No one ever said the life of a sailor was an easy one. The food is crummy, the weather is mercurial, and you’re liable to pick up a burning case of… well, at least you can do something about the cold soak of a mid-winter ocean spray. Which is why 15th-century seafarers began fashioning capes from scraps of oiled sailcloth to stay dry. Jump forward a few hundred years, and those proto-slickers have evolved into waxed cotton jackets, and taken their seat as an indispensable part of the modern guy’s wardrobe.
Why? Well, that one’s easy: It keeps you dry. The earliest disciples, back in the 20’s, were the gents who needed it—British sportsmen and motorcyclists who were no strangers to wet weather. Belstaff supplied for the riders, J. Barbour & Sons covered the sporting set (before following into motorsports in the 30’s), and both made a point of keeping things utilitarian. Pockets, reinforced panels, and storm flaps abounded, and the military, with its love of all things useful, adopted waxed jackets as the outerwear of choice in WWII.
Whether inspired by motoring or hunting—and the majority will fall into one of those two camps—the waxed jacket is at its best when it actually serves a purpose, and you’d do well to stay away from anything that gets too fancy. Nevertheless, owing to both its heritage and its effectiveness, no one’s going to scoff if you decide to don one with a suit. In fact, a waxed jacket transitions from weekend excursions to the daily commute with remarkable ease.
And though there’s a host of tech fabrics out there that share waxed cotton’s combination of water resistance and breathability, think about it: When’s the last time you heard someone comment on the striking patina on a Gore-Tex parka? A waxed jacket has character—the fabric ages like leather or raw denim, with each crease and scar becoming a part of the overall story. After a few years, you’ve got something uniquely your own. And really, what’s more essential to style than personality?