This is Worth the Hype, where our writers and editors put popular products to the test to see if they are, in fact, worth the hype.
There’s very little that intersects in the Venn diagram of Japanese street style influencers and old British aristocracy. One of the few things that does is the Barbour jacket. These waxed beauties that impeccably balance utility and Old World style continue to creep up on my Instagram on anywhere from #日本直送 to #downtonabbey.
Having found myself in the market for a new autumn jacket, I was curious to try a Barbour and I am glad I did. I chose the Bedale model out of the many there are to choose from, though it turns out there aren’t really any bad choices to begin with.
The beauty of a Barbour lies in parallel micro and macro details of the garment itself. On the macro level, you get a garment that’s weighty but not heavy, well-made and waxed to withstand the elements, and gives you a sort of English eccentric vibe that’s somehow so uncool that it’s very cool. On the micro side, the detailing of a Barbour jacket is impeccable, due to the company’s commitment to keeping manufacturing practices and high standards for more than 120 years in South Shields, London. When throwing on the jacket and surveying the heavy snaps, gold-plated pull zipper, tartan lining, and knit cuffs, it’s easy to understand why the company holds royal warrants from all three granting members of the Royal Household (the late Queen in 1982, the late Duke of Edinburgh in 1974, and then-Prince Charles in 1987).
Weatherproofers to the Wealthy: Barbour’s History
Prior to the hashtag menswear movement that provided a second life for the company, Barbour was already famous in the UK and among the sporting obsessed for generations. Rainy old England provided the perfect business opportunity for the brand founders, who developed sporting (read: hunting) suits and jackets for those who enjoyed leisurely long weekend activities in country houses. While not exclusively for the wealthy, large estates were a financial ballast for the brand when it came to supplying garments for people who live in them and their workers, as well as the owners who kept a extra few on-hand for guests.
By the 1930s, motorcycling had become a popular sport, and Duncan, heir to the Barbour name, was a keen rider himself. Barbour introduced waxed jacket sporting (here, meaning motorcycle riding) jackets which became the de rigeur garment in European riding circles for decades.
It was also during this period that Barbour supplied submariner teams with waterproofing suits during and between the two major wars.
By the 1950s, Barbour became more and more synonymous with its bread-and-butter sporting (here, again meaning hunting) jackets. A new medium was on the rise which aided in this: the magazine ad. Social magazines like The Tatler showed country living as an escape from the perceived threat of urban sprawl, and debutantes in their Barbours and wellies drew many people to purchase their own jacket. This hasn’t stopped for nearly 70 years now, and, if anything, there is an electrification in the market today.
How to Choose a Barbour Jacket
There truly is no wrong answer here. The most popular styles for men are the Beaufort and the Bedale, so I’ll wax poetic (pun very much intended) on these two styles.
Both were born in the 1980s for different purposes. The Beaufort was designed as a utility workhorse for hunting, while the Bedale was for a more recreational and casual wear for equestrian purposes. Odds are you probably won’t be doing either of those anytime soon, but that’s perfectly fine. The genesis of the garment may not mean much, but it does dictate the overall design of the garment.
The Barbour Bedale waxed jacket is, without a doubt, a staple in my wardrobe now. I can dress it up easily for the fox hunts in my hometown, or keep it relaxed while I head to the bakery on Sunday mornings. Either way, I know that this is a piece that’s going to be with me for more than one season and there will be new ways to style it from year to year. In fact, I’m looking to beat it up a bit. That wax patina’s going to look kickass one day.
Differences Between a Beaufort and Bedale Barbour Jacket
Both garments have that same sumptuous 6-ounce wax cotton that Barbour is known for. The interiors are lined in a classic tartan and the exterior pockets are lined in moleskin for added warmth and protection. The collars have similar corduroy collars with the option for a detachable hood. Pockets in the exterior are similarly placed and the overall drop-shoulder shape of the garments mimic one another.
As for the differences, the Beaufort will have more bells and whistles while the Bedale gives you a more everyday feel when wearing it. In terms of length, the Beaufort is longer and a bit heavier feeling due to the excess fabric and additional pockets (two quite prominent pockets are fitted in the back for stuffing a partridge or a rabbit in after it’s been shot — or maybe just a newspaper when you’re waiting for the train). The Bedale has a vented posterior and a shorter overall frame, making it a great fit for more casual wear and looks a bit more fitted if wearing it with knitwear.
Whichever style you pick (there is also the Border, the Ashby, the Ogston, the Beausby, among many others), make sure to keep in mind a couple points that transcend all styles. First, get a size or two larger than you think you’d wear. The garment is meant to fall slightly off of you for a comfortable fit, and you’ll be wearing it in colder weather with knits and suits underneath. Second, stick with the olive green waxed cotton if you’re looking to keep it as classic (and classy) as possible.
And one note about the waxed cotton. It does have a distinct smell that’s not unpleasant but is surprising and a bit pervasive at first. But like your grandmother’s house or an elderly pug, the smell is part of the charm.
Specs: Barbour Bedale
- Relaxed fit
- Rear vents
- Inner ‘drip-strip’ for added water resistance
- 6-ounce waxed cotton
- Optional zip-in thermal liners and hoots
- Brass two-way ring-pull zip
- Two bellows pockets and two moleskin-lined handwarmer pockets
- Corduroy collar