The same way that Sony’s ‘Walkman’ has come to signify any portable audio cassette player, ‘Jacuzzi’ now means any bubbly hot tub even though the brand actually makes mattresses and toilets as well, and you probably just want any permanent marker when asking for a ‘Sharpie’. Barbour jackets are becoming synonymous with waxed cotton jackets in general, due to the brand’s huge popularity. Sold in high end stores and vintage shops alike, nowadays the jacket is a true fashion staple; your very own jacket is probably hung to dry after a recent rainy walk to your favourite coffee place as we speak, being a John’s grandson Duncan, a keen motorcyclist, was the originator of Barbour’s waxed cotton motor-cycling suits and jackets. For example, Barbour’s International Motorcycle All In One Suit was developed specifically for the 1936 International Six Day Trials (ISDT), and was worn by almost every British Team until 1977. In the 1954 ISDT, over 70% of all riders – from all participating nations – wore one, and in 1964 the International was worn exclusively by the American team. Within its ranks were both the legendary stunt rider, Bud Ekins, and his actor friend, Steve McQueen.
Also catering to soldiers, The Gamefair Jacket (Falkland War Customisation) was created in 1982, and was a 6oz, heavily military, customised weatherproof jacket. The history of this jacket is unique, as its customisation changed the end use of a country jacket to a jacket ’fit’ for the theatre of war. The Barbour headquarters are still in possession of jackets which were used in the war, showing how pockets, repairs and strength overlays have been added to the jackets for purely practical purposes. Handwritten blood group and ranking ciphers can also be found on the first aid pocket attached to the inside of the coats, providing a sobering reminder of the reality of war.
Additionally, the brand’s functionality has aristocratic backing; J. Barbour and Sons Ltd. holds royal warrant to supply “waterproof and protective clothing” from Queen Elizabeth II in 1974, the Duke of Edinburgh in 1982, and Charles, Prince of Wales, in 1987.
In 2004, Barbour began to work with Lord James Percy, in the design and marketing of its flagship shooting clothing range – the Northumberland range. Technically advanced and highly acclaimed in 2005, the Northumberland Range won the Shooting Industry Award for best clothing product.
The Barbour jacket that most of us have in our own wardrobes is the Bedale, first designed in 1980. It’s one of Barbour’s signature wax jackets, and was introduced as an equestrian jacket – the shorter length was ideal when riding. With all of Barbour’s signature attributes, 100% weatherproof, two big bellow pockets, a large pull ring two way zip and corduroy collar, The Bedale continues to be popular amongst people working and living in the country even though it’s comfortable design has been hijacked by city dwellers.
Today, Barbour produces clothing designed for a full lifestyle wardrobe, broadening out from its countrywear roots. There are now over 5000 products across the two seasons; as well as jackets and coats, the Barbour wardrobe now includes trousers, shirts, socks, knitwear and a range of accessories. With ten of its own retail shops in the UK, and a presence in over 40 countries worldwide including the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Argentina, New Zealand and Japan, the brand is still very much a family affair, today in its 5th generation.
So, why is it that so many brands that traditionally have catered to those interested in outdoor activities have become such a hit on the high street? Is it because we want to feel a bit like them, the risk takers who don’t hesitate to defy stormy weather? Or is it simply because we have realised that we don’t have to sacrifice staying dry in order to look good? Either way, brands like The North Face, Patagonia, Fjällraven and – of course – Barbour, are not just for adventurers anymore; they’re for all of us. Because, who doesn’t like outerwear that not only looks good and keeps us nice and warm, but also comes with a good story? EJ