The glory of the British game season is here. And dressing the part is as important as playing your part, says Emma Johnson, as she meets some of the heroes from the world of British country attire.
It is a misty morning in Scotland, in mid-August. The dew is still wet on the grass, parched from long summer days, the early sunlight filters through the trees, scudding clouds create a dappled light across the purple, heather-clad moorlands, and, in the distance, tramping through the mud and undergrowth, comes a crowd of smartly-dressed men and women, shooting rifles slung over their shoulders, tweed caps casting long shadows across their brows, smart overcoats insulating them from the morning chill.
The sense of anticipation in the air is clear. This is The Glorious 12th – one of the greatest sporting traditions in the world, and one unique to rural Britain. It is traditionally a day that heralds the start of the 121-day grouse season, but has come to represent the start, not only of shooting season, but of the country sports season overall. Racing, fishing, hiking, stalking, shooting – this is truly the end of summer and the start of autumn.
Red grouse is a native British bird, found nowhere else in the world apart from Scotland and parts of Northern England. The grouse nest in, and eat, heather and thrive in this cold, wild and brooding landscape. With wintry weather, freezing temperatures, rain, frost and biting wind, the sight of a hunting party, tramping through the vibrant purple undergrowth, clad head to toe in warming tweed and wax jackets, with fur-lined hats and thick boots, has, over the centuries, become a truly quintessential British sight.
Dressing the Part
Traditionally, British country attire has favoured dark or natural clothing, designed to blend in with the surroundings, and has been constructed from materials that are both wind- and rain-proof. Keeping warm and dry for a long day on the moors or in the fields is essential, which means tweed, leather, wool, wax, fur and cashmere in dark greens, browns and navy, have become a staple of the countrified wardrobe.
To embrace the full country approach you’ll need the entire uniform. Starting with a tweed flat cap and a pair of ear defenders (if you’re shooting), follow this with checked shirts and wool jumpers in neutral tones and a padded or fleece waistcoat to make up the warm underlayers for any country pursuits. Don’t forget a tie – one of the markers of the British sporting season is looking smart and proper.
Team this with a pair of tweed plus fours or breeks (cropped trousers) and long knee socks and garters, and a thick tweed overcoat or wax jacket with large pockets and plenty of padded warmth. Finish with shooting boots or wellington boots, in a dark green or brown.
There are plenty of fantastic British brands who have made their name supplying the British sporting elite with all it needs for a good day tramping about muddy fields. Hunter, Campbell’s of Beauly, Barbour, Orvis, Musto, Huntsman, Alan Paine, William & Son, Viyella, House of Bruar and Purdey are all renowned names in the country attire arena, and where you shop depends often on style and preference. Even with thick winter jackets, getting the fit right is vital, and if there was ever a time to focus on quality materials and innovative technology, this is it.
Perhaps one of the most iconic names in British country attire has to be Barbour, whose distinctive green branding is a staple of shoots and country sports across Britain and beyond. Established in 1894 in South Shields, in Northern England, this luxury label has three royal warrants and is famed for its weatherproofed waxed cotton coats, which are so iconic the Barbour name has virtually become an eponymous moniker for all waxed jackets. “There is an almost classless, essentially British, appeal to these styles which has become interwoven with the criteria of what it means to be British,” says creative director Ian Bergin. “An understated and essentially practical elegance. We are a real manufacturer of fit-for-purpose British apparel.”
Barbour’s design aesthetic is derived through a combination of function and experience, and it is especially known for its iconic designs – such as the Barbour Beaufort and Barbour International A7 Wax Jackets, both of which are staples of nearly every country-dwelling man in Britain. “People want and have always bought into Barbour’s practicality and durability, that doesn’t change,” says Scott. “We have however changed our fits to a more tailored and refined silhouette as country stores and customers alike want tradition, but they also want a little wit and fun in the clothing and a nod to trend.”
At over a century old, Alan Paine is also one of the most well-known names in country attire, and the brand is understandably proud of its strong English heritage. “We still hold the same traditional values that were the backbone of the company under the leadership of both William and Alan Paine over 110 years ago,” says owner James Hinton. This means prioritising high-performance country wear that stays true to its origins – “Evolutionary style, not revolutionary fashion,” says Hinton. Its popular Combrook tweed – engineered with a 100 per cent wool water-repellent outer, and a waterproof and breathable membrane – is amongst its most distinctive collection, while its weatherproof shooting jackets and waistcoats are specifically designed with the sport in mind, with padding for warmth, large pockets for storage and plenty of room for movement. “We are increasingly seeing a demand for performance country wear that’s not only stylish, but is fully functional and which offers protection too,” adds Hinton
And, while classic durability and practicality remain paramount, perhaps one of the most revolutionary trends we are seeing is a move towards those technological developments that allow for lighter materials which still provide ultimate protection.
At Musto, another proud British countrywear brand – and one renowned for its shooting collection – practical purpose for a life in the field is key. Its signature Highland Jacket was an instant hit in the shooting market when it launched 30 years ago, and technological advancements have ensured it has stayed relevant with changing needs and styles. Updated designs and an expanded collection recently saw the introduction of three weights – a heavier jacket for winter stalking, a medium weight for chilly weather and an ultra-light jacket for shoots in mild, changeable weather. The brand also prides itself on versatility, so tweed fabric has been developed to be machine-washable, while jackets – such as the Keepers Westmoor Jacket – feature waterproof Gore-tex liners and breathable mesh panels, ensuring the rain is kept completely at bay.
From Field to Favour
As country attire has evolved, so too has its popularity. The impact of The Duchess of Cambridge’s wardrobe, for instance, who so effortlessly teams traditional tweed jackets with jeans and a simple t-shirt, has seen a move towards country attire for the urbanite. In Mayfair, the likes of William & Son, Purdey & Sons, William Evans and Holland & Holland all ensure that even the most slick of city gents has a need for country attire – and you can’t beat the experience of being fitted for your country uniform by a professional who knows exactly what they’re doing. If you’re further afield, then online companies such as Fur, Feather & Fin and The Merchant Fox offer a range of modern country pieces in unique styles and host of modern brands, including the likes of Fairfax & Favour – whose distinctive tasselled suede boots can be seen in any rural setting from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth.
As country attire has risen in popularity, style has changed radically too. Tweed has become lighter, colours are bolder, cuts are more flattering, jackets are more tailored, adornments more popular.
“We have definitely moved on from the days when country clothing was purely practical,” explains Tom Birkbeck, product development manager from House of Bruar, based in the Scottish Highlands for over 20 years. “Tweed suits, traditional tartans and equestrian clothing – which were perhaps only seen on country ladies and gentlemen – have now become essential items in everyone’s wardrobe. These days it’s not uncommon to see ladies walking through Chelsea in handmade riding boots, decked out in the latest quilted-down jacket.”
Renowned for its extensive tweed collection, House of Bruar’s style is a classic reflection of its surroundings. Inspired by its Perthshire setting, the brand favours luxury natural fibres paired with excellent tailoring, and later this year is launching a new label entitled ‘Call of the Wild’. Blending bespoke design with British tweed, suede and leather, Birkbeck hopes this new label will offer a younger style of country attire. “No longer is country clothing limited to the shooting fields,” he says. “It has now become normal everyday wear.”
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