The History of the Harrington Jacket
History of the Harrington
The versatile Harrington jacket has got to be one of the most iconic pieces of clothing that never goes out of style, the perfect sharp/casual piece.
It’s unique in the way it's relevant to various subcultures and styles – a true original, a classic.
For a jacket to be defined a true Harrington it should have raglan sleeves, cotton-ply fabric, ribbed cuffs and waist, stand collar, double slanted or vertical pockets and double side zipper.
There's discrepancy with who created the Harrington, with British brands Grenfell and Baracuta both claiming to be the first the produce the jacket in the 1930’s.
Original Grenfell factory Original Baracuta factory
Most credit Baracuta, probably because it is the better known of the two companies and notoriously brought the style to America. Established in Manchester by brothers John and Isaac Miller, Baracuta started out manufacturing rain coats for companies like Burberry and Aquascutum.
Vintage Baracuta ad
In 1937, the Millers developed a short, waterproof, zip-up jacket to be worn on the golf course, with enough give to allow the wearer to swing without restriction. They called it the G9 (G for golf) (known as the swing jacket in Japan) which it is still known as today and still made in Manchester factories using traditional techniques and expert craftsmanship. At the time golf was a pretty elitist sport, mostly for the wealthy and upper class and the Harrington being associated with the sport gave it that aspirational feel.
Legendary "Rat Pack" singer Sammy Davis Jr.
The signature tartan print on the inner lining of the Baracuta is actually the Tartan of the Scottish Fraser Clan. In 1938 John Miller asked Lord Lovat, the 24th Cheiftain of Clan Fraser for permission to use it.
Not only was the design of the tartan a perfect compliment to the G9, it also provided a suitably noble touch. As war broke out, Lovat’s heroism in battle (Winston Churchill described him as “the handsomest man to cut a throat") enhanced the hard-edged masculine appeal of the design.
Lord Lovat Simon Fraser with wife Rosamund Broughton on their wedding day in 1938
Each brand now has their own spin on the lining with Ben Sherman using their signature gingham made famous by their shirts.
Fred Perry sees their red tartan lining as a subtle two fingers up to the establishment, contrasting the polished-look of the jacket.
The ‘40s and ‘50s
Vintage Baracuta ad
In 1947, US company McGregor introduced their version of the Harrington called the “Drizzler.” Isaac Miller started exporting Baracuta to the US and Canada in 1950.
Elvis Presley in "King Creole" with Dolores Hart
The Harrington started to become popular among youth as, Elvis wore a stone coloured one in the film “King Creole.” James Dean gave it defiant edge, wearing the red Harrington in the iconic film “Rebel Without a Cause.” This is when it became a symbol of rebellious youth.
In the ‘60s actor Steve McQueen regularly wore them and notably wore the navy style in the 1968 film “The Thomas Crown Affair,” in the famous scene where he flies a glider and contemplates the upcoming bank robbery to the song “The Windmills of Your Mind.”
It was in the 1960’s the Harrington finally got its name. In 1964 American actor Ryan O’Neill played a character on a popular TV show called Peyton Place, his character was called Rodney Harrington and he would wear the jacket so much it became associated with him.
In the mid ‘60s British "Ivy League" menswear specialist John Simons, promoted the jacket as a “Rodney Harrington,” later shortened to “Harrington,” which is where the name comes from.
Vintage John Simons ad John Simons storefront in Covent Garden
By the 1960s the jacket was adopted by the Mod scene, which arguably gives it the cult status it has today. John Simon’s Ivy shop still located in Covent Garden London often had large queues of Mods waiting outside for the jacket which was adopted by the Mod scene. As Mods loved pairing their jacket with a Fred Perry shirt it only made sense the company produced their own version which became iconic in its own right.
In 1966 the Harrington is thrust into mainstream spotlight yet again when Frank Sinatra wears it in the film “Assault On a Queen.”
Frank Sinatra in "Assault on a Queen"
By the early ‘70s the Harrington has crossed over from the preppy/upper class side to the Mods, Northern Soul, Scooter boys, Ska and Punk scene. Rudeboys and Skinheads almost exclusively pair Harrington with a Ben Sherman shirt which leads the brand inevitably putting their own twist on the jacket.
The ’80s to the Present
1981 photo by Gavin Watson, Micklefield, England
In 1981, The Clash wears a Harrington at their infamous Times Square concert.
"The Clash" before their 1981 gig in Times Square, New York, USA
Stills from the Shane Meadows film and TV series "This is England," set in the late '80s to early '90s
The Harrington never went out of style but revived again in the eyes of popular culture again in the Britpop era of the 1990’s and then again in the 2000’s with the Indie scene adopting it in the months too warm for a parka.
Musician Damon Albarn of "Blur" and "Gorillaz"
Paul Weller, once proclaimed, “The Harrington is one of the most iconic jackets ever designed. It played such a huge part in my youth and is something I still wear today. It’s the perfect jacket - a real classic - it will never go out of style.”