Inspired by a totally fascinating and comprehensive look into the history of the pinnacle of a gentleman’s attire – “The perfect suit” – I thought I would research one of England’s finest exports of chic and classic clothing. This article is designed to inform you, succinctly but in plentiful detail, of the origins of Burberry and its mercurial rise to the catwalk of London, Paris and Milan. No matter your preconceptions, or the misguided labels given to the brand, Burberry is one of the finest houses of fashion in the world, designed by the distinguished Christopher Bailey no less.
In recent years, Burberry, with its iconic red, black and camel check, has become a must-have fashion brand. The check itself became a fashion item in the 1960s when it was used on umbrellas, luggage and scarves. Fortunately, it has moved away from an affiliation with football hooligans which, for some people, tarnished its reputation. Yet mere associations do not have the power to entangle themselves in the mind of the designers. Thus, the quality and innovative detailing that are such a hallmark of all designer labels has not depreciated as a result. In supplement to that, those fortunate enough to wear such quality, bear a part of Burberry’s incredible history. The rest of us can start zealously saving in eager anticipation of buying a true timeless item from Burberry, and subsequently, being the subjects of envious eyes from many.
Burberry was founded in 1856 when 21-year-old Thomas Burberry, a former draper’s apprentice, opened his own store in the small town of Basingstoke in Hampshire, England. The company did not make the flying start that one might expect from a name currently worth approximately $1.7billion. By 1870, the business had established itself as one that focused on outdoors attire. Ten years later, within the outerwear collection he assembled and designed, Mr Burberry introduced the gabardine – a hardwearing, water-resistant yet breathable fabric, in which the yarn is waterproofed before weaving. Such a material has been worn by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther. More recently, this distinctive jacket has been worn by the likes of Douglas Booth, in the iconic trench coat style – an in-depth article on the model’s sense of style can be read here.
Burberry was the original name of the company, but that soon switched to Burberrys, after many customers from around the world began calling it Burberrys of London. This is still visible on many older Burberry products. The eminence of the company kept growing, and as it did so, the name began appearing more and more frequently across southern England. In 1891, Burberry opened a shop in the Haymarket. This still exists today and until recently was the site of Burberry’s corporate headquarters.
In 1901, the Burberry Equestrian Knight Logo was developed. The Latin word ‘prorsum’ – meaning forwards - was introduced to the logo. This is how the fashion label came to exist, and is the same Burberry Prorsum found at London Fashion Week and the major fashion weeks across the globe. In later years, Burberry was awarded a Royal Warrant by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and subsequently a second Royal Warrant was granted in 1989 by HRH The Prince of Wales. This seal of royal approval is evidence, if you needed any, that Burberry has a foothold as sturdy as any other fashion label in the world.
Moving onto a different topic somewhat, there has been a lot written recently on FashionBeans about distinguishing your character and personal style by either following trends, or donning more archetypal sartorial elegance. Certainly either approach speaks volumes of your character, but one cannot mock another for choosing the other option. By sticking to timeless pieces, you can save yourself a considerable amount of money in the long run. On the other hand, with this mind-set you are consequently in danger of falling behind the forward-thinking character that typifies the fashion world.
Admittedly, in any walk of life you have to take note of the past to make any sensible decision that affects the future, but that is a debate for another time. For now, take a look at the origins of the most distinguished items of outerwear a gentleman can own; the Trench. I must warn you however that it might have your lust for a Burberry trench coat reach dangerous levels.
The history of the iconic trench coat anchors itself in the early twentieth century. In 1914, Burberry was commissioned by the War Office to adapt its officer’s coat so as to accommodate the equipment of the infantry soldier. Many of today’s contemporary trench coats still retain key features of the design created for the soldiers in conflict. These include the epaulettes, storms flap on one shoulder, belt cuffs and ‘D rings’ on the belt for attaching equipment. Trench coats then became regulation dress during WWI.
After the war, the innate sense of style we Brits are born with made us realise the brilliant originality of the trench, and how its practicality combines with style to an unrivalled extent. The iconic Burberry check that is synonymous with the label was created in the 1920s; it was used as a lining in its trench coats, a feature that is still present in the modern-day trench. As a result of such flourishing success and demand for the trench coat, Burberry announced last year that it was to launch a custom trench service in 2011 – featuring over 12 million options for customers who want to own a true one off piece that no-one else would have. To find out more visit the official website: www.burberry.com.
Now it may seem bizarre to be writing about a jacket designed primarily to be worn in the harsher elements in the winter, yet the summer sales are still going and you can still purchase a classic piece at up to 70% off. Conversely, there are trench coats styles that are created using lightweight materials and have cropped finish, allowing them to be worn all year round, come rain or shine.
That being said, most trench coats are available in neutral colours for the simple reason that it is a timeless garment and should not be subject to the years when red is the new blue (now), or heaven forbid, luminous green is the new red. As a result, it would be sensible to stick to navy, camel, stone, khaki or black so you can continue to wear the trench for many years to come.
The ArtOfTheTrench.com website was launched in 2009, and it is a photo-sharing collage of real people sporting the iconic Burberry trench coat. Art of the Trench has images submitted from professional fashion photographers, street style photographers and the general public themselves; all of which (in a collaboration with Facebook) can upload images, share and ‘like’ their favourites.
It includes a particularly amazing collection of photos from Scott Schuman at The Sartorialist. Burberry describes the site as ‘a living document of the trench coat and the people who wear it’.
Click the screen shot below and take a browse though an eclectic mix of fashion inspiration and history:
Although Burberry is a premium brand, and priced like it, there are alternative ways in which you can get your hands on one of their sought after garments. eBay is a great choice for vintage and second hand pieces (for all brands), and if you get lucky, you can snap up a trench coat at less than a quarter of the current going price. Here are a selection of Burberry trenches on sale right now:
It is almost blasphemous including other brands when you mention the history and craftsmanship behind a Burberry trench, but we have to cater to all budgets and the trench coat is such a classic piece that everyone reading this should own one. Here are some current models from high-street to mid-priced, all of which would look great in your ever expanding wardrobe.
Note: Remember that as it is a timeless piece, try to invest as much as you can reasonably afford (considering your circumstances), as this is a piece that will never go out of date and will look just as good 10 years from now with a bit of love and care:
I will not be delving too deep into how to wear the trench coat today, as our editor-in-chief will be showing you just that with his upcoming look book documenting the versatility of the item and how it can be successfully worn in both autumn/winter and spring/summer.
Today though I would like you all to consider after purchasing a trench, what are you going to do with the belt? Do you tie it or leave it undone? Leaving it undone exposes the belt to the possibility of being trapped in the tube door, so is tucking the belt into the pockets acceptable? Purists, citing the trench coats military origins, insist on buckling – but should you buckle in front or behind?
Let us know exactly how you prefer to wear your trench in the comments below…
I hope the price of a real Burberry trench coat does not conjure greed, though I would not blame you if such passion caused you to demand a bonus next Monday for the most novel reason. Hopefully though, your desperation has quelled by some much more affordable alternatives on the high street.
Personally, I will continue my quest to acquire an antique from eBay or ASOS Vintage; though I might have to refer a number of people to this article when they read Burberrys on the label.
I hope you enjoyed the look into the background of this classic British fashion house, and you are inspired to obtain a piece of Burberry’s marvellous history.
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