Barbour is clearly a brand that has become much more than the outerwear that has come to define it and most definitely deserves our attention.
So how we feel about Barbour?
Let me know in the comments below.
As this article is over a year old, the comments are now closed.
If you have a specific question about one of the points raised in the article, why not join our free fashion & style forum and start a thread? The FashionBeans community will always do their best to help you out, and our writers also frequent the forums regularly.
Alternatively, you can get in touch with us on our contact us page.