Learn the Interesting History of Thomas Burberry

When you hear the word “Burberry”, what comes to your mind? Trench coats? Checkered shoes? Designer bags and apparels? 

Burberry is the epitome of upper-class British style. The brand’s vision in popular culture is routed through its famous check print, which is now one of the world’s most recognizable patterns. This trend narrates a tale about class, Britain, and the various definitions of ‘luxury.’

Moreover, Burberry has had an exciting journey leading to its success since its inception in 1856. Burberry’s British fashion story ranges from football terraces to wartime trenches.  Throughout time, the brand has undergone numerous transformations.

Here are some interesting tidbits about the international brand.

The Life of Thomas Burberry

Thomas Burberry grew up in Brockham Green, Surrey, where he was born in 1835. His father worked as a farmer and grocer. Burberry launched a small clothing outfitter in Basingstoke after being an apprentice at a local draper’s shop. At that time, Basingstoke was a quaint town with slightly more than 4,500 people.

Burberry demonstrated sound business judgment in recognizing community needs, particularly farmers. By 1861, the survey shows that he employed seven men, three boys, and seven females in his shop. 

Burberry began exploring and experimenting with raw materials to create fabrics that were weather resistant and suitable for customers who enjoyed country pursuits such as fishing, hunting, and riding.

His company grew, and he was clearly making money. Soon, Burberry was a manufacturer and draper with 70 employees.  He moved to a property in Basingstoke with 160 acres, a staff of servants, and a headmistress to care for his six kids.

In 1880, his hard work resulted in the production of Gabardine, a weatherproof, breathable, and tear-proof textile. The fabric was soft and ventilated, but it was also designed to protect the wearer from the elements.

In 1891, the company expanded by opening stores in Haymarket, London, as well as Winchester, Liverpool, Reading, and Manchester. Burberry’s merchandise was also distributed through tens of thousands of agencies. Exports began with wholesale branches in New York, Paris, and Buenos Aires.

Burberry has always welcomed celebrity endorsements for his products. In fact,  polar explorers like Shackleton, Amundsen, and Scott used his items. He also marketed his items to the military, and both Lord Baden Powell and Lord Kitchener wore them.

In 1917, Thomas Burberry decided to retire from the company, and the business decided to go public on the London Stock Exchange as Burberrys Limited in 1920. Arthur and Thomas Burberry, his two sons, were new managing directors.

Soon after, the now-popular Burberry check design got trademarked. It is now used in coat linings.

Thomas Burberry passed away on April 4, 1926.

Famous Contributions to Fashion


Let us check out some of Burberry’s popular influences on the modern fashion industry. The following will surely let you recognize the brand at once.

1. Gabardine

Although the company was founded in 1856, Thomas Burberry invented the renowned ‘gabardine’ material in 1879. Gabardine’s appeal stemmed from its functionality as the world’s first waterproof fabric. Even in the 1800s, fashion houses had to deal with imitators. However, Burberry trademarked the unusual material in 1888, making Burberry the sole stockist. Iconic? We are aware.

This fabric is breathable, weatherproof, and durable. Naturally, this item transformed rainwear, which had previously been bulky and uncomfortable, not to mention unfashionable! As a result, gabardine is the ideal trench coat fabric and was once thought to be an ultra-light alternative to rubber.

2. Travel Trench

The trench was very dependable that it became standard issue clothing for personnel during World War I, giving rise to the term “trench coat.” Prior to the war, this was known as ‘Tielocken’ coat. It had no buttons on the belt and covered the full body. The usable design includes epaulets for suspending military items like whistles and gloves, D-rings for carrying grenades, a gun flap for added protection, and a weather shield that lets water run off flawlessly.

Soon, everyone, including aviators and arctic explorers, wore it on their expeditions.  This inevitably endorsed the brand tremendously. Furthermore, in 1937, Burberry backed the record-breaking flight of the airplane “The Burberry” from Croydon to Cape Town.  Both pilots flying the Burberry were dressed in full Burberry regalia.

3. The Equestrian Knight Logo

The Equestrian Knight debuted on the company’s clothing line for the first time in 1901. The Burberry logo was followed by the Latin term ‘Prorsum,’ which means ‘forward.’ The equestrian represents nobleness and honor, while the shield represents protection, reflecting the gabardine fabric’s heavy-duty protection from snow and water. Even though the Equestrian Knight icon first appeared in 1901, it was only in 1909 that it was registered. Over the decades, there have been minimal tweaks to the logo and font, but really the Equestrian Knight has retained its design aesthetic until 2018.

4. The Burberry Check

Unbelievably, the business made gabardine trench coats for years before deciding to use plaid checks for lining in the late 1910s. Then, it was in the 1920s that they made the decision to do the same with their renowned water-resistant jackets.

Additionally, the trademark application for the well-known check pattern was made by the company in 1921, and ever since, the pattern has been inextricably linked to the brand. This check, which has a beige backdrop and intersecting stripes of black, white, and red, is still one of the brand’s most recognizable symbols.

Burberry began producing umbrellas and scarves with this design in 1967. Over time it became known as a brand for the upper class in Britain—and even the royal family became a fan! This gave the company several royal warrants and connected the brand to royalty status.

Final Thoughts

Thomas Burberry was a genius to have created and established the Burberry we know today. Imagine how thrilled he would be if he could witness its success today. For sure, he would be proud of how far the luxury brand has gone. Now, it is not only a royal favorite, but it is loved by everyone who needs to keep themselves warm while exploring the world.