Hundreds of years ago, Scottish and English sailors began coating their sails with fish oils to make them more efficient when dry, and lighter when wet. From these origins evolved garb to keep the sailors and fishermen themselves dry. By the late 1800s, Halley Stevensons in Scotland and British Millerain began patenting waxed rainproof fabrics used in military bags, gun covers, and eventually protective outerwear. And with these fabrics, companies like Barbour, Belstaff, and others have since turned waxed jackets into utilitarian style icons.
Despite modern competition from materials like Nylon that is lighter and requires far less maintenance, there is a gravitas to waxed cotton that no Gore-Tex can deny. A good waxed-cotton jacket is an investment piece that can be passed down through the generations. And you maintain it the way you would tune a classic car, polish your best pair of boots, or service your vintage watch––ritually re-waxing it from time to time at the worn places your life has made on it. Here are a few recommendations to get you started on the path to finding your paraffined soulmate.
When most people think ‘waxed jacket,’ they think Barbour. And if you’ve been watching The Crown on Netflix, you’ve seen a lot of Barbour jackets lately. As internationally-known staples of British style, Barbour Jackets are the outerwear equivalent of a Land Rover Defender. Their interior labels bear the royal seals from the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, and the Queen. And if you think that makes them too stuffy or lacking in grit, remember that Steve McQueen raced motorcycles in Barbour jackets.
“The best British brand for the worst British weather,” is an old Barbour slogan that still holds true. Barbour’s history stretches back to 1894, and in some families, Barbour jackets are passed between generations like cherished heirlooms. Barbour’s waxed cotton suppliers include Halley Stevensons in Scotland, and Dinsmore’s circa 1791 Templemoyle Mills in Northern Ireland. The jackets are all designed at Barbour HQ in South Shields, England.
“We are fortunate to have an archive that goes back to 1910,” says Ian Bergin, Barbour’s Director of Menswear, Footwear, & Accessories. Bergin says that as part of their process, their design team will often “sense check” the archives, the design heritage, and the principles of pragmatism that have long guided the brand, in order to maintain Barbour’s essential continuity. “We are lucky as a design team, as the core elements of our recognizable DNA––wax, quilt, tartan, cord, brass metalware and snaps––are very forgiving in how you can play with them and still look like a 100% Barbour product,” says Bergin.
I could pick a half-dozen Barbour jackets to recommend, and that’s without even getting into their high-end Gold Standard line. But, in the interest of time, here are two that I’d recommend to help you start your search.
The Ashby is an update of Barbour’s classic Bedale jacket. It has the feel of a country gentleman’s second skin; with its corduroy collar, tartan lining, and an adjustable double-vent at the back. But while it feels like English Country, the fit is sleeker, more urban, and not the least bit slouchy. Order a size larger than usual if you want to layer underneath it; order your usual size if you want it to be fitted with just a button-down shirt underneath. Overall, the Ashby succeeds by being an incremental adjustment to the timeless and perfected Barbour formula. $415
The Weldon may not be the image that comes to mind when you think, ‘Barbour Jacket.’ Which is exactly why I’m including it. Any superficial search will net the classics, but the Weldon should be on your radar as a particularly unique take on the waxed jacket. It’s waist-length, so shorter than others, with a stand-up collar. But the real stars of the Weldon, to me, are the rich earthy color and the angled chest pockets. Taken as a whole, it seems to blend elements of working-class utility, motorcycle jacket sleekness, and military BDUs. $400
Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara wore a Belstaff Trialmaster on the South American motorcycle trip made famous in his book, The Motorcycle Diaries. Amelia Earhart flew in a Belstaff flight suit. And if you’ve been watching The Long Way Up on Apple TV+, you’ve seen Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman in Belstaff. If Barbour is the gentleman, Belstaff is the rebel. It may not have the royal seals, but there is something undeniably cool about the brand.
“Four pockets, reinforced shoulder and elbow patches, the neck buckle, signature check lining and [the] phoenix sleeve patch are all Belstaff hallmarks,” says Sean Lehnhardt-Moore, Belstaff’s Creative Director.
British Millerain––which patented its first rainproof finish in 1894––supplies the underlying fabric with a ‘double wax’ finish that is exclusive to Belstaff and helps keeps them watertight. And the cutting, sewing, and finishing of one Trialmaster involves 40 craftspeople and takes around 4 hours per garment to make.
The Trialmaster has been Belstaff’s definitive jacket since 1948, and was originally designed as a motorcycling jacket to cope with the conditions of The Scottish Six Days Trial. Over time, the sleek belted style has evolved in fit, yet it has remained true to the original design. And may I re-state, Che Guevara wore this on his Motorcycle Diaries trip before helping launch the Cuban Revolution, so the Bad Boy pedigree of this jacket is pretty much untouchable. $595
Only recently introduced, the Belstaff Fieldmaster has all of the characteristics of the Trialmaster, but allows for an adjustable fit with an internal drawcord at the waist. So, if you want a fitted look at the waist, but don’t want to deal with the classic belted aspect of the Trialmaster, the Fieldmaster may be just the jacket for you. As cool as the belt may be, you should ask yourself how often you’ll really be using it––if the answer is ‘not much,’ then the Fieldmaster may be your better option. $595
Filson Down Cruiser
Filson’s waxed cotton jackets have roots in Pacific Northwest logging attire rather than English game-hunting gear––something you’d find hanging inside a cabin rather than a country estate. If warmth is a priority, the Down Cruiser could be be the last warm coat you’ll ever need to buy. Constructed from British Millerain waxed cotton and insulated with down, it offers extreme waterproof warmth in a timeless package. While typical puffy down jackets of the North Face variety are cozy, they tend to feel synthetic and high tech, or like wearing a sleeping bag.
The Down Cruiser does everything warmth-wise that a puffy jacket does, but it does it in a uniquely Filson way. From the moment you put it on, you’ll want to go for a walk in the woods on a snowy day, chop some wood… maybe cradle a speckled blue tin cup of coffee in your hand by a fire––you get the idea. There are little details throughout––like snap adjustments and shell pockets on the chest, and the wool lining on the collar and sleeves––to remind you that every decision has been thoughtfully considered and worthy of your investment. $450
Dubarry of Ireland Carrickfergus
Dubarry of Ireland has its origins as makers of shoes and boots in the 1930’s on the West Coast of Ireland. And like its country of origin, Dubarry’s Carrickfergus waxed cotton jacket has a character all its own. Made from Halley Stevensons waxed cotton––the Scottish company with roots making gun covers and waterproof bags for military use in WW1––the Carrickfergus has a warm lining and a comfortable fit that’s tailored enough to be worn over a shirt, but also roomy enough to wear over a sweater. The stand-up collar is a nudge in the direction of motocross or military, and the soft leather accents on the pockets and outer collar are a nice detail. $349
Founded in 1960, Fjallraven was built on a Swedish entrepreneur-adventurer’s desire to make nature accessible to all—think John Muir with an Ikea instinct. For a mountaineering take on the waxed jacket, the Fjallraven Greenland has been a staple of the Swedish brand since the jacket’s introduction in 1968. It’s been given a more tailored fit since then, but the snap-pockets still exude a 1960s mountain expedition vibe that feels purposeful, utilitarian, and humble. Bolstered by a treatment of Greenland Wax to Fjallraven’s own durable G-1000 fabric, you’ll be set for a trek in rain or snow. $250
Taylor Stitch Long Haul Jacket in Harvest Tan Dry Wax
Waxed cotton trucker jackets are a nice evolution of the genre, and recall the look of something Jack Kerouac might have hitchhiked across the country in. Unlike a Carhartt that needs months’ worth of battering to break in, this waxed trucker looks and feels broken-in on arrival. Taylor Stitch uses Halley Stevenson’s waxed cotton for its Long Haul jacket, and the corduroy collar and blanket lining also help ensure that it feels like an old friend from the first wearing. Price TBD
English clothier Peregrine has been in business since 1796, and their Bexley waxed jacket––inspired by traditional shooting jackets––is the longest-running style of jacket they make. It’s made at their factory in Manchester using Antique British Millerain waxed cotton, and comes in a very unique gunmetal color that stands out from a field dominated by olive, brown, and black. $332.51