The roots of British style in the functional garb of hunting and working in the country are obvious. But one easily forgets the broader and longer roots of these traditions.
So many pieces of modern British clothing originate in country wear. The centre vent and angled pockets of some suit jackets, for example, which consciously ape the hacking or riding jacket. There the central vent was required to allow your jacket to sit comfortably when you rode your horse, and the angled pockets made access easier when mounted, as your legs and lower jacket are naturally thrown forward.
Items like the trench coat, equally, which while not necessarily country garb come from the same tradition of practical British clothing. There the epaulets are required to keep your ammunition or gun sling on the shoulder. And the extra layer of material across the shoulder is intended to help cushion the recoil of a rifle.
With both these items, elements that were originally practical are now there just for style. But it is comforting to know somehow that they are not merely the whim of a designer, that they have tradition and history.
That comfort in practicality was most amply illustrated in a recent episode of the series British Style Genius, during discussion of the Barbour jacket. While well known in the UK, it apparently gained fame in the US after the release of the film The Queen, where Helen Mirren wore a version while in Scotland. Apparently the day after the premier a woman walked into the New York store and asked for “the coat the Queen wore”, and sales of that model doubled.
But the comfort in practicality was demonstrated by a rough treatment of a typical Barbour, driving over it in a car, dragging it round a field and even firing shot at it. Only then did the jacket seem worn in and characterful enough to appeal to the Barbour faithful.
The wide-spreading roots of the English country tradition were demonstrated by an exploration of how other brands, particularly Laura Ashley, have influenced British style. While you wouldn’t necessarily think of Ashley and hacking jackets or trench coats in the same stylebook, the floral prints that originally made her popular come from the same idea – a fondness for the country and all the familiarity and comfort English people associate with it.
Indeed, this is the enduring impression of Queen Elizabeth that was left by the programme. Growing up in a family of country-philes, and without a father from the age of 25, she always felt most at home outside, with a silk scarf around her head and a big jacket wrapped around her. Green wellies, not Kurt Geiger heels.