Men’s Waxed Cotton Jackets – Wax Jacket Styles & How To Re-Wax & Buy

Moto-racer-barbour-jacket

These days, “all weather” jackets all too frequently aren’t.

Too stifling in heat,

Too leaky in rain

Not enough insulation when it get’s cold.

Too porous in winds.

There’s a lot that can go wrong with your outer shell in bad weather.

Modern technology keeps working on new solutions, and there are some good ones out there. Gore-Tex is decent stuff: lightweight, breathable, and fairly water-resistant.

But for an all-in-one jacket that provides warmth, wind protection, and waterproofing, the best solution may the one that’s been around for centuries – the waxed cotton jacket.

For A quick summary – please watch my video on the wax cotton jacket:

What Is Waxed Cotton?

Waxed cotton cloth was originally used to make sails for wind-powered ships. It was the last word in technology, at its time.

Oiled sails had been used for years, since the oiled cloth caught the wind better and stayed lighter when it rained, but for many years they were made from flax fibers treated with linseed oil, which got stiff and yellowed with age.  In fact coats and capes made from old sails are where we get the association of fisherman’s slickers and the color yellow.

Egyptian cotton treated with paraffin wax allowed the creation of the light, waterproof sails that the fastest “tea clippers” used near the end of the Age of Sail. It rapidly caught on as a practical material for outdoor jackets as well, heavily promoted by the British company Barbour and sons (which still exists today), and the style has stayed with us ever since.

Waxed cotton jackets are doubly waterproofed: not only is the outside treated with a waterproof coating, the individual threads of the cloth are impregnated with wax before the bolt is woven.

The result is a waxy protection that goes all the way through the jacket — unlike a sprayed-on shell, the waterproofing can’t wear through. Eddie Bauer waxed jacketAll-Weather Construction

A good “all-weather” jacket needs to be several things: waterproof, obviously, but also lightweight, breathable, and warm.

Traditional waxed cotton jackets solve the warmth problem by quilting.

Quilted “pockets” in the construction can hold either air or extra padding, depending on how warm the jacket is meant to be. The thinnest, lightest versions, most similar to the Gore-Tex and other “shell” styles we see in outdoor and camping stores, forgo the quilting altogether, using a single layer of thick cotton fabric instead.

close-detail-fabric-waxed-cottonBreathability is a natural advantage of cotton. The waxing limits it to some extent, but air still flows much more freely than it can in a synthetic jacket. Waxed cotton jackets tend to be much less stifling than those made from nylon, PVC, or other synthetic materials.

Weight is the primary disadvantage of cotton jackets, particularly if they do soak through and become wet.

There’s little that can be done to reduce the weight, though the best jackets are made from high-quality Egyptian or other long-staple cotton that provides strong, lightweight cloth (think of a very fine dress shirt — it’s the same material, woven thicker).

 Men's waxed jacketStyles of Waxed Cotton Jacket

Traditional makers like J. Barbour & Sons offer a wide range of waxed cotton styles. Most have practical, tradesman’s roots: the fisherman’s slicker, the gamekeeper’s hunting jacket, and so forth. Here are a few of the most common:

The Slicker or Oilskin: The traditional fisherman’s coat falls to the mid-calves and has a wide, double-breasted front and an attached cape on the back. Most also include a hood that buttons beneath the chin. They are extremely protective, especially when paired with waders, but are heavy and not the most stylish choice.

barbour-hunting-field-waxed-jacketThe Hunting or Hacking Jacket: A thigh-length coat with a vent (slit) up the back to allow for riding. Double- or single-breasted models are both common, going up to the neck in either case and meeting a turndown collar. The collar is often done in brown corduroy.

The Field Jacket: A military style falling to just below the waist, with large front pockets and a built-in belt. Epaulets are common but not required.

The Moto Jacket: A tight-fitted, waist-length coat with a mandarin (non-turndown) collar and buttoning cuffs. Designed for motorcycle riding — Barbour in particular has a long-running association with cycling, dating back to the early 1930s.

Moto-racer-jacket-waxed-cottonThe Trench Coat: The iconic military style: knee-length, built-in belt, epaulets and storm flap. Waterproofed cotton and wool were the original materials for the World War One-era trenchcoats that gave the style its name

There are many variations on all these basic styles. Hoods are quite common, as are all sorts of extra pockets designed for specific activities and items — shotgun shells, rolls of film, notebooks, and more.

Colors vary depending on brand and marketing, but earth tones are the most traditional. The original chemical process turned the cotton black or dark olive, which early manufacturers balanced with a brown corduroy collar, and all those are still quite common in modern waxed jacket styles.

In any cut or color, the sturdy, finished look of a waxed cotton jacket is a big selling point over more modern outdoors wear — unlike a brightly-colored plastic poncho, it looks like part of an outfit, rather than something draped over it. If you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail it probably doesn’t matter much; if you’re doing business in a big city you’ll be grateful for the added class.

 

Where to Buy A Waxed Cotton Jacket

The Jacket I used in the video – and personally own – is the Eddie Bauer Kettle Mountain Waxed Jacket.

Other options are Barbour (I link to Wingtip as I like their selection and it’s US based) & Burberry for trench coats.

Caring for Waxed Cotton

The treatment that gives waxed cotton its breathable waterproofing is a natural one — it will decay over time. Fortunately, it’s also one that’s easy to restore, unlike a synthetic shell with a chemical treatment.

Re-waxing a cotton jacket can be done at home, or most manufacturers offer a restoring service in-house. The process is fairly simple — softly-heated wax is rubbed into the jacket with a cloth, then allowed to sink in for several hours. The jacket is than gently warmed itself, which lets the wax spread evenly throughout its fibers.

In day-to-day use, the fabric is tough and relatively low-maintenance. If left damp and wadded it can mildew, but hung to dry it largely takes care of itself, apart from the occasional re-waxing.

Important – DO NOT dry clean these jackets.  Use cool water and clean with a wet rag.  Again – do not use harsh chemical cleaners.

One jacket can last a lifetime or more, properly treated — and, unlike a synthetic shell, a rip can be patched, waxed, and incorporated into the jacket like new.

  • Nordic
  • Andreas

    I use my Barbour Beaufort three seasons. It’s perfect in the woods, with a suit, on a café and where I use it daily: on the bike as a shell against wind, rain or snow. (I live in Copenhagen where everyone bikes) You will never find any jacket as versatile as this.

  • Jim Urtu

    Interesting post. I used a Filson oilskin jacket when working in the field (geology and mining) in the 35 -65 degree range. It is unlined and below freezing, it is a very cold piece of clothing – the wax seems to directly transmit heat out of the torso, no matter what you wear below. Above 65, it will create a stifling and clammy environment for the wearer if they are active at all, plus the parafin wax gives me rashes on my arms if it comes in direct contact in moderate temps. But, it looks decent, very abrasion resistant and is a traditional pacific northwest piece of clothing.

  • Paul McManus

    Antonio, you mentioned Burberry for trench coats, I think you should be looking at Aquascutum. They invented the trench almost 150 years ago and Thomas Burberry was one of their employees before leaving to start his own company.

    Burberry today is going down the high-fashion route, it’s moved away from its roots (it has also fallen prey to the skinny-skinny-cut syndrome, creating clothes that only fit fashion models. Aquascutum is the original raincoat maker and for my money still the best. Google Cary Grant and raincoat – that’s an Aquascutum

  • http://twitter.com/okiepapist David Homoney

    What is the brown one pictured above?

  • Calvin Armerding

    I bought a Kakadu duster in 1992 at a motorcycle show when they were first breaking into the market in the US. Other than having to have it repaired a couple times where the leg strap attaches to the coat (designed for riding, the strap holds the coat down in the wind) it is in as good shape as when I bought it, and it has thousands of miles on it, both on the motorcycle and off. It is a bit casual for formal wear but I have worn it over a suit with a fedora and looked sharp.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1296477659 Abbey Cappadonna Forney

    Thanks for all of the time you put into preparing, filming and producing these free videos. I’ve learned so much watching, and I even bought my husband a 5th and Lamar shirt for his birthday on your recommendation. One suggestion, have you considered asking people to like the video and subscribe to the channel at the end of the video in addition to or instead of at the beginning? After seeing the strong content, I bet a more people would be compelled to respond. Keep up the excellent work.

  • menstyle

    Thanks for the great feedback and the suggestion Abbey, will definitely think about it. :)

  • menstyle

    That sounds like an awesome look Calvin!

  • menstyle

    That’s the waxed hunting jacket sir.

  • menstyle

    I agree!

  • menstyle

    This is great, thank you sir.

  • menstyle

    Thank you Paul, will definitely look into that.

  • menstyle

    That’s interesting, I don’t hear a lot of complaints about these kinds of jackets, perhaps it was the brand or how it was made?

  • Chris

    Link to purchase? All of my searches have come up empty… I love that look.

  • http://theprometheanman.blogspot.com/ The Promethean Man

    I totally want to buy another denim jacket and wax it myself. My current one has studs in it. I think it’d be an interesting alternative to a leather jacket (as I like to have “badass” jackets).

    Great post, no one really talks about waxed jackets!

    ~ theprometheanman.blogspot.com

  • menstyle

    Thank you sir!

  • Shermey

    I am considering purchasing a Burghley Barbour. I live in NYC. Is this a practical coat from the standpoint of weight and appearance?

  • menstyle

    It’s a bit too heavy for city use but if you travel or are always outdoors then it could work!

  • american made clothes

    I love this style, I will definitely going to own one this season. I like cropped tops and bluejeans; rather relaxed and elegant. Street outfits and glam grunge is so great nowadays.

    Jack from american made clothes

  • menstyle

    I agree. This jacket can go a long way!

  • Mike

    They are very good coats. Very versatile coat and extremely well made. I
    purchased the Barbour ‘Beaufort’ Jacket. It is cut to fit over a sport coat or
    thick sweater. And you can get it rewaxed (check Barbour’s website for location
    of their USA vendor for this). I used it instead of a trench coat.

  • menstyle

    Sounds great! Thanks for sharing

  • Joe amarosa

    Thanks for the info on the jkts I’m looking at Irish wax jkts is there really any difference and do you have any websites for them thanks again for the info

  • menstyle

    Hi Joe,
    This article might be helpful:
    http://www.realmenrealstyle.com/waxed-cotton-jackets/

  • Jason

    I recently bought a jacket from Chequered Flag, they are currently selling a black Trialmaster style jacket on ebay at a very reasonable £89. Here’s my quick review;

    [img]https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/5279400/Wearing/Chequered%20Flag%20Jacket.jpg[/img]

    I wasn’t sure what to expect for this price tag – But actually the jacket is really nice. It’s a heavyweight 12 Oz wax cotton with a check lining that’s exactly the same pattern as my Barbour International. The fit is good – not tailored but equally not too baggy. It has all the features you’d expect from a Belstaff Trialmaster, four main pockets, a zipped inside pocket, adjustable cuffs and buckle and strap at the neck plus shoulder and elbow patches. As for it’s ability to keep the rain out, well I wore it on the bike through a 40 minute rain shower and it kept me dry !

    [b]What don’t I like about it [/b]? Well not much really, the press studs are shiny brass yet the buckles are antique, so it’s a shame they didn’t use antique all round. Also the press studs don’t feel quite as good quality as my Barbour Intl, they spin around on the fabric rather than being stamped firmly on – that said they don’t feel at all like they are likely to fall off. A nice detail is it also has two mesh vent studs under each arm.

    Another feature is the interchangeable flag option on the left breast pocket – again a nod to Belstaff. Basically you get a selection of flags; Union jack, Stars & Stripes, Welsh, Scottish and Irish which use velcro to attach them to the tag under the pocket. But quite why anyone would want to fly the welsh flag is beyond me u k fl ag

    The shoulder and elbow patches, well again being picky, but it would be nice if these were double stitched like a Belstaff rather than just single.

    I’ve worn the jacket solidly over the past month and I have to say I’m loving it – It just feels solid. This jacket is the cheapest in the Speedwear range but I have say it certainly doesn’t feel budget. They also sell a de-luxe ‘Continental in Black or Brown (£169) and that has a zip-out liner and pockets for armour – So you can get some extra insulation and protection for a bit more cash.

    Here’s the ebay link if anyones interested;

    [url]http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Classic-Wax-Cotton-Vintage-Style-Motorcycle-Jacket-/301011460273?pt=UK_Men_s_Coats_Jackets&var=&hash=item8bbcaebe7d[/url]

  • menstyle

    sounds great! nice jacket!

  • Mark Giblin

    Shameless Advert

  • Samion Eric

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    motor bike jacket