In the eighteenth century, the great British export was style. French aristocrats saw Britain as a land of freedom and adopted our stout, hardy wool and tweed country squire attire as a badge of allegiance to the Rousseau-ean rusticity and democracy embodied here.
It smacked of practicality, of the outdoors. It was generally picturesquely ragged around the edges too, like the wearer had been dragged gently backwards through a very elegant hedge, m'lord. The French dubbed it le style Anglais – or, more expressively, Anglomania.
I couldn't help but think of Anglomania when watching Prince Charles on Countryfile recently. In fact, I didn't watch it, but I did watch the subsequent furore unfold concerning the Prince's Barbour jacket: patched and mismatched, a messy mass of hanging threads and fraying seams torn apart and darned together until HRH declared he could barely move in it. The commentary, generally, has been slightly disapproving. After all, why wouldn't he just buy a new one?
But the Prince's parsimony is all part of a great tradition – not wartime make do and mend – something deeper. And, as with so many things in Britain even today, it goes back to class. To borrow from the Bible of the posh, The Sloane Ranger Handbook, “everything is worn until it falls apart”. Why? Because every rip, stain and tear is a badge of honour and experience. Plus it gives the look authenticity over those who, even today, wear le style Anglais “as a look and not a badge of faith” (more Sloane Ranger there). Of course, Barbour has a royal warrant.
Me, I lay class to one side. I also hold my nose (the handbook tells us a Sloaney Barbour is usually decomposing “slowly but pongily”), but certainly don't turn it up out of some deep-seated class envy. I couldn't help but think this contentious coat was rather fabulous, from a straightforward fashion point of view. It reminded me of Nicolas Ghesquiere's work for Balenciaga – he designed a Barbour-based show in 2001. HRH fused the two and the result is a fashion must-have. But please, don't tell him that.
Alexander Fury is the editor of LOVE magazine