If you were to analyse the 20th century and pick out one British-designed garment that has transcended numerous decades, earned its right as a favourite amongst sportsmen and Hollywood greats alike, and infiltrated its way into the wardrobe of societal-fringe subcultures, the Harrington jacket stands tall.
It would be impossible and ill-mannered though to talk about the Harrington jacket and not begin by paying homage to the originators of the style, Baracuta. Founded in 1937 by James and Isaac Miller in Manchester, they “designed the G9 when they set out to create a functional rainproof jacket for the English modern working man,” Alessandro Pungetti, current designer at Baracuta, tells me. The company is inextricably linked to the Harrington jacket. In the same year it was founded, the brand released the iconic G9, which then only became known as the ‘Harrington’ after the rise of US TV soap opera Peyton Place, in which a character – Rodney Harrington played by Ryan O’Neal – would often wear the style.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, Manchester was a hotbed for the manufacturing of garments and working with cotton and it reached its peak in 1912 when it was producing eight billion yards of cloth each year. It was known as Cottonopolis, and as such, it comes as no surprise that the original Harrington jacket was made from cotton, while modern adaptations have seen suede, leather and wool all used.
The Harrington jacket’s original purpose was to be worn in the great outdoors. Traditionally, its shell is a water-repellent poly-cotton blend with an umbrella-inspired vent on the back to aid the run-off of rainwater so one’s trousers don’t get wet. There are also two slanted flap pockets with concealed buttons and an elasticated waistband and cuffs to keep you dry. The collar is a double-button, stand-up, Mandarin-esque collar which can be snapped shut to stop the incoming rain. There is also a central fastening zip. Overall, it’s incredibly lightweight, yet its signature element is the tartan lining of Lord Lovat, a British commando and chief of the Fraser Clan, who gave Baracuta’s founding brothers permission to use his family’s colours in 1938. For the past 80 years, this has remained an unchanged feature on Baracuta Harringtons. Why? Because according to Paul Harvey, designer at Baracuta, “firstly it must be simple and not follow fashion. Secondly, proportions and balance are vital to such a simple design. Thirdly, it has to feel right. The simplicity of the jacket asks nothing of you and that means you feel totally comfortable wearing it.”