Despite the fact it’s been a year of economic deprivation for many, one of the most ubiquitous jackets of the year has been the Barbour: a symbol of wealth, and of the British upper classes.
The canvas jacket, made famous by Steve McQueen and, in more recent years, Daniel Craig’s James Bond, has been featured in many of the hottest TV shows of the year that have been eagerly watched on both sides of the Atlantic.
From I Hate Suzie to Industry and perhaps most prominently in The Crown, the jacket has been a prominent piece of costuming for lead characters. The fourth season of the royal saga saw the Queen (Olivia Colman), Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) and Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) wear Barbour, prompting the Cut to call the show “Barbour jacket porn”.
Subsequently, searches for the garment are up by 196% in the last three months, according to Digitaloft. But what does the jacket’s popularity say about how consumers see themselves? “The jacket is as much a symbol of wealth as it is traditionalism,” said Daniel Smith, author of The Fall and Rise of Britain’s Upper Classes.
“As an idiom of aristocracy, the Barbour jacket both stands for keeping calm and carrying on, as much as it does facing the future with prosperity.”
In I Hate Suzie, Billie Piper’s character wears a Barbour in the throes of her identity crisis. For costume designer Grace Snell, the jacket became an essential societal signifier. “We loved the idea that it was a suggestion of country life, an attempt at country life,” she said. “I wanted to give a contrast to ‘actor’ and ‘popstar’ Suzie by wearing one. But it is still slightly off. The coat is an ‘Alexa Chung x Barbour’, so her coat would still be different from the locals and more traditional country folk.”
In 2020, wearing a Barbour has more than a suggestion of “off-ness” and irony about it. “Nostalgia is part of our brand, generally speaking,” said Jack Carlson, the founder of Rowing Blazers, who released a capsule collection with Barbour (as well as reproducing Princess Diana’s famous sheep sweater). “I see it as part of a broader zeitgeist. Irony is something all ages are embracing.”
Yet this can be problematic for the brands themselves. Snell ran into difficulties trying to get usage of the jacket because Piper’s Suzie character didn’t fit the brand’s upper-class image.
“The head office at Barbour weren’t sure about us using Barbour jackets in the series, saying: ‘We believe the show does not fit our brand’s image,’” she said. “I loved this comment from them so much, and was exactly why I wanted to use it in the show.”