Never mind how it got that name. Never mind that it’s not much to look at on a hanger. Never mind even that Steve McQueen wore one. Once a Harrington jacket is on, it almost always wins a new fan – for its carefully considered detailing, its simplicity, versatility and, let’s face it, for its super cool.
That will explain why Harrington jackets became a staple of not one but four seminal style cultures, and why the latest versions still look as fresh as the first one did more than 80 years ago. Just as easy to wear now as it was then, a Harrington jacket is lightweight, adaptable and suits a range of body types and personal styles – plus, it may just be the ultimate trans-seasonal piece of outerwear, one of the few cool jackets you can wear year round.
What is a Harrington Jacket? A Brief History
A Harrington jacket is a generous, cropped, raglan-sleeved blouson, with a couple of slanted slit or flap pockets, knitted cuffs, fabric side-adjusters, zip-fastening with a double-button, funnel-neck tab collar. Quiz time: what has 1950s Americana and 1970s British inner city life got in common? The Harrington jacket. It was the kind of thing being worn – in bright red – by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. But it was also the very same style of jacket that was favored by the original skinheads – back before Neo-Nazis co-opted what was an iconic Ska-loving style tribe.
Dean wore his collar turned up and zipped just at the waist – it’s all attitude; the skinheads sometimes wore theirs inside out, showing off the traditional tartan checked lining. But they both appreciated the simplicity of a garment still replete with useful detailing: lightweight, waterproof, comfortable, and able to be dressed up or down.
Indeed, this perhaps suggests that the Harrington’s origins are British, despite coming to be nicknamed after an American: Rodney Harrington, a character played by Ryan O’Neal in 1960s TV drama Peyton Place, who also favored the style. Before then – and to aficionados now – what became a generic style was known as the G9, the model code British garment manufacturers John and Isaac Miller gave to the jacket when they first launched it under the Baracuta brand in 1937.
The style was first exported in 1950 to America, where imitators quickly produced more local versions. Elvis Presley wore a Harrington jacket in King Creole (1958) and on the cover of 1968’s ‘A Little Less Conversation’ sleeve; Frank Sinatra wore one in Assault on a Queen (1966) and many other movies.
But, arguably, it was Steve McQueen who put the Harrington jacket on the global stage. In 1963, McQueen appeared on the cover of Life, then one of the world’s biggest magazines. He was riding a motorbike. He was wearing a Harrington. He looked very cool. Unsurprisingly, later Baracuta would issue special editions of the jackets worn by the three men who helped make their jacket a wardrobe staple.
Best Harrington Jacket Brands
It’s the original, thus it’s hard to beat. A Baracuta Harrington jacket is at its best in a simple, timeless color, like stone or navy. This way, it allows the jacket’s many design details to shine and it also means that the contrast with the check lining is at its most pronounced, giving an effective pop of color when worn open. This was how the jacket was supposed to look.
Made in England, Harrington jackets from Fred Perry are classic and timeless. The cotton-poly blend makes this jacket waterproof, lightweight, and durable. It has a designer price tag to match, but Harringtons are a purchase that can last a lifetime, so long as you don’t treat them like the shirts sitting on the floor of your bedroom since last week.
Opt for a suede jacket like one from Schott NYC in dark brown or olive and you’ll find yourself with a surprisingly versatile jacket you’ll want to wear year-round, but probably won’t be able to. While certainly not waterproof like the more traditional Harrington jacket styles, suede gives the jacket a certain edge. Schott NYC is a brand worth splurging on. They’ve been around for over 100 years, and they know their fine leather goods.
For a Harrington jacket at a price that won’t make you have to resort to ramen for the next month, look no further than classic British brand Ben Sherman. They offer a solid range of Harrington jackets in all the classic colors, from navy to black to bordeaux. You’ve got yourself a well-constructed, affordable, good-lucking Harrington in Mr. Sherman.
Urban Outfitters brand BDG is known for taking classic – some may say ‘old fashioned’ – styles and adding an element to make them cool and trendy streetwear. No surprise that they’ve done this with the Harrington jacket, constructing it from corduroy in a brick red color that you’ll want to wear all season long.
A newcomer on the fashion scene, Albam was founded in 2006 as a solution for men with contemporary updates to classic menswear styles. Their version of the Harrington jacket is no exception. You’ll find all of the classic finishings of a traditional Harrington, at a relatively low price.
Marks and Spencer
An affordable twist on the iconic navy or tan Harrington jacket comes from Marks and Spencer in the form of a checked wool-blend. Although traditionally the check pattern resides on the inside of a Harrington – a Fraser tartan, to be precise – the style lends itself well to bolder patterns on the outside. Pair with muted garments to keep the look wearable – navy chinos and brown leather Derby shoes are a good bet.
Workwear brand Carhartt’s version of the Harrington is a more technical style. Given that it was designed as a cropped raincoat first and foremost, it makes sense that some of the most effective Harringtons are cut from lightweight, technical weatherproof cloths. Ideal for spring showers and for doubling up with knitwear in autumn or winter, a shower-resistant Harrington from Carhartt is an obvious choice for tackling unpredictable climates.
How to Wear Harrington Jackets
“It’s actually the fact that the Harrington – as opposed to, say, a bomber jacket – can be worn by anyone that’s so great about it. It’s a staple,” says the designer Oliver Spencer. “It looks as good over a shirt as a T-shirt. It’s very easy to wear – which makes it great for traveling with. And, from my perspective, it carries fabric really well, so you can wear it in a more adventurous fabric without feeling self-conscious about it.”
It may not have been the original idea, but it’s come to pass that the archetypal Harrington look is preppy Ivy league all the way, without being as sporty as a varsity jacket. Team yours with an Oxford button-down or polo shirt, khakis and penny loafers.
The Harrington is one of those garments that – while the classics come in block colors – looks as good in a bold pattern. Try it in checks, geometrics, even florals and camouflage. Just remember to anchor with neutral basics in order to let it take centre stage.
It’s not a jacket that works over a suit, or with elegant dress shoes, but it looks perfectly at home over a business casual combo of shirt and tie, with smart trousers. If the nature of your work allows it, more sober shades are a safer choice.
Don’t think of the Harrington as being essentially just a spring or autumn garment. It’s an ideal trans-seasonal piece, especially since its looser fit still allows for a sweater underneath. Team with a Guernsey or lambswool crew-neck. You could even pull off wearing a Harrington under a longer, heavier coat in the same way you might a denim jacket.
Since the Harrington is simple – and works with just about anything – equally simple casual attire looks great with it, and is the best way to make the jacket the star of the show. Wear it with a pair of selvedge jeans and a plain white T-shirt for no-brainer style points.
FAQs About Harrington Jackets
Why is it called a Harrington jacket?
The Harrington jacket gets its name from the long-running television series, Peyton’s Place. The main character, Rodney Harrington (played by Ryan O’Neal) wore the jacket as his signature style, hence leading to the name. Add that to your trivia knowledge center.
What is the difference between a Harrington jacket and a bomber jacket?
The Harrington features a stand-up collar, while the bomber doesn’t have a collar. The sleeves and slanted front pockets are also subtle differences between the two. And, traditionally, bomber jackets are constructed with leather, while Harringtons are made to be waterproof in a nylon type material.
Are Harrington jackets cool?
While they might not be the trendiest style on the market, Harrington jackets carry their own kind of classic cool, making them a wardrobe staple for all stylish men. When shopping for one, don’t try to make the Harrington what it’s not. It’s a looser fit style of jacket than fashion’s obsession with slim fit would typically favor.
Another tip on styling the Harrington: don’t wear the collar up all the time, unless it’s raining all the time: the stiffness of the classic Harrington fabric may make for a stand-up style, but there’s the risk of looking too self-consciously Mr. Cool. Besides, turning it down allows for a flash of tartan lining.