From the Royal Family to Glastonbury, the Barbour jacket – in all its slightly dishevelled glory – has come to symbolise Britishness. Lindsay Baker traces the life and times of an iconic garment.

It would be hard to imagine a more quintessentially British garment than the venerable Barbour jacket – the famed olive-green, wax coated, all-weather wardrobe staple beloved by the Royal Family. So it makes perfect sense that UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak offered a personalised version of the iconic jacket to President Biden when the two met this summer. As an offering it’s a symbol of Britishness, and the pair’s bromance – the jacket is customised, with the moniker “Mr President” embroidered on the front.

It’s a personal gift, and also a symbolic one. The high-end, family-owned Barbour brand is based near the PM’s constituency in the Northeast of England and is a British institution. Mr Sunak himself is a fan and has been seen frequently sporting the brand. It was the late Queen and US movie icon and motorcycle enthusiast Steve McQueen who were at one point the two most iconic Barbour wearers.

And the Barbour has become increasingly popular in US in recent years – an article in The Spectator by a US writer describes “How the Barbour cracked America”. It has increasingly been seen on TV screens in episodes of Succession – sported mainly by the patriarch Logan Roy – Industry, and, most notably, The Crown.

The jackets over time develop a shabby patina, lending them a charmingly dishevelled character – there is traditionally a cachet attached to the well-worn Barbour.

Traditionally the brand is synonymous with the British upper classes, a horsey, hunting staple on a par with Land Rovers and Hunter wellington boots. It shares a similar cachet to Burberry or Harris Tweed – a signifier of class, history, heritage and quality. But the trajectory of Barbour is a nuanced one, and its appeal now much wider.

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