Burberry: The Evolution of a British Powerhouse

Can you get more British than Burberry? With a history spanning over 150 years, Burberry’s history is as complicated as Britain itself, evolving from wartime trenches to football terraces to a coveted vintage designer brand.

Burberry’s History: The Early Days

5 separate magazine clippings showing the Burberry trench coat through different illustrations of men wearing it. Central image just shows the coat itself with its details labelled. All the text is undecipherable except each clipping has the word 'Burberry' in caps at the top of each page.

A collection of magazine ads, 1901-1918

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The luxury British brand was founded in 1856 by Thomas Burberry, a 21-year-old draper's apprentice, in Basingstoke, England. At the same time and way as our Canadian friends Arc’teryx, Burberry designed and sold outdoor clothing, creating waterproof fabrics and innovative designs for hunters, fishermen, and explorers.

By the early 1900s, Burberry had become a leading supplier of military uniforms. They introduced the iconic trench coat, a double-breasted design that became a symbol of British style and sophistication. Their water resistant trench coat went on to clothe World War I soldiers, hence the name ‘trench’ coat. Soon, civilians were choosing Burberry trench coats as a stylish and practical outerwear option. 

In the 1920s, Burberry introduced its signature check pattern. Its first incarnation was as we see today: a beige base with black, red, and white lines. Until the 1960s, the check only appeared as lining of Burberry coats & jackets. The legend goes that a Parisian shop manager dressed the window with a Burberry trench coat to showcase the signature lining. This seemed to attract more people ad led to the check becoming a featured design element.

Who wears Burberry?

1. The British Elite

Magazine clipping for Burberry. Shows cut outs of a white man and woman to the  right wearing smart suits with a pile of luggage with a backdrop of a painting of horse and carriages moving down a path. Text below says 'A Distinguished Tradition' followed by Indistinguishable text and 'BURBERRY' written in capitals.

Burberry Magazine advert, c. 1953

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When the brand moved away from military uniform towards fashion, Burberry clothes were worn by upper class Brits. Wearing them conveyed a heroic sense of Britishness rooted in empire & elegance.

2. Hollywood

Black and white photograph of a white man standing sideways looking beyond the camera. He wears a light burberry trench coat and a trillbey hat.

Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca, 1942

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The Burberry trench coat began to appear in Hollywood films. Both actresses and actors were dressed in the iconic trench coat such as Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (1942) and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).

3. Yuppies 

A magazine clipping of a photograph of white woman and man on the street in smart and professional 80s clothing. The man drapes a Burberry scarf around his neck.

Yuppies, taken from unknown magazine, c.1980

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The term ‘yuppies’ emerged in the 1980s. The word came from ‘young professionals’ and can be described as middle class young people found in British cities. A Burberry trench was a part of their uniform.

4. Britpop’pers

Photograph of a white man with sweeping brown hair. He's relaxing with his arm leaning on something out of sight. Wears a Burberry shirt made up of beige background and red, black and white lines

Liam Gallagher from Britpop band Oasis, 1995.

Read our blog 'A Guide to Britpop Style: 90s men's fashion'

Along with Fred Perry & Adidas, Burberry became a symbol of ‘Cool Britannia’, a cultural movement headed by Britpoppers. Liam Gallagher brought the Burberry check to the streets and made it casual.

5. The everyday man & woman

A photograph of a woman on the street. She's picking up her baby with her stroller next to her leg. She wears a Burberry skirt and bag, her child wears a burberry skirt and the stroller is made up of the burberry nova check print.

Daniella Westbrook papped in full Burberry, 2002

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In the early 00s, the nova check was filling British streets. One key moment was when British soap star Daniella Westbrook was spotted with her child in full Burberry get up.

6. Supermodels

A black & white magazine advert featuring a white woman wearing a trench coat and floral, knee high summer dress. She stands in a grassy field under a tree and leans a branch with her left arm.

Burberry campaign featuring Kate Moss, 2005.


The mid-noughties was a time of moral panic surrounding the ‘chav’ stereotype. This led to Burberry pushing back on the iconic nova check and branding itself for ‘everyone’. To do this, they placed models Kate Moss, Cara Delevigne, and Emma Watson as the ‘respectable’ faces of the brand.

In Search for Vintage Burberry 

A collage of 3 photographs. Left image of a white man and woman with similar brown hair standing in a tube station wearing head to toe Vintage Burberry clothing. Central image features the same couple standing against a brick wall -you can also see the side of a house in the background. Right image is of the woman in the tube station looking down towards the ground wearing all burberry nova check.

Rokit's Vintage Burberry clothes campaign, 2023.

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Over the last century, Burberry has been adopted by so many different people. Vintage Burberry is now highly sought-after, especially for their nova check pieces and iconic trench coats and shirts. The brand's rich history and heritage, unique association with luxury and streetwear at the same time is what makes it popular today. 

Vintage Burberry pieces have a personality of their own. By purchasing vintage clothing whether men’s or women’s vintage clothing, you’re investing in a piece of British history and classic style. Explore timeless British classics and iconic check in our Vintage Burberry clothing collection.

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