“In 1894, John Barbour established himself in the burgeoning port of South Shield’s supplying oilskins and other garments to protect the growing community of sailors, fishermen, rivermen, and dockers from the worst of the North Sea Weather.” -John Barbour & Sons
The Barbour wax jacket is something of a phenomenon, donned by the British Royal Family and countrymen alike and often kept for years, sometimes decades.
Founded in South Shields, England, as an importer of oilcloth, J. Barbour and Sons Ltd. has become well-known for its waxed cotton jackets. Today, the business is in the family’s fifth generation.
The Barbour jacket is timeless, classic, and handsome. This style guide will ensure that you select the right jacket for your recreational and sizing needs.
The most classic jackets are based around three styles: the Beaufort and Bedale for men and the Bedale and Beadnell for women.
One of the best ways to organize the differences is to understand that the Bedale was designed for equestrian purposes, while the Beaufort was designed for shooting, both by Dame Helen Barbour. The Beadnell was designed similar to the Bedale, but for a more tailored look.
- Beaufort: This shooting jacket comes with a big game pocket at the back and a slightly longer body (about 2.5 inches.) The extra length makes this jacket a bit more versatile, as you can wear it with or without a sport coat. Downside: the adjustable Velcro cuffs aren’t as comfortable as the Bedale’s sweaters cuffs, and the ventless back means the jacket can ride up when you put your hands in your trouser pockets. Additionally, the Beaufort feels heavier than the Bedale when worn. For a heavier, more rugged version of the Beaufort, search for the now-discontinued Moorland.
- Bedale: If you only plan to wear the jacket while riding or casually, try the Bedale. It’s a short equestrian jacket with internal sweater cuffs and dual side vents. However, note that the slightly shorter length won’t cover the hem of a sport coat.
- Bedale: If you only plan to wear the jacket while riding or casually, try the Bedale. It’s a short equestrian jacket with internal knit sweater cuffs and dual side air vents and a rear pocket. However, note that the slightly shorter length won’t cover the hem of longer sweaters and blazers.
- Beadnell: The Beadnell is a bit more fitted. It looks different than the Bedale, as it has two seams running down the front and back for a more tailored look, and it’s slightly shorter than the Bedale. The Bedale has internal knit sweater cuffs, while the Beadnell does not. The Bedale also has dual side air vents on the sides and a rear pocket. I own a Beadnell. It’s great for petites, and Bloomie’s is the only retailer (including Barbour itself!) that carries a Size 0.
Barbour’s most iconic colors are green, but there are two kinds – sage and olive. Sage is a deep forest green, whereas olive (which is Barbour’s original color) is a bit more brown. One thing to note: sage has a slightly shinier, “wetter” look at first, although the finish quickly wears off. Some also say that olive develops a more interesting patina over time, as the cotton isn’t as heavily processed before waxing.
Other available colors include black, navy, dark brown, and sometimes tan. I recommend olive and sage.
Classic, core-line models, including the Bedale and Beaufort, fit somewhat full, but you’ll want to take into account whether you plan to layer a sport coat or suit jacket underneath. Go true-to-size if you do; size down one if you don’t. Also, note that the seasonal models, fashion-forward lines, Heritage collections, and SL-fits already come trim, so buy your regular size.
Understand that when you go to buy a Barbour, the sizing is always listed as the UK sizing and the corresponding size for US customers. The sleeves are also something to take note on; the core lined coats (any Barbour with a double zipper) are notoriously short in the arms. You may send your jacket back to Barbour to get these alterations made, or drop it off at an Orvis nearby to take care of these alterations (see list of services here.)
You should complete the registration document that comes with the jacket and return it to Barbour, and retain the other part for your records.
A wax cotton jacket will last for many years, but does need some periodic care in order to retain its’ waterproof qualities. If you prefer, you can return it to Barbour’s excellent customer service department who will rewax it for you and make any minor repairs necessary. It is fairly straightforward to maintain the jacket yourself.
The most important thing is that wax jackets are not machine washable. NEVER use hot water or chemical detergents to clean your jacket. You will remove the proofing wax and oils and the jacket will be irreversibly damaged. Only ever clean your jacket by brushing off large pieces of dirt and grit and then cleaning with a sponge using COLD water only.
Once the jacket is clean, you do need to reproof the garment periodically. How often will depend on the amount and type of usage it receives. You should pay attention to any ‘dry’ areas that may appear. These tend to be in the natural creases of the garment and also where the garment naturally rubs together, such as the sleeves against the sides of the body. These dry areas can be treated as they appear but the whole garment should also treated periodically as follows.
You need a tin of Barbour Thornproof Dressing, a pan of hot water, and a soft cloth or sponge. Stand the wax in the hot water to soften it, as it is a solid at room temperature. Using your sponge or cloth, work the wax well into the fabric. It is important to really work it in, and not to simply ‘paint’ it on. Pay particular attention to the high wear areas as mentioned above (i.e. creases and rubbing areas.) Try to remove any excess once the wax has been worked in. When you have finished applying the wax, for the best finish, hang the jacket up on a coat hanger and give a blow over with a hairdryer to slightly remelt the wax and give a smooth, even finish. Then, leave the coat on the hanger in a warm place such as a boiler cupboard or an airing cupboard.