Threads & Schmutter

Just another WordPress.com site

The Harrington Jacket

This iconic jacket has been pretty much constantly on the back burner since the Modernist / IVY League look from the late ’50s, and from the late ’70s I can’t remember it ever not being around. This could well be down to a lot of the movements back then being revival driven. The association of this jacket has very strong ties with the Mod movements, but also in the late ’70s, it was adopted by the Punks,  the Two-Tone mob, the Skinhead revivalists, the Oi! movement and the newcomer Casuals. This neat preppy windcheater seemed to be worn by all the cults from about ’77 onwards, until the demise of the teen cult when the birth of the all-inclusive dance music scene kicked off proper in the latter half of the ’80s. I’m sure our mothers were all so relieved to see their sons and daughters in such neat clothing, after black leather biker jackets, MA-1 flight jackets, Levi’s denim jackets, Donkey jackets, etc., etc.

Little did we all know the original Harrington jacket wasn’t actually called Harrington at all. Its official name is G9, and was made by the British company Baracuta. It was also a jacket for golfers, hence the G in G9.

Here’s some text from Baracuta’s site briefly explaining the roots of this iconic jacket:

  • The first-ever Harrington jacket was created by Baracuta founders and brothers, John & Isaac Miller in 1937.
  • In 1938 the brothers were given permission by the Fraser Clan chief, the 24th Lord Lovat at Beaufort Castle to use the, now iconic, Fraser Tartan in the lining.
  • The G9 earned the nickname Harrington because it was worn by the character Rodney Harrington (played by Ryan O’Neal) in the 1960s television programme Peyton Place.
  • Today, the G9 Original Harrington Jacket is still made to the exact same measurements & is still lined with the iconic Original Fraser Tartan.

I have to confess to not knowing the true origins of this jacket until I read Robert Elms’ amazing part autobiography / part history of London street fashion: The Way We Wore, and even in that book Robert is actually describing a different model, not a G9. I used to wear Harringtons, but like most of us inner London street urchins we just used to buy the copies from the local cool clothes emporium. Though to us they weren’t copies, as we never knew any better. Tobias Jones, down the Bethnal Green end of the Roman Road (London, E2) was one such place. Also a haven for all the Casual logoed clothing, but that is another chapter altogether. The last place I got a non-Baracuta Harrington jacket was from Merc, down Carnaby Street. Still got it too. It’s a navy one with a red (not Fraser) tartan inside. Thankfully, for these jackets anyway, Merc didn’t embroider their name on them, like they used to be a bit guilty of. Ok, I never knew about the Baracuta originals, but I was also aware that my Merc one wasn’t an original, so didn’t want that ‘not original ‘status emblazoned on the chest. Even in total naivety it’s still best to err on the side of caution.

Scan ahead a few years and I got me a proper Baracuta G9 Harrington jacket. This time a tan one. I was worried it may be a little too slim-fit for my mid 40s frame, but it fit perfectly. The day it turned up I was wearing a pale blue Lacoste polo shirt, a pair of dark Levi’s 501s (what else) and some yellow/gold Clarks Originals desert boots. I gingerly slipped into the jacket. Gingerly being the operative word, as this  was a fragile thing. But once it was on and I realised it wasn’t too skinny for me I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of cool. Especially with the desert boots, polo shirt and jeans. This was Steve fucking McQueen cool.

Ok, in my dreams, but man did it feel good. I went out for a beer with a colleague that evening and she said I love your boots. Boots???? Yeah, ok I admit Clarks’ desert boots are unassailably cool, but what about the jacket. It’s a bloody Baracuta G9. The ‘real’ Harrington jacket. Steve McQueen wore this you know. In my head I was a bit taken back that the jacket went unmentioned. In my naive clothes obsessed way I was thinking people would recognise this thing of beauty, but I had to remind myself that I didn’t know only a few years earlier. Still, I got a compliment on my desert boots. Got to be grateful for that I guess.

After checking out the Baracuta website I realised they sold other Harrington style models. There was the G10, which has standard cut sleeves, as opposed to the G9’s Raglan sleeves, but the one for me was the G4. The G4 for me was the best of the three, because it didn’t have elasticated waist and cuffs, but instead hung parallel at the waist and has single cuff shirt style cuffs. The G4 was also the Harrington Robert Elms described in his The Way We Wore book.

But that’s not all the magical jacket wonders Baracuta had hidden up their sleeve. To celebrate being in business since 1937 Baracuta made a limited run of their jackets under the banner ‘Project 137‘.

Here they made the G9, G10 and G4 jackets, but using, as well as other fabrics, Millerain, a tough waxed fabric, and limiting each model to only 137 being made. These for me are the finest jackets Baracuta have made. Not just because of the beautifully tough Millerain cloth, but extra details, like tonal cord inner collar and pocket flaps, and (the best of all) leather elbow patches. Just check out this beautiful 137 Project G4. (Thanks to Stuarts of London for that picture. Though, they list this as a G9.)

Unfortunately it appears (to my research) Baracuta only made regular length in this 137 range, so us tall folk have to sit back enviously while the shorties get to swan around oozing Project 137 cool. I have to admit to a moment of madness and buying a G10 34 regular just to own it. It hangs in my cupboard, with its tags still attached, for me to look at and lovingly stoke that gorgeous Millerain cloth. I put it on occasionally, in the vain hope my arms have shrunk, but unfortunately it looks like I’ve been shopping at Herman Munster’s tailor. Also, with Project 137, Baracuta collaborated with other brands. I was doing my almost daily web search for people selling these little beauties when I discovered there was a G4 made from Harris Tweed. How fucking cool is that. I can just picture Steve McQueen playing Sherlock Holmes in this.

I did get myself another Harrington jacket recently (that’s three now I own), but this one was made by Crombie. Like all things Crombie it is incredibly well made, much better than my Baracuta G9, I sadly have to admit. It’s tougher, more generous in its length, much warmer, stitching is neater, pretty much everything about it is an improvement in quality over the Baracuta, but with all that improvement, it just don’t feel better. When I wear it I feel like I’m wearing a very beautiful coat, but that’s all it feels like. It does not feel like I’m wearing a Harrington. The detail that is wrong with the Crombie is the collars are too long, so they kind of hang and eventually lay flat, which is not how a true Harrington should behave. The lining is gold, so you don’t get that frisson of cool tartan flash as the wind blows the jacket open. It is a bloody Crombie though, and as long as I don’t think I’m wearing a Harrington I feel comfortable in such a well-made jacket. Plus, it has Crombie stamped into the buttons. That’s gotta be a few points on the cool scale.

I spoke too soon. In the time it has taken me to get around to finishing this entry Harrington number four showed up only this morning. Another Baracuta G9, but this time it’s a demin blue one. This one will definitely be harder to match with jeans, as it really is denim blue, but I luckily have a few pairs of brand new Levi’s that are still dark enough not to cause conflict. It would go with my chinos too, but they are on a bit of a hiatus until this current IVY fad has passed.

At the time of posting I am still constantly checking for that elusive G4, or G10, in 44L. Somehow I don’t think it ever existed, but I do live in hope. Take CERN for example. They spent quite a few quid to build a Large Hadron Collider to look for something that might not have existed, but they built it anyway. Well that’s enough motivation for me, so I’m not gonna give up hope either. Maybe, one day, a Baracuta designer might read this and get inspired to make another limited run, but for tall people this time. I truly live in hope.

The wonder that is Levi’s

The wonderful world of Levi’s jeans. Apart for a few brief affairs with other brands I have stuck religiously to Levi’s. Well, since I started buying my own clobber anyways. Mind you, even when I was a kid I remember my mother buying orange label, zip fly, straight leg ones, and most likely flared ones too when I was even younger. I was a lot more pragmatic about jeans back when I was a kid, as they were just something that stopped me grazing my knees and kept my legs warm. It was when I first went out with my own cash to Mr. Byrite down the Roman Road, that I realised there was a whole world of jeans. Lee and Wrangler were the two I clocked, but I always found myself going back to the Levi’s orange tag ones. I did dabble a bit later with Lee. When I was Casual I got some super faded Lee and did the casual trademark of splitting the seams at the bottom of the leg, so they would flare over your Diadora trainers, or in my case desert boots, which was my preferred foot apparel. In those days I also tried Wrangler, and did the other Casual trademark thing of cutting the bottom seam off the leg and fraying the bottom inch. I remember really liking this look with tan desert boots, or a brightly coloured pair of Kickers.

Skip forward a year or so into the mid ’80s. I was rummaging through a denim emporium in Romford’s Quadrant Arcade called Saddle Tramp and I saw my first pair of Levi’s 501s. That was one of those bolt of lightning moments. Like falling in love at first sight. I don’t know if it was the jeans themselves being so different, or that by this age my attention to clothing detail was becoming dangerously obsessive, but whatever it was these were very different to any Levi’s I’d seen before. Firstly they were dark. All my jeans up to that point were bought already faded. Not these though. These were so blue they were almost black. Then there was the feel of them. This denim was different to the soft orange tag ones I was used to. This denim was hard, stiff, waxy and, well… cold I guess. This denim actually felt unpleasant to the touch. Then there were the seams. Particularly inside. All finished with securing selvedge stitching. These jeans were built to last. Then there was the button fly. That was like discovering your father is actually a Martian from the planet Zorg. I was so shocked. My mouth must have been seriously agape. After too many experiences where the little pin that keeps the zipper up had broken off and having to relegate almost new jeans to the bin (this never happened with any of my Levi’s by the way) a button-up front was just so logical. Lastly there was the red tag. I’d heard of red tag Levi’s, but never seen a pair. On the blue-black denim that little red tag stood out a mile. Like a beacon. A beacon of cool. My heart was fluttering now. I’d even got that knot of excitement in my stomach. I had to have these jeans. How could anyone on God’s green earth not want to have these jeans. These were like a rite of passage into being a real jean wearer. Like you were joining a club. The Levi’s 501 club. A club that back then had few members, as this was before Levi’s incredibly popular mid ’80s ad campaign that turned them into a global phenomena. When I tried them on they actually felt a bit weird. I was initially put off by that hard waxy coldness of new denim. But when I looked in the mirror I was sold. These were smart jeans. Not the soft faded look of the Casual. I could see immediately that trainers, Pringle jumpers and Fila tracksuit tops wouldn’t work here. There would have to be a different look for these. Luckily, a ’50s obsessed friend of mine had recommended I watch Rebel Without a Cause. He’d even lent me a couple of books on James Dean. This was the look to go with these jeans. If I were to wear these, out would have to go the roll necks, polo shirts, v neck jumpers and trainers, and in would come heavy plain white t-shirts, flannel shirts and a Harrington jacket. Preferably a bright red one, similar to the jacket James Dean wore in Rebel. The hair too. No floppy Casual side partings here. Jeans of this caliber required a sculpted look. I had thick hair back in those days, so it was gonna have to be a side parted quiff. Held in place with a traditional pomade. I was a hairdresser back then too, so was equally obsessed with hair styles, as well as clothes. So that was it. Idly wandering into a denim emporium while on my lunch break had lead to a whole new focus. To be honest I was tiring of the casual look a bit, except for the desert boots, so was probably subliminally looking for that hot new thing to get excited about.

A little later the world went Levi’s mental and they just couldn’t get enough of the ’50s looking dark blue 501 cool. One of the campaigns I thought was really clever was to put up a limited number of billboards across the country with a pair of 501 pasted to them, as well as the usual slogan stuff. The idea was to encourage people to steal them. And even better, these jeans had “stolen” silk screened on the front of the leg. The idea was to film these billboards and the people stealing them and make an advert from those clips. That must have been one of the first guerilla ad campaigns.

As with any small fashion wave that goes global the founding elite try to go one better, or just move on, and in this case they became a sub-cult of Levi’s devotees that would only wear authentic American second hand ones. Not just any old Levi’s though. No. These had to be pre 1970. They had to have red selvedge stitching inside the leg and the Levis embroidered on the tag was written all in upper case. As e was the only letter that changed, when Levi’s switched from embroidering their tags from upper to lower case (except the L), these vintage Levi’s were given the moniker Big E Levi’s. American Classics on Endel Street was a fantastic place to find these authentic Levi’s (and still is), but at over 100 quid, in the mid ’80s and on a hairdresser’s salary, well let’s just say they remained a dream item.

I’ve proudly stuck to my raw denim shrink-to-fit 501s right up to this day. Even when it was almost impossible to find them in the terrible denim decade of the ’90s, where everything went colored and messed with. I do admit to a brief affair with Evisu jeans at that Levi’s low-point, as they were making a red flash model that was based on the 501 from the ’40s. They also made a cinch-back pair modeled on the early 1900s 501. Evisu, before they started to go over the top and put paint all over their jeans, were the only jeans company to rival the mighty Levi Strauss & Co. There was even a rumor that they used original Levi’s looms. For me the power of the Levi’s 501 cannot be over estimated. I still remember very clearly the feeling of empowerment and awe I got that day in the Saddle Tramp changing room. And still get to this day, when I pull on those stiff cold raw things in yet another cramped changing room.

A small disclaimer. I am in no way a Levis specialist. Do a few web searches and you’ll find some people with an encyclopedic knowledge of Levis, their history and models. I’m just someone who got smitten by them and never really moved on.  For a brief history of the various models see the below clips by vintage clothiers Eleven Clothing.

The Crombie Coat

I couldn’t find an image of the Simpsons of Piccadilly coat I refer to in the About section, but essentially it was a Crombie coat like the one pictured here. Straight pockets. mid thigh, very fitted under the arms and short on the wrist.  There are so many companies that make this style of coat, beautifully constructed ones like I had from Simpsons, made more for the city gentleman, right through to very low budget ones made for whatever generation of young suedeheads and skinheads that are around today. Carnaby Street, with its ever present Mod revival shops: Merc and the other one that is a woman’s name who I can never remember (Shirley’s???), are the place to go for the latter. For the former, where else but Crombie themselves. Most proper department stores will have a Crombie section.

With its postbox red lining there’s a slight touch of flash to the Crombie coat. Though, like most gentleman’s clothing, the flash element, which is normally what gives away the fact you have spent a small fortune on the item, should always be hidden from view. Just there for you to know about and no one else. Quality clothes are not cars after all. The brand statement to stitched safely inside, not stuck on the back for all the world to see. However, if you are wearing it unbuttoned and the wind catches it, you do get a wee frisson of cool as the world momentarily gets a glimpse of the bright red lining.

I have to admit I never really liked these coats with suits. To be really honest though I don’t like any coat with a suit, but that’s another entry. For me the Crombie coat goes so well with jeans and shirts. Jeans that contrast, so not too dark, but ones that are not too faded either. You want crisp smart jeans, preferably with an even fade, straight legged and turned up short so you can see the sock. I would even go so far as to iron a crease in them. Trousers work too, but English-cut flat fronted ones. This is a slim fitting coat, so no loose/generous cut items or they ill conflict. Light coloured ones too. I remember one time seeing style demi-god Robert Elms interviewing Terence Conran on the BBC London news and he was wearing the most perfect Crombie outfit I think I’ve ever seen in my life. Admittedly he wasn’t wearing a classic dark Crombie. It was more of a tweed looking one. Plus it had a heavy twill weave collar that had a rib running through it. I can confirm it was a Crombie though, because I still to this day regret not buying the very same one I saw in Dickens and Jones on Regent Street.. I fell so madly in love with it, but I just didn’t have the 500 quid needed to get it. Still breaks my heart to this day. Anyways, I digress, Robert had this beautiful Crombie coat, with a crisp white shirt, which I think may have been a button down, with some light grey checked trousers, more than likely a Prince of Wales check, or even a dog-tooth, and lastly a pair of highly polished brown/ox-blood shoes. You didn’t get to see his feet properly, so I couldn’t tell what they were. Knowing his love for them they may well have well been a pair of Oliver Sweeeny’s brogues. I still think doe-eyed back to that news piece and how amazing Robert looked. And I still kick myself to this day for not getting that bloody coat too. Robert, I don’t suppose you want to flog yours do you.