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Everlasting Style: The Trench

Everlasting Style: The Trench

If you ever considered how the dark business suit, the trench coat, school tie, sporting tie, gabardine, and tweed evolved. Plus the commercialisation of madder print, then you may be quite surprised to find that they all originated in England and have become the hallmark of classicism.

Here are just a few historic examples of the evolution of style and the progress of fashion.

Thomas Burberry opened his own business in 1856 in Basingstoake, Hampshire. His commitment to both form and function in apparel design has been significant throughout the development of the company and its products. Noticing how local shepherds and farmers wore linen smocks, which were cool in summer and warm in the winter, he attempted to apply the same principles to other clothing. In 1879 he developed a fabric which was weatherproofed in the yarn before weaving, using a secret process and then proofed again in the piece, using the same undisclosed formula.

The new material was untearable and weatherproof, whilst cool and breathable. He called the cloth ‘gabardine’ and registered the word as a trademark. The English Madder silk tie is recognised worldwide as an icon of British style. It’s a home grown classic with a proud heritage and a distinct provenance. The “madder” part of this lovely phrase refers to a natural dye from a Eurasian herbaceous plant, Rubia tinctoria.

Its continuing success through decades of rise and fall owe much too scientific intervention. The colouring agent in madder root called alizarin was in fact first chemically extracted and then synthesized in 1869 by two English chemists. Although the dyeing process, even today, requires a variety of painstaking steps, synthesized alizarin brought the price within the reach of commercial producers. Testimony to the significant part science plays ensuring the longevity of styles and textiles. Silk dyed in this manner is characterized by a dusty-looking finish and a feel (referred to as a chalk hand by the experts) very much like fine suede, and a matte finish.

‘The well-dressed man about town should wear clothes that are simple, functional and discreet’, George Bryan "Beau" Brummell commanded in the early 19th century. By advocating well-cut, tailored clothes, Brummell essentially invented what has come to be known as the "British look." Brummell rejected 18th century frills (dandy man). His mandate, a dark blue coat, buff-coloured pantaloons and waistcoat, black boots and a clean white neck cloth, survives today asthedark business suit, white shirt and silk tie He was particularly adamant about the whiteness of his cravats.

As he made his daily rounds from the park, various gentleman's clubs and fashionable homes, Brummell would stop and change his cravat as often as three times a day. He preferred neck cloths that were lightly starched and carefully folded. The simplicity of Brummell's uniform was adopted by everyone from many working men to his friend, the Prince Regent, later King George IV. For the first time, poorer men hoping to make their way in the world could easily imitate upper class fashion.

And now to the origination of most enduring fashion accessories for men: In 1880, the rowing club at Oxford Universities Exeter College, invented the first school ties. After an emotional win over their rivals, they celebrated by removing their ribbon hat bands from their boater hats and tying them, four in hand around their necks. When they ordered a set of ties, with the colours from their hatbands, they had accidentally created the modern school tie. Schools, clubs, and athletic ties appeared in abundance. Some schools had different ties for various grades, levels of achievement, and for graduates. Thanks to historians and their method of accurate documentation all the original college colours are still available from archived samples and replicate ties can be made to order.

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