The History Of The Barbour Wax Jacket 

A Barbour wax jacket is a core wardrobe staple and a fashion icon. 

Available in various styles, each weatherproof jacket is built with quality and durability in mind to last you a lifetime.

A Barbour wax jacket never looks out of place, whether browsing the high street or strolling in the countryside; it’s incredibly versatile and suited to casual and formal dressing. 

But where does the Barbour wax jacket come from, and how has it become such a wardrobe essential? In this guide, we’re breaking down the history of this fashion icon so you can see why it’s vital that you add one to your wardrobe.

Table of contents:

Barbour wax jacket history

Where are Barbour jackets made?

Is a wax jacket waterproof?

Barbour wax jacket history 

To know why the Barbour wax jacket is such an icon, it’s important to understand its history. 

Barbour was founded in 1894 by Galloway-born John Barbour. After he moved to South Shields, a coastal town in the North East of England, he started to supply the local dockers, sailors and seamen with oilskins to protect them from the harsh North East weather whilst they were working on the docks. 

These oilskins were historically crafted from sails and treated with fish oil to make them water-resistant. Fish oil, however, had an unpleasant smell, so Barbour treated his garments with flax oil, which was just as water resistant but without the odour. 

Barbour’s oilskins rose to popularity locally, and he quickly became known for his innovation and the quality of his products. When the company established its official name, J Barbour & Sons, John brought his son Malcolm into the company. Malcolm created the brand’s first mail-order catalogue and demand for their innovative oilskin products grew internationally, with farmers and landowners from China and Chile all investing in Barbour’s groundbreaking wax-cotton garments.

Then, more innovation happened when Malcolm brought his son Duncan into the company. Duncan, a keen motorcyclist, created the Barbour International. The Barbour International was a one-piece suit made from the Barbour brand’s innovative wax cotton designed for the 1936 International Six Day Trials motorcycle race. The suit was so successful that between 1936 and 1977, almost every British rider on the ISDT circuit wore the suit. 

The Barbour name also became well-established by providing oilskin suits to the British military during the second world war, with the Ursula suit becoming a standard issue for the submarine service. 

But it was Steve McQueen, an American actor and motorcycle racer, that catapulted the brand name even further when he wore the Barbour International in 1964 as part of the USA team on the ISDT circuit. An icon of the time, soon civilian motorcyclists all wanted to wear this iconic suit. 

The Barbour wax jacket is a direct, more refined descendent of the oilskin suit and today, 128 years since Barbour was established, the wax jacket is still at the heart of everything the company does. With three royal warrants from The Duke of Edinburgh (1974), Her Majesty the Queen (1982), and the former Prince of Wales, HRH King Charles (1987), it’s no wonder that the Barbour jacket is still a popular style piece today.

Barbour wax jacket: A modern icon 

The Barbour wax jacket continues to be a modern wardrobe staple due to its timeless style and function. 

Since Dame Margaret Barbour first designed the Beaufort jacket in 1982, one of the brand’s most iconic silhouettes, Barbour has created some of the outerwear world’s leading and most memorable styles. 

White man wearing a Beaufort jacket with beige chinos and New Balance trainers

The Beaufort, instantly recognisable by its stylish corduroy collar, was originally designed as a shooting jacket and inspired by French shooting jackets’ fit and function. It became the blueprint for Barbour’s wax jackets, a timeless wardrobe staple when shooting in the fields or braving the elements on a cold, wet day’s commute. 

The Beaufort became Princess Diana’s jacket of choice, which sent sales skyrocketing as women in the UK wanted to wear it to emulate her style. 

The Barbour wax jacket has continued to stay current in the fashion world, as whenever it seems to fall out of style, a new generation adopts it and embraces it. For example, in 2007, stylish stars such as Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen wore Barbour wax jackets at Glastonbury, catapulting the brand back into the limelight to a younger audience.

Similarly, in 2012, when Daniel Craig wore a Barbour shooting coat in ‘Skyfall’ when protecting his childhood home in the Scottish highlands, sales for Barbour’s wax jackets soared again.

daniel craig in skyfall wearing a Barbour shooting coat

Pairing perfectly with several styles and various settings, it’s clear why the Barbour wax jacket has reigned supreme for so long. With exquisite detailing, long-wearing durability and a style that transcends trends, we’ll celebrate the Barbour wax jacket for many years, thanks to its core wardrobe staple status. 

Where are Barbour jackets made?

Staying true to their North East heritage, Barbour jackets are still made in South Shields today by their 180-strong workforce in the Barbour factory, Simonside. 

How are Barbour wax jackets made?

It takes 36 people to make each Barbour jacket from start to finish, and each worker takes on a vital part of the process. 

First, the materials and linings are selected and cut to length before computer-generated pattern pieces are placed over the materials and cut to shape by hand. 

Once each piece is cut, they are transferred to the preparation and production lines. The preparation lines add the jacket’s details; then the team leader moves each piece onto the racking, ready to be sent down one of the five production lines, each of which usually sees different style garments being made. 

close up of the Beauford jacket zip

Each part of the garment is passed along the production line using a pulley system so the sewist can stitch it to other pieces to build the jacket. Many individual parts make up each Barbour jacket; for example, the Bedale comprises 160 parts, including 49 cut parts of fabric, 103 trims such as binding, zips and studs, eight packaging items and a poly bag. With around 50 styles of jackets being made for men, women and children, the line must move fast, as a new garment is completed every three minutes!

With around 140,000 new garments created a year and 13,000 booked in for rewaxing, alteration or repair, the Barbour wax jacket’s popularity isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, thanks to its timeless style and practicality.

Is a Barbour wax cotton jacket waterproof?

Much like those oil-skin sails, Barbour wax cotton jackets are waterproof today and are built to allow the wearer to comfortably brave the elements without getting wet. 

Care and attention goes into treating every wax Barbour jacket carefully and evenly using the brand’s signature wax thornproof dressing. Each area is covered with particular attention given to seams and creases before the wax is heat-sealed.

To ensure that your Barbour wax jacket stays waterproof, we recommend that you re-treat it once a year or as required, with Barbour Wax Thornproof Dressing following the instructions.

Never machine wash or dry-clean your wax jacket, as this will damage its protective wax-coated layer and remove its waterproof capabilities. 

Barbour wax jacket history: The highlights

Barbour has been creating groundbreaking and innovative outerwear products since 1894. From oilskin suits to keep fishermen safe from the elements to iconic motorcycle suits, all of these innovations helped create the brand’s iconic wax jackets that we know and love today.

Outerwear heroes, each Barbour wax jacket is carefully hand-cut and crafted in Barbour’s South Shields factory by skilled sewists who, as part of a long production line, put together each wax jacket by hand in around three minutes! Built to last, they’re a versatile, core wardrobe staple that will last for years in any wardrobe. 

The Beaufort jacket is the jacket that propelled Barbour’s innovative wax jacket designs to the masses when it gained the royal seal of approval after Princess Diana wore it. Since then, the Beaufort, alongside a variety of other Barbour wax jacket styles, has continued to be a core fashion staple, embraced by new generations for its fashion credentials and functional dressing features. 

Shop Barbour wax jackets at CHO 

Discover our collection of Barbour wax jackets for men and women at CHO today to find your perfect outerwear wardrobe staple. Featuring iconic styles such as the iconic Beaufort and the Beadnall, there’s never been a better time to choose your favourite.

Related posts:

5 Perfect Ways To Style A Barbour Jacket

What Is The Difference Between Barbour And Barbour International

How To Care For Your Barbour Jacket

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