The Ursula Suit


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.

Steve McQueen
Any chance I get to post this amazing image of McQueen. Although, George Phillips is giving him a run for his money (by looking cool) above.

Comments on “The Ursula Suit

    Wjletch on January 25, 2010 1:53 AM:

    Always wanted one of those International jackets. Great post!

    msbwilliams1965 on January 25, 2010 6:37 AM:

    Thanks for the history lesson. I own two international jackets and will wear them with greater pride for knowing how and why they were created.

    PWY on January 25, 2010 6:58 AM:

    As a former submarine officer, albeit for the US Navy and not the Royal Navy, I feel proud today.

    Andrew on January 25, 2010 11:00 AM:

    Good stuff as always. Have you seen the To Ki To offerings for Spring yet? Each piece has a heritage as rich as the Ursula and just as cool.

    The picture of Phillips has inspired me to wear binoculars around my neck from hear on out.

    Good thing Steve found time to “huff a butt” in between trials.

    newgrass on January 25, 2010 11:45 AM:

    Great post. Knowing the history behind anything makes it that much better, especially when it’s as badass as that. I love that Barbour has such a rich history. Great brand.

    Sam on January 25, 2010 12:58 PM:

    Man, wish i had one of these today in NYC…

    Chris on January 25, 2010 1:05 PM:

    Excellent rainy day post, I have an International suit from the 50s or 60s which still keeps me dry.

    BTW, I think that Steve is wearing a Belstaff Trialmaster in that photo.

    jeremiah mallard on January 25, 2010 1:08 PM:

    I’m looking at an original, RN Ursula jacket as I type, hanging above my desk. All tags and hardware, including hood, are present. Researched this for a couple years, and acquired it early last year.

    Michael Williams on January 25, 2010 1:10 PM:

    Jeremiah — do you have a photo? Would be cool to see it.

    Victor Barca on January 25, 2010 4:45 PM:

    Yeah, could of used one this morning in this NYC Rain!

    D on January 25, 2010 5:22 PM:

    Found this a few days ago, allegedly NATO issue from the Falklands campaign. Not an Ursula but similar:

    Sure some of you will eat it up. The seller should kick me some commission for posting this!

    Michael Williams on January 25, 2010 5:25 PM:

    Or kick me some commission for letting you post it! Good find.

    SDaly on January 25, 2010 9:54 PM:

    Definitely wore my International today in blustery upstate weather that would give any submarine bridge a run for its money. classic design

    K.A.A. on January 26, 2010 12:12 AM:

    Funny – Both Belstaff and Barbour claim that McQueen is wearing their jacket in that picture

    I’ve got a Sammy Miller label Trialmaster from the early 60’s. It’s older than I am and Friggin awesome

    Jon Gaffney on January 26, 2010 8:24 AM:

    Legend also has it that the slanted “map” pocket of the International was originally on the Ursala for quick access to a sidearm. I wore my International in a complete downpour here in Boston yesterday. Held up well, but did end up letting some water in. Maybe time for a reproofing?

    Johnny Gage on January 26, 2010 2:03 PM:

    Looks like a WWII american paratrooper tunic, but waterproof, very cool.

    Tuco on January 27, 2010 1:09 AM:

    I have a bunch of those.

    Simeon on January 27, 2010 9:16 AM:

    I’m a designer living and working in london and we often visit douglas at the vintage showroom. On our last visit a couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to see the ursula suit, we immediately gravitated towards it, my work mate sneakily tried it on. Undoubtedly an amazing piece of clothing and a great story. I am not surprised to see you’ve picked it up, when we were looking at we thought how up your street it would be!

    John on January 27, 2010 5:19 PM:

    I just got back from Market in NYC and checked out the Barbour booth.
    They are releasing the Commander Jacket out of the Beacon Heritage collection for Fall 2010. I believe it’s a very close replica of the hooded prototype Phillips designed for his crew. Will be available at for $999 in early September.

    doug on January 27, 2010 9:19 PM:

    I’m pretty sure that big slanted pocket on Mr McQueens jacket makes it a Barbour-but no matter,as he owned and wore both Barbour and Belstaff. Still no cooler jacket to wear while riding a vintage British motorcycle.

    jonathon cooke on January 28, 2010 2:28 PM:

    I own a 1950s Belstaff checker flag jacket. I love wearing it while riding my 1956 Lambretta LD. I found out about the Ursula suit a couple of weeks ago and made a trip to Dougs shop to have a look at this legionary jacket. The shop asistant told me it seemed like the whole of London is trying to see this jacket. Would love to own one, maybe one day!

    Isaac Buie on January 29, 2010 12:15 PM:

    Thanks for clearing up that image of McQueen for me. I posted that image a while back referencing his jacket as a Belstaff. As a side note, I think I actually like the image of Mr. Phillips better than Mr. McQueen, so tough!

    Stansfield on February 8, 2010 11:37 AM:

    Just to confirm something for posterity. The slanted pocket thing for a gun is a complete myth, probably invented by someone with a wild imagination. There is always so much conjecture with the history of vintage but this is an absolute truth!

    The simple reason probably being a pistol is not much use when you are inside a submarine.

    I would imagine the slanted pocket was added to the International jacket at some point for ease of access to a map, or such like, when riding a motorbike. But I could be wrong and provide no evidence…before some geek jumps down my neck.

Comments are closed.