Defining a nation through it’s clothing: Britain

In an editorial published by the Telegraph in 2011, the author at the British news giant attempted to define what could be considered the “core British values that define [the] nation”. Among them were the usual western democratic values; equality of opportunity, freedom of speech, the rule of law, and belief in personal responsibility, which all are great values, but not exclusive to the shores of Britain.


the Dutchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton wearing Burberry

What is exclusive to the Isle is their specific institutions, those quintessential to the identity and heritage of Britain. Namely: the Monarchy, the Royal Armed Forces, the Church of England, the BBC (of course), and perhaps the most quintessentially British institution of them all, the clothing company Burberry.

Founded in 1856 in Basingstoke, Hampshire, by a 21 year old man named Thomas Burberry, the brand was originally established as an outdoors clothing manufacturer before it grew into the gentleman’s clothier we know and love today.

But the most defining innovation of the company was the invention of the material Gabardine, which was inspired to creation by the need for a quality overcoat to combat Britain’s notoriously awful weather. Gabardine, a type of rubberized cotton, was used to make what is now known as the Trench Coat, originally called the Tielocken.

Bogart in the Maltese Falcon

The company grew in popularity steadily, eventually setting up shop in London and clothing many of the countries wealthiest people, as well as it’s most adventurous spirits. Many aviators and explorers were drawn to the Tielocken for it’s ability to keep the wearer warm and dry while not bogging him down like wool did. In fact, famous Irish born explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew all wore Burberry’s gabardine Tielocken while sailing to Antarctica in 1914, and sheltered in tents of the same material.

Then war broke out. World War One and it’s brutal trench warfare proved to be too much for the heavy wool overcoats worn by the Brits, but the light, short and waterproof coat being produced by Burberry was a significant upgrade. From 1917, the RAF adopted the Tielocken, with Burberry adding epaulettes and gear rings which then became known as the Trench Coat (hint hint: trench warfare). It’s functionality proved beneficial to the soldiers, and helped them on to win the war.

Since then the trench coat has turned from field to fashion, and is now considered a staple for a wardrobe, and is constantly used as a costume in movies and as an accessory on the runway. Humphrey Bogart wore the trench in his movies Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, popularizing the garb even more.

Burberry re-releases the trench coat yearly in their shows, always adding a new and dynamic twist to the look, but the original heritage coat will always be made available to buy. Plus, black, navy and red colour choices have been introduced in the past few years to provide some change from khaki.

Kate Moss modelling for Burberry’s fall/winter campaign in 2005

Well over 100 years since it’s inception the trench coat is showing no signs of relinquishing its hold over the fashion world: from street wear to high society. It’s current glamorous reputation however, is not totally representative of it’s strong British heritage roots, and those roots should not be forgotten.



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