Brand and shopping advice

Why Barbour is more relevant now than ever

Why Barbour is more relevant now than ever

It’s hard to think of Barbour without instantly picturing its famous wax jackets, which is as it should be. The family-owned British brand is synonymous with great clothes for the great outdoors, which put practicality above fashion but handily, also look darn good.

The brand’s story starts in 1894, when John Barbour decided to create a coat that would keep the fisherman, dockers and sailors in and around his native South Shields protected from the elements. He started with oilskins, then perfected the technique of waxing his coats with paraffin to keep out the North Sea. Barbour’s coats soon proved more effective than anything else in the area and became the go-to for anyone venturing out on the water.

Barbour isn't only about heavy-duty winter coats. The Camber jacket is its lightweight nod to a bomber. “This has a more urban feel, but is still clearly Barbour,” says Luke. “It encapsulates what the brand does so well – mixing the historic with the contemporary.”

 

By the 1930s, the brand was thinking beyond fishermen. The same techniques that worked at sea were also ideal for for a new breed of men who were regularly exposed to inclement weather: motorcyclists. As brands like Triumph and Norton popped up throughout Britain, Barbour stepped in to clothe their customers. Many of those adventure seeking gentlemen transitioned straight into service when war broke out at the end of the decade and they took their Barbours with them. Barbour soon became an official supplier to the military, designing the Ursula suit for the Navy’s submarine crews.

Still based in South Shields, today’s Barbour is best known as the uniform of anyone whose neighbourhood has more fields than pavements. “Barbour is a classic British heritage brand,” says Thread stylist Luke McDonald, “but it avoids the stuffy element that sometimes plagues heritage brands because it was created for workers and fishermen. It’s got function at its heart.”

While the famous wax jacket is a cornerstone of the brand – all still made in the South Shields factory – there’s more to Barbour than just one jacket. “If you look beyond the coats and waterproofs there’s a really nice selection of everyday basics, strong knitwear and shirts that are stylish but not a slave to trends,” says Luke. “They’re items that can be worn any time and still look good.”

 

“The Southway is Barbour’s version of an anorak,” says Luke. This waterproof coat with hood has all the elements that you expect from a Barbour, including large front pockets and hand-warmer pockets. “It’s functionality with a bit of reinvention.”

 

But Barbours aren’t just for ramblers and farmers. The brand’s waxed jackets are increasingly popular streetwear pieces, worn with jeans, hoodies and on-trend trainers rather than walking boots. “It’s one of those interesting trends that takes something so associated with one culture, and completely flips it,” says Luke. “A waxed jacket is such an unexpected streetwear piece that it works because it challenges preconceptions. Plus, they’re incredibly practical, so perfect when you’re out in the rain in the city.”

The brand’s embraced this shift by collaborating with innovative brands like Japan’s Engineered Garments and White Mountaineering, and Danish minimalists Wood Wood, who’ve all dug into the deep Barbour archives to create clothes that feel at once timeless and modern. “Those hook-ups work because Barbour has so much authenticity,” says Luke. “You can tell that its collaborators really respect that heritage and are excited about bringing it to a new audience.”

Which is why, despite being almost 125 years old, Barbour continues to be popular. “It constantly reinvents itself,” says Luke, “and because of the workwear element, there’s a style that suits everyone. A Barbour looks good whether you’re Prince Charles or a student.”

The Ashby is a contemporary take on the iconic Bedale wax jacket. “This is the classic,” says Luke. “It has everything you want: the wax finish, cord collar, tartan lining. Shorter than the original style, it walks the line between being appropriate for wearing in the city over a suit, but practical enough for the countryside.”

 

Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Photographs: Jon Cardwell
Styling: Brooke Philips