Every Autumn Is Waxed Barbour Jacket Season
It's a jacket built to outlive generations — and the trends that often attend them
On the first true autumn day in Brooklyn last year (a season that typically comes about a month after the rest of the country hits peak foliage and lasts for around 72 hours), I did the same thing I tend to do almost every year: I put my dog on his leash and headed toward the farmers market for a cider donut. Like clockwork, my autumn-guy cider-donut craving kicks up when the leaves change, and my uniform for this little adventure is almost always the same: jeans, boat shoes with a pair of Fair Isle pattern socks, a baseball cap and my Barbour Beaufort.
My first official cider-donut-and-Barbour-day is usually a quiet affair. I get to the market just as it’s opening up, as the rest of the neighborhood is sleeping off its Friday hangover or catching a few hours of rest before their babies start screaming again. I don’t really want to talk to anybody since it’s eight in the morning; I just want to sit on a bench with my cider donut, my dog, my book and “Autumn Almanac” by the Kinks playing in my earbuds.
Yet there I was, content with the quiet, when some friend of a friend of a friend recognized me and walked over. He started talking about something — what, exactly, I don’t recall, because I honestly was just uh-huhing him as much as possible to get him to leave me alone, when he made some comment about my “Steve Bannon jacket.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“You going fox hunting in that thing?” he asked in a horrible faux-British accent before I acted like my wife was calling me on my iPhone and excused myself.
Here’s the thing about me: I look like a Russian bouncer who is trying to blend in on Cape Cod more than a political operative or extra in The Crown. I’m a big fan of the “Think Yiddish, dress British” maxim that I’ve heard my entire life. I don’t own a ton of tweed and I don’t have any suits from Anderson & Sheppard (that’s not to say I wouldn’t want one), but there are certain items of clothing from across the pond that I’d consider as part of my regular rotation, and the Beaufort is one of them. That’s why the lame comment by the guy whose name I can’t recall struck a nerve.
Barbour was founded in 1894 by Scotsman John Barbour. If you’re quick with math, you know that means this is the 125th year of the company’s founding. It comes about 10 years after one of the great big American Barbour booms, where every guy with a quasi-popular menswear blog owned one of the jackets. Circa 2009, you’d walk down the streets of a neighborhood like Soho and swear you were mere feet from a forest, where the olive-color jackets would come in handy for hiding in the brush and shooting at pheasants.
The Beaufort, and its sibling, the Bedale, achieved some strange bit of fashion parity: Barbour was popular among Midtown millionaires as well as fashion-minded Brooklynites. Somebody who lived in a loft with 10 people in Bushwick could show up in Greenwich wearing one and fit in just fine (I can tell you this from experience). The jacket that goes for four Ben Franklins and a couple of Andrew Jacksons was accepted among pretty much everybody. It was a beautiful moment in time.
Since then, Barbour hasn’t lost its devotees, but fashion (whatever the hell that means), has gone in a different direction. Streetwear, the ‘90s, chunky sneakers, dirtbag climbers from the 1970s (which I’m totally into myself) … those things are all in style. Sure, some variation of the preppy look has come back for the umpteenth time, and there will always be room for iconic brands and their timeless looks, but things have changed.
Anything that carries even the slightest whiff of the political runs the risk of being canceled by one side or the other, and that goes for clothes. Some people on the right swear they won’t buy Nike, some of the left swore off L.L.Bean. But Barbour, as one journalist claimed, was “killed” because of its association with the guy that served the current president as chief strategist and seems to have a fondness for weird activities like cleaning his hot tub with acid. As one 2017 article put it, “A majority of Americans recoil at the sight of the soiled Barbour Bedale jacket worn every day by the scruffy political provocateur.” And while I thought Bannon’s moment in the sun had passed, there he is in the new Errol Morris doc wearing, yep, a Barbour.
And so you get a comment like the one that guy on that Saturday morning lobbed my way — one I didn’t have enough coffee running through my blood to muster up a smart retort for, but one that sums up the weird world we live in these days. One where your Nike Air Maxs or New Balance 990s or Fred Perry shirt could be interpreted by some people as an ideological statement. Further proof that we’re living in incredibly stupid times.
But I digress. I’ve turned this into a little rant because I feel the need to defend myself and my sartorial choices, particularly the love I have for my Barbour jacket, the first piece of clothing I ever bought with the intention of passing it down to future Diamond children who might inherit the jacket I cherished once upon a time, with the caveat that they keep the thing waxed.
That’s sort of the point of the Barbour, in my opinion, and the thing that makes it stand out from all the other jackets you might own in your life. It’s a jacket that ages well. It’s good for nearly all seasons and can be tossed on for a night at the bar or, if the fit is right, go right over a suit jacket in a pinch. Despite its origins and price, it is still a fun thing to wear, the kind of jacket that says you take your wardrobe seriously but you aren’t serious. That you either have money to blow or you care enough about owning a specific thing that you saved up for it (I am definitely in the latter category). I used to feel that way about the Levi’s denim jacket, another staple in my coat closet.
One conclusion I’ve come to as I get older and less concerned about other people’s opinions on my clothes is that the classics really don’t go out of style. Designers — the ones preoccupied with the here and now — tend to fall out of touch; they don’t know how to keep up with the times. But the classics are built for a purpose, not a trend, and that is what endures.
Barbour, in my mind, is a name I associate with going outside. Fishing and hunting, yes, but my friend who fixes vintage Vespas also wears a Barbour; I’ve seen guys in noise bands show up to the venue in Barbour; women who ride horses like it, as do friends who race motorcycles. In some respects, I’d almost compare Barbour to an American counterpart like Schott, whose leather jackets have been a sign of rebellion for decades, but still cost a pretty penny. And like the classic biker jacket or even the topcoat that these days you can pair with a hoodie and some Stan Smiths, the Barbour jacket, be it a Beaufort, Bedale or any of their other waxed offerings, can be whatever you want it to be. There doesn’t have to be any political affiliation or mid-century British cosplay involved. It’s a classic that will always be modern and well worth the investment. And that’s why, around this time next year, without fail, I’ll put mine on and seek out a cider donut and a bench to just sit and enjoy the season finally turning.