If you haven’t been to the Barbour archives (don’t feel bad, I haven’t either) you might be unfamiliar with the Ursula Suit story. The Ursula suit is a coveted British WWII artifact made expressly for Lieutenant Commander George Phillips (pictured above c.1939) and the crew of the submarine HMS Ursula. Mr. Phillips was unhappy with water stopping ability of the issued Navy kit, so he took matters into his own hands and commissioned Barbour to make what would become the famous (and standard issue) Ursula Suit.
More of the story from Sea Your History:
Phillips was the Commanding Officer of HMS Ursula. The boat had just returned from North Sea patrol where it had attacked the German cruiser ‘Leipzig’. Phillips is pictured wearing his famous Ursula suit. Phillips was unhappy with the standard pre-war issue foul weather gear which consisted of oil skins, hats and towels wrapped around the necks. Watchkeeping onboard submarines could be quite a physical ordeal in rough weather, with the submarine bridge being only a few feet above the sea level. Lieutenant Lakin, Ursula’s navigating officer, was a keen motorcyclist who wore a one-piece over-suit made by Barbour. Phillips told him to wear it while he doused him with a fire hose. Despite the force of the water, Lakin remained dry. Phillips decided that the overalls, with a few alterations, might be the answer for submarine lookouts and bridge personnel. Phillips visited the company Barbour in South Shields and persuaded them to cut the suit in two, make the jacket hooded and the trousers with elastic at the waist and ankles. He paid for the prototype suits out of his own pocket. Warm, comfortable and waterproof, they became standard issue in the Submarine Service.
Eventually the Ursula jacket would come full circle and be adopted by motorcyclists (including one famous lad pictured below), essentially giving rise to the Barbour International. There you go, now you basically know how a mens outerwear icon was born. Are you still curious and want to know more about all things Ursula? Check out the blog post at London’s The Vintage Showroom — they even managed to buy an old (and original) Ursula Suit. [The Vintage Showroom] Also, Dominic Stansfield honored (honoured) the Ursula Suit here.