Here’s everything you need to know about this classic countrywear brand.
You might not know it, but many of the biggest fashion brands today have their roots in England. (Those brands include the likes of Burberry, Alexander McQueen, and Fred Perry.)
But if there were a competition for the most quintessentially English brand, Barbour just might well take the prize. This heritage brand has remained a titan of menswear for well over a century and continues to make waves today.
If you’re familiar with Barbour, then you probably know the brand for its iconic waxed jackets. However, you might not know Barbour’s history. What started as one man’s mission to solve a nautical problem turned into one of the most stylish English brands.
Here’s the story of how Barbour rose to fame.
What Is Barbour?
Barbour is an English brand known for its outerwear and, most notably, its iconic wax cotton jackets. Barbour’s jackets have been popularized over the decades by fishermen, motorcyclists, and even the Royal Family.
The brand’s outerwear features elements like snug-fitting collars, pockets with drainage holes, storm cuffs, and waterproof liners.
In true workwear history and fashion, the pieces were originally designed to be incredibly resistant to the elements. Eventually, they found a place as stylish and timeless pieces.
History of Barbour (Barbour Origin)
Barbour’s history dates back to 1894 in South Shields, England. Scottish native John Barbour opened J Barbour & Sons as an oilcloth importing business.
The location of South Shields, a busy port in northeast England, provided a problem that Barbour had a solution to. Sailors, fishermen, and shipyard workers needed truly weather-resistant outerwear that was created from something better than oilcloth.
Historically, weather-resistant clothing had been crafted from scraps of sails that had been treated with fish oil. Unsurprisingly, this meant it smelled pretty bad. Barbour used flax oil instead, eliminating the odor while keeping the weatherproofing quality.
This technique of weatherproofing fabrics with waxes and oils predates Barbour himself, going back as far as the fifteenth century. In this case, though, Barbour’s use of the approach took off, and his oilskins were soon in high demand.
Barbour and the Royal Family
Barbour has had many high-profile supporters who have helped push the brand even further. Most notably, Barbour has been worn by several members of the Royal Family, including Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana.
In 1974, Barbour received its first Royal Warrant, signifying that the brand supplied goods to the Royal Household. Since then, the brand has received two more Royal Warrants.
Today, Barbour continues to work closely with the Royal Family. In 2021, King Charles (then Prince) visited the Barbour factory to open a new workshop.
The Barbour Beaufort Jacket
Shortly after the Royal Warrants were granted, Barbour released the Beaufort wax cotton jacket. This now legendary jacket was designed by the current brand chairman, Dame Margaret Barbour. It famously features a waxed cotton outer and a studded corduroy collar.
French shooting jackets inspired the design of the Beaufort. During Dame Margaret’s visits to France, she noticed that French jackets were more stylish than British ones. She aimed to change that, and thus the Beaufort was born.
The Beaufort’s sleek yet outdoorsy style, combined with its hard-wearing nature, made it a smash hit. In fact, it’s considered by many to be the pinnacle of English countrywear.
The Future of Barbour
Barbour has already been producing high-quality clothing for over a hundred years, and it shows no sign of stopping.
Barbour’s longevity stems from the fact that many of its pieces are simply timeless. Items like the Beaufort have remained in style since their inception, and not many brands can achieve that staying power.
It’s especially noteworthy that Barbour focuses on sustainability.
This is a crucial issue in today’s world, and younger consumers are taking notice. Barbour’s commitment to re-waxing and repairing jackets sets it apart from many other heritage brands.
Barbour’s Wax for Life initiative is all about helping customers extend the lives of their garments. The initiative combines three services: the Repair & Re-wax service, the MyBarbour customization service, and the Re-Loved program. The brand even provides instructions on how to re-wax jackets at home.
This emphasis on repairing jackets instead of buying new ones hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2022, the brand won the Best Circularity Award from Drapers Sustainable Fashion Awards for its Wax For Life Campaign.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about Barbour:
What Is Barbour Famous For?
Barbour is famous for its signature waxed cotton jackets. The brand is also known for outerwear, including quilted jackets, sweaters, and moleskin clothing.
Is Barbour Still Made in England?
The brand sources materials from all around the world, but some of the wax jackets are still manufactured in the Simonside factory.
Is Barbour a High-End Brand?
Barbour can be considered a higher-end heritage brand. However, unlike many high-end designer brands, Barbour maintains a high level of quality.
Barbour: Rich in Heritage, Rich in Innovation
It’s clear that Barbour hasn’t lost touch with its heritage. At the same time, the brand is continuing to innovate, which you might not expect from a heritage company.
Overall, for clothing that reflects the English approach to workwear, it’s hard to beat Barbour.
Do you own any Barbour pieces? Let us know in the comments below!