I was pretty stoked when Doug Gunn sent me a copy of — Vintage Menswear — A Collection from the Vintage Showroom — as I’ve long been an admirer. Being in the menswear trade myself, London has always been a favorite stop for inspiration, and there’s no better place to be inspired than The Vintage Showroom. The collection is insane and beautifully presented, covering everything from academia, sporting, hunting, motoring, military wear, workwear, denim– it’s no surprise that they are one of the most complete and prestigious vintage dealers in the world. Of special interest to me are all things related to motoring as you see below including vintage leathers, Barbour, Belstaff, etc., and all the great snippets of the history, construction, and function behind the pieces.


CHAMPION CAR CLUB JACKET, 1950s– “This is a simple, zip-up cotton jacket with fish-eye buttons at the cuffs and a short collar. What it signifies, however, is so much more. The hand-embroidered, chain-stitched imagery on its back places it squarely in the 1950s, at the height of the hot-rodding craze in the US. Hot-rodding was said to have been driven by young men returning from service abroad after World War II who had technical knowledge, time on their hands, and the habit of spending long days in male, if not macho, company. Rebuilding and boosting cars for feats of both spectacle and speed — often 1930s Ford Model Ts, As and Bs, stripped of extraneous parts, engines tuned or replaced, tires beefed up for better traction, and a show-stopping paint job as the final touch — became an issue of social status among hot-rodding’s participants. This status was expressed through clothing too. There were the ‘hot-rodders’ of the 1930s, when car modification for racing across dry lakes in California was more an innovative sport than a subculture, complete with the Southern California Timing Association of 1937 providing ‘official’ sanction. But by the 1950s, hot-rodding was a style too.  decade later it was, as many niche tastes are, commercialized and mainstream, with car design showing hot-rod traits.”  –Vintage Menswear, Douglas Gunn, Roy Luckett& Josh Sims

BOLENIUM RACING COVERALLS, 1950s– “These cotton coveralls were made in Britain during the 1950s with factory work in mind. Their practicality and, when made in white, dash soon came to be adopted by motor-racing drivers of the period– among them Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, and Juan Manuel Fangio. Each of these helped to make the British racing tracks of the period, the likes of Brooklands and Silverstone, world-famous. The utility and style of coveralls had already been spotted by Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill– his ‘siren suit’ was essentially a zip-front version of the coveralls, donned in a hurry over clothing or nightwear before entering an air-raid shelter. Although Churchill and members of his family had worn such suits since the 1930s (they called them ‘rompers’), the coveralls became a wartime sartorial signature for the PM. The dapper Churchill had several siren suits made in other fabrics, among them red velvet.”  –Vintage Menswear, Douglas Gunn, Roy Luckett& Josh Sims

ALBERT GILL LTD DESPATCH RIDER’S COAT, 1943– “Despatch riders provided an invaluable, if not crucial form of communication during both world wars. With telegraph and radio lines often broken by enemy activity, or the messages relayed on them uncertain of inception, the despatch rider provided an almost assured means of delivery — the likelihood of  a single rider being physically arrested by the enemy was slight. He would be able to use his motorcycle to circumvent blocked roads and bomb damage, to move at speed and to deliver in person. He had to operate at all times and in all weathers– hence the need for considerable protection. This despatch rider’s coat, made by Albert Gill Ltd in 1944 and marked, in quartermaster fashion, (coat, rubber-proofed, motor cyclist’s) is made from bonded, rubberized cotton canvas fabric by Macintosh. Even after softening and with its perspiration eyelets under the armpits, it would have been an uncomfortably hot and heavy garment to wear. But it afforded almost complete water- and wind-proofing. The bottom of the coat even snapped together to cover the tops of the legs of the rider., with the front front rear edgepress-stud-fastened (using brass Newey studs typical of the 1930s and 1940s UK) onto the rear hem, creating a kind of military-grade romper suit. Straps on the interior secured the coat to the rider’s legs, preventing it from flapping about. A double-breasted front provided an additional layer of protection to the chest, with a storm flap designed to keep water away from the body. The most distinctive feature of the coat, however, remains the slanted chest ‘map’ pocket that carried the message– a design detail copied for latter cotton civilian biker jackets.”  –Vintage Menswear, Douglas Gunn, Roy Luckett& Josh Sims  

BARBOUR INTERNATIONAL MOTORCYCLE JACKET, 1950s– “few specialist clothing designs can be said to have been adapted for use by the military and then to have found life with civilians again. Perhaps one of the most successful examples is Barbour’s International trials jacket. The Barbour company was founded by John Barbour in South Shields , north-east England in 1894. He built a drapery business specializing in boiler suits, painetrs’ jackets and oilskins for shipbuilders, sailors and fishermen of the local coastal towns, and later the farming community too. It was a hobby of John Barbour’s son Malcolm that saw the company build a motorcycling range during the 1930s– more or less exclusively kitting out the British International motor-racing team from 1936 onwards. One such design was adapted to make the Ursula suit for submariners during World War II, initially as a private order, and later as an official piece of wartime kit. Adapted slightly further, the jacket part of the suit found a third life with motorcyclists again from 1947. The jacket’s profile rose through the 1950s and 1960s thanks to its use by most of the riders at the UK’s Six Days Trial international motocross competition, as well as by keen cross-country biker and Hollywood actor Steve McQueen. The 1st Pattern civilian jacket, as with this example– still referred to as the ‘Barbour suit’ in its labeling and only later coming to be known as the International– used small-gauge, lightning zip of the Ursula and the moleskin-lined ‘eagle’ collar. Later models replaced the zipper with a larger lightning pull, the collar lining with corduroy, and the plain interior lining with what would become Barbour’s signature tartan.”  –Vintage Menswear, Douglas Gunn, Roy Luckett& Josh Sims  

BELSTAFF TRIALMASTER MOTORCYCLE MOTORCYCLE JACKET, 1960s- “The Barbour International’s arch-rival in motorcycling circles has long been the Belstaff Trialmaster. Today the jacket has four patch pockets, but initially it shared the same ‘drunk’ left breast pocket, and was distinguishable only by being slightly longer in the body and by a few minor details. More distinctive perhaps was Belstaff’s readiness to use color– this jacket, although now broken down with time and use to a shade of maroon-black, was once a bold red. Like Barbour, Belstaff grew out of a business built around the development of early technical fabrics. Established in 1924 in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England by Eli Belovitch and his son Harry Grosberg, the company specialized in outdoorsy friction, wind, and  water-proof garments (although its logo, a Phoenix rising, did so from a fire rather than a muddy field). Later such garments resulted from experiments with rubber coatings. This led to Belstaff’s successful Black Prince clothing line, including the company’s first motorcycle jacket, and the waxing of cottons, the use of natural oils giving the fabric greater water-resistance while retaining its breathability. Like Barbour’s International jacket, the Trialmaster too won a stamp of approval from many professional motorcyclists, chiefly of the 1950s and 1960s. The champion trials rider Sammy Miller wore the jacket for many of his record 1,250 victories. adding to its later appeal for some was the fact that the revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara wore this jacket for his legendary motorcycle ride across South America.”  –Vintage Menswear, Douglas Gunn, Roy Luckett& Josh Sims

UNKNOWN BRAND, DOUBLE-BREASTED MOTORCYCLE JACKET, 1920s– “This English, custom-made leather jacket dates from the 1920s when hobby motorcycling was in fancy. It sets a benchmark for subsequent biker jackets, though this one buttons up, lacking the signature asymmetric zip of later models. The hobby of motorcycling soon became a craze and manufacturers rushed to cater for it, vying to create the definitive article and many basing their designs on hunting jackets of the period– a fact seen in the pocket positioning of this example. It stretches the idea to say that these makers liked to romantically compare the motorbike to the trusty steed, but early bikers did tend to wear jodphurs too– if only because they were easy to wear tall boots with. This jacket, with its fleeced cotton lining, flapped pockets, hand-sewn buttonholes and horn buttons may lack any of the double-layered leather or safety features of later jackets, but its cropped style (allowing a crouched riding position), waist belt adjuster and elegant proportions make it much classier.”   –Vintage Menswear, Douglas Gunn, Roy Luckett& Josh Sims 

LEWIS LEATHERS PHANTOM RACING JACKET, 1970s– “The biker jacket had long been a fashion staple by the time this Lewis Leathers Phantom model was created in the 1970s. The famed Perfecto model had been developed by Schott for a Harley-Davidson dealer during the 1930s– it reached iconic status and sealed its rebellious image thanks to Marlon Brando’s misfit wearing one in the 1953 film ‘The Wild One’. Although specialist pieces had been designed for riding before, this would become the benchmark for biker jackets, especially in the US. In the UK, however, Lewis Leathers was devising a more European feel– more fitted, longer and more blouson in style. D. Lewis Ltd. had been in business since 1892 as a pioneering maker of clothing for early motorists and aviators– for this latter market it even introduced its own Aviakit brand. By the 1950s, it had entered the biker clothing market with styles that defined the ‘ton up’ boys of the era– also the British ‘Rockers’ so stylistically and culturally opposed to the scooter-riding parka-wearing Mods. Two decades on, the company was reinventing the biker jacket in the most obvious way– by producing it not in the standard black or brown, but in bold new hues. In 1972, one catalog proclaimed ‘the colorful world of Lewis Leathers’. This heralded a brash new look for motorcyclists, although it proved to be just an interlude in fashion terms before punk rock made black the biker jacket color of choice once more.”  –Vintage Menswear, Douglas Gunn, Roy Luckett& Josh Sims       

The Vintage Showroom blog


  1. “few specialist clothing designs can be said to have been adapted for use by the military and then to have found life with civilians again.” Really? I can think of plenty of them from trenchcoats and wristwatches to parkas…

    • I’d have to second that reply . There’s a virtual plethora of ex-military gear thats found its way into day to day civilian life . Cargo pants – A1 flight jackets ( that being #1) Messenger Bags etc etc …………. ad infinitum

  2. The sentence states that it’s rare for something to go from civilian use to military and then back to civilian again—meaning that the international motorcycle jacket began as a civilian moto jacket, was adapted for submariners, and then came back to the civilian realm using design details unique to the military style.

  3. Yes, I’m afraid in the rush to try and look clever the first two people to comment seem to have failed in their basic comprehension of the quoted sentence. Always amusing when that happens. Great blog, as ever, by the way.

Comments are closed.