Reflecting on menswear tradition is not just for fashion nerds indulging in sartorial nostalgia. Understanding the origin and evolution of certain aspects of men’s fashion (like we detailed with The History of Tweed) gives us valuable insight as to which styles stand the test of time – and why.
There is arguably no other jacket in the world of menswear that simultaneously embodies effortless “cool” and “buttoned-up” prep as well as the Harrington jacket, which has become a sartorial symbol of refined, yet rugged masculinity.
Rebel With a Jacket
James Dean famously donned the Harrington jacket the 1955 film “Rebel Without a Cause”, in which he gave it a defiant, uncouth flair by wearing it half zipped, showing off another style symbol of ‘50s youth: the T-shirt.
While the Harrington has certainly always belonged in the old-school preppy aesthetic, it was also revived time and again by the UK counterculture scenes of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.
But the Harrington – known in the early days as a “Blouson” – was not just for rockers and rebels. Sometimes also referred to as a golf jacket or windbreaker, the Harrington jacket has also been the casual outerwear of choice among many US Presidents whenever they eschewed the suit and tie. JFK wore it while sailing, Bill Clinton almost made it his unofficial trademark, and it was often George W. Bush's choice for when he was “out in the field”, addressing first responders or aircraft carriers.
By the way – “Blouson” might sound a bit girly for what has become such a manly style staple, but the origin of the word is not gender specific, and is derived from the French Proveçal dialect for “short wool”. What we call “Harrington” has come to be a bit of a generic umbrella term for a casual collared jacket that is loose, short, and/or cinched around the waist. You can count the World War II-era Flight Jacket as one of its relatives, and it’s also a cousin to similar styles like the Eisenhower or Bomber jacket. The lines between these styles have been somewhat blurred by the modern retail world so these monikers have become somewhat interchangeable. But we’re focusing here on the Harrington in the most traditional sense: lightweight, with a stand collar, ribbed or tapered waist, and slanted or vertical pockets.
The Harrington Hall of Fame
It didn’t all start with James Dean and JFK. To many, Elvis Presley's turn in the “Blouson” jacket in the 1958 film “King Creole” is just as iconic.
Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen were so often photographed in the jacket in both their movies and personal lives that you could almost consider them unofficial ambassadors of the Harrington.
In the 1960’s the jacket was famously worn by actor Ryan O'Neal in the primetime soap “Peyton Place” – and his character’s name was Rodney Harrington (hence the jacket’s nickname). But the man who should really be credited with the name “Harrington” catching on is John Simons, owner of the Ivy Shop, a trendsetting clothier in southwest London. After receiving the new G9 from Baracuta, Simons displayed it in his windows with a card attached to it. On the card he wrote “The Rodney Harrington Style”. After a while, he and his associates just started calling it the Harrington.
Even Arnold Palmer was so taken by the jacket that he collaborated with Baracuta when he launched his menswear collection in 1970. One of the more memorable pop culture appearances of the Harrington in recent years (and certainly the most badass) is this slimmer cut G4 version worn by Daniel Craig in 2008's “Quantum of Solace”:
So Fly Like a G9
If we’re going to talk about the true origin of the Harrington (aka the classic Blouson), we must go back before its rebellious years to 1937, when John and Isaac Miller of Manchester, owners of the famous Baracuta company, first started making what they called the “G9 Blouson”, with its stand-up collar, knit cuffs and waist, and slanted flap pockets. Another distinctive feature of the G9 was its red and green tartan lining.
At the time, Baracuta was known for its functional rainwear and was once a supplier to the British troops in 1945 and for England’s World Cup Champion team in 1966 – but when the G9 landed in the US, it quickly became their defining pièce de résistance. The durability and light insulation of the jacket has made it official issue for postal workers and firefighters, as well as the police departments of Germany, Austria, Israel, New Zealand, the UK, and the US.
The US Air Force supplies one to each President (with the official seal) to be worn on Air Force One, while the NYPD has been issuing a form of the jacket since 2010:
How to Wear a Harrington Jacket
The original G9 was designed for action (the “G” stands for golf). So you can look good in your Harrington even with a simple t-shirt and jeans (a la James Dean), and your favorite pair of boots or sneakers:
One of the beauties of the Harrington is its versatility. You can dress it down but it also goes great with chinos and polos or oxford button downs. And since the Harrington layers well and is a lightweight alternative to almost any jacket, simply replace your sports coat with it:
Where to Find a Harrington Jacket
The Harrington has never gone out of style. In fact, their original G9 is still in production. How’s that for timeless?
If $390 for Baracuta's original is too steep, you can opt for a few similar styles at better prices:
If you're looking for a water repellent compromise with a classical design (down to the mini tartan lining), Orvis offers one for $169.
The Gap has a version for $80, closely inspired by the iconic originals.
You can score a Harrington with a more classic silhouette on Amazon from Warrior Clothing for as little as $20.
Click to the right to see more picks: