Innovative moisture-blocking technology in synthetic performance fabrics has made it easier to stay dry in wet weather, all without having to even carry an umbrella. But these technologies are (relatively) new, and wet weather has obviously been around forever. For example, Gore-Tex dates back to 1969. So what did people wear to keep dry before that? The answer is that they wore waxed canvas. But even with more advanced fabric technologies, waxed canvas still deserves a place in your closet.
The use of waxed canvas or cotton for sails dates back to the 15th century, but its use in clothing emerged in the 20th century. Waxed cotton and canvas jackets were used by the British armed forces during the Second World War. It’s no surprise that the British — no strangers to wet weather or stylish dressing — are leaders of the pack when it comes to good-looking, water-resistant clothing. Staffordshire-born Belstaff brings a motorcycle-inspired attitude to their waxed canvas jackets. But no conversation about waxed canvas can be had without mentioning Barbour.
Founded in 1894, Barbour has become legendary for its utilitarian waxed jackets, which have been sported by uniquely British figures like the royal family and James Bond, as well as American cultural icons like Steve McQueen. They continue to make some of the best waxed jackets available, and you can find them in a variety of styles. Stateside, brands like LL Bean, Taylor Stitch and Flint and Tinder make great options, although many of them will still rely on British fabric such as canvas from Millerain.
By now, it’s clear that waxed canvas is durable, stylish and water-resistant. But what exactly is waxed canvas, anyway? Waxed canvas consists of cotton fabric that’s embedded with a wax, typically paraffin, which helps provide water resistance, warmth and durability. Unsurprisingly, this gives the fabric something of a waxy or oily texture that could almost be mistaken for nubuck or leather. It’s a unique process that takes one of the most absorbent fabrics, cotton, and makes it wet-weather ready. Naturally, it’s not going to be totally waterproof the same way a rubber slicker might be. But the breathability, flexibility and durability of a waxed jacket make it a highly versatile rain jacket.
Waxed canvas also has a unique, rugged look. Similar to denim or leather, as waxed canvas gets worn, it will develop unique signs of weathering and wear that add to the jacket’s appeal. And, like leather, waxed canvas needs to be taken care of to keep in top shape. Jackets and bags need to be re-waxed to keep them water-resistant. This can actually be done yourself with relative ease, and a properly cared-for waxed canvas jacket can become an heirloom piece that you’ll have forever. Plus, since they’re made using natural fabrics and methods, waxed canvas can be a more environmentally conscious alternative to synthetic jackets with chemical coatings. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite styles that you can buy online.
1. Barbour Sylkoil Ashby jacket
The Ashby is one of Barbour’s most iconic jacket styles, featuring a zippered and buttoned placket, corduroy collar and buttoned patch pockets at the waist. It’s available in either an olive color with brass buttons for a more classic look or a navy color with matching navy buttons for a more modern look. There are plenty of pockets for all of your essentials. That means you can be prepared for anything, whether you’re trekking through the English countryside or hopping on the train to head to work.
2. Taylor Stitch The Long Haul Jacket
BEST TRUCKER JACKET
Field jackets may be the traditional approach, but they’re not the only option. Taylor Stitch has made their Long Haul trucker wet weather-ready by cutting it from waxed canvas. The jacket comes in a stylishly rugged brown color that they call tobacco. It has a contrasting corduroy collar. The jacket has two chest pockets, two hand pockets and two internal pockets. The cotton fabric is 100% organic.
3. Belstaff Waxed-Cotton Overshirt
Belstaff is something of the younger, more rebellious sibling to the older and more traditional Barbour, which makes it easy to forget that Belstaff has actually been around since 1924. The Trailmaster is the brand’s iconic motorcycle jacket, but we’re partial to this minimalist, streamlined waxed cotton overshirt that features a hidden button-front placket and drawstring hem. The all-black color and sleek design make it a street-ready style that’s perfect for layering.
4. Ralph Lauren Waxed Cotton Liner Jacket
ON SALE NOW
RRL is Ralph Lauren’s premium outdoors-inspired label, and their waxed cotton liner jacket takes military inspiration for a jacket that’s comfortable and water-resistant. It has a quilted design with synthetic fill, providing warmth, but it’s still lightweight for year-round wear. The waxed cotton exterior adds water resistance. Stock is limited to small and medium and the jacket is on sale, so act fast.
5. Flint and Tinder Flannel-lined Waxed Hudson Jacket
This jacket from Flint and Tinder takes its design cues from classic field jacket styles like those made by Barbour, but with some streamlined details and a more modest price. The jacket has a zip and button front, as well as a blanket-lining for extra warmth and protection. Flint and Tinder is a young brand, but they teamed up with august elders like Millerain for the jacket’s coconut-waxed fabric as well as Abraham Moons for the flannel lining.
6. Barbour Men’s Advection Waxed Jacket
BEST CASUAL JACKET
The waxed canvas field jacket is classic, but it may not suit everyone’s style, especially if you don’t like looking like you’re dressed to shoot clay pigeons in the English countryside. Bomber jackets and blousons are beloved for their streamlined design and simplicity, and this waxed canvas bomber from Barbour features a simple zip-front, two discreet hand pockets and insulating ribbing on the cuffs and hem. The bomber jacket retains the classic corduroy collar found on Barbour’s other waxed jackets.
7. LL Bean Double L Waxed-Cotton Upland Coat
The British may be masters of the waxed jacket, but the Americans are no novices, either. Take this jacket from all-American icons LL Bean, which features traditional hunting details and plenty of pockets. It comes in brown or green, and it’s made with waxed canvas from the British Millerain brand. It may be built with hunting in mind, but it’s perfect for bargain hunting on rainy morning flea market trips, too.
8. Marine Layer Waxed Canvas Jacket
Marine Layer brings a beachy, west-coast aesthetic to casual essentials like tees, hoodies and swimwear, and this stylish hooded jacket is the perfect lightweight layer for staying dry by the beach. The simple hoodie design wears easily with casual clothes like jeans, chinos and even shorts.
9. Walker and Hawkes Waxed Coat
Despite their association with rainy weather, few waxed coats actually have protection for your head. This coat from Walker and Hawkes rectifies that, by including a hood. Prefer to keep it classic? The hood is detachable, leaving just a traditional corduroy collar. The jacket has a double-layered zip and button front, large patch pockets and side hand pockets, giving it a traditional look. While not as storied as brands like Barbour or Belstaff, Walker and Hawkes has been around since 1982.