Of the many things to move in and out of fashion, wax cotton jackets are the latest to make a reappearance on the backs of both motorcycle and scooter riders.
Is it a welcome return though?

Steve McQueen in his Barbour International while competing on a Triumph motorcycle in the 1960s.
Steve McQueen in his Barbour International while competing on a Triumph motorcycle in the 1960s.

So what are they?

First a little history; waxed cotton jackets – and trousers – are often thought of as the choice of motorcycle enthusiasts from yesteryear. The rugged material with regularly waxed coating meant it offered a certain level of waterproofness for the rider combined with an amount of protection in the event of a spill. Certainly, for those taking parts in off road trials events, waxed cotton jackets were light enough to maintain the rider’s agility, yet tough enough to ward off wayward branches and thorns depending on which way they fell!

The likes of Steve McQueen and the American team wearing the Barbour International in 1964 when competing in the International Six Day Trials that year, along with photos of those taking part in the Isle of Man scooter weeks events is probably the main reason for this latest wave of nostalgia.

Barbour International 'Union Jack'
Barbour International ‘Union Jack’
Barbour International 'Union Jack'
Barbour International ‘Union Jack’
Barbour International 'Union Jack'
Barbour International ‘Union Jack’
Waxing lyrical – retro waxed cotton jackets | REVIEW

Barbour International (Union Jack): RRP £279.99

So of the three waxed cotton jackets I’ve tried over the last couple of years or so, why not start with a Barbour?

An original, and as such growing in popularity within the scooter scene (and not just with those from the north east who live a stone’s throw from the factory outlet shop either!), Barbour not only has the heritage but arguably the style too. After all, when you’re the company who invented the angled chest ‘map’ pocket to enable easy access for bike riders, you simply keep using that design, hey? In fact Barbour first introduced their one-piece bike suit, the International, in a dark green wax in 1936 and the separate International jacket gained its distinctive slanted, left breast pocket in 1951, allowing the wearer easy access to maps or for a trials time card while riding. Apparently 97% of riders in the 1957 International Six Day Trials wore Barbour International jackets.

Barbour is still a family owned company and as well as selling a variety of garments, they also offer a full adjustment and repair service from their factory in South Shields, from alterations to fitting new zips, repairing tears, patches, new collars, even new sleeves. The Union Jack International is based upon Barbour’s original International jacket, constructed in 6oz Thornproof waxed cotton for durable protection and features a corduroy-lined collar and a two-way front zip under a studded storm fly front. It has adjustable studded cuffs, a buckle-fastening collar strap and waist belt and their trademark four studded pockets – one of which is the authentic easy-access slanted map pocket. The fit is relaxed and comfortable, with room for clothing underneath, and armour too; a necessity as this is simply a jacket with no body armour or extra thermal protection. That said whilst not thick it is warm, and waterproof too, as is the inner pocket. Incidentally Barbour recommend rewaxing is carried out annually, so I should invest in a pot of wax (less than a tenner) I suppose sooner rather than later (the lazy can send it to Barbour for this service, but of course it will cost you more).

Of the trio here, the Barbour International is in my opinion probably the most stylish, it certainly has the right label to impress and is of course the original motorcycle and scooter jacket for the discerning rider. And not only is it a nice fit, but the fastenings and belt all function perfectly, despite being over two years old now.
The negative is that the International comes form an era before body armour was derigeur, which is why I also have a Knox Urbane Shirt too, which is an under garment with shoulder, elbow and back protectors made by Knox in Cumbria. This adds £129.99 RRP (www.planet-knox.com) to an already pricey £279.99 RRP (www.barbour.com), but what price style and safety, hey kids? For cool both on and off your scooter, with the bonus of added protection, you can’t beat following in the steps of Steve McQueen.

Spada Staffy
Spada Staffy
Spada Staffy
Spada Staffy
Waxing lyrical – retro waxed cotton jackets | REVIEW
Waxing lyrical – retro waxed cotton jackets | REVIEW

Spada Staffy: RRP £169.99

The Spada Staffy Wax Jacket has been around since early 2015, and I’ve owned and used one for much of the time since then, with mostly complimentary things to say about this jacket.

This British brand errs towards the budget end of the market thanks to cheaper overseas production, and for the most part their kit sits above the ‘cheap and nasty’ area of the motorcycle clothing market. The Staffy is a good example of that, offering a good mix of classic style with practicality at a price that is not unreasonable and, as my testing has revealed, an amount of longevity too.

The Staffy is available in either black or brown dry waxed cotton – both with leather panelled shoulders – the outer jacket has waterproof lining, tartan inner lining for style, and there is a removable thermal lining as well. Importantly for riding, it features four-piece CE protection at the shoulders and elbows, as well as a pocket for a back protector with a foam pad inserted.

The Staffy is a comfortable fit as well as being warm enough during a mild winter. Maybe not quite enough for long distances in the freezing cold, but to be honest I’m impressed that, what appears on the surface to be more of a short distance fashion statement, can actually do the mileage. The same goes for the waterproofness – so far so good, from showers to hour long torrential downpours. The Staffy has both style and substance.

The central belt adds a nice retro touch, the cuffs have a couple of poppers for adjustment and there are pockets in the thermal lining for anything you want to protect from the weather while riding. Unfortunately these are the areas I must apply criticism too, tell tale signs maybe that this jacket has been built to a budget. The poppers for the external pockets (although not the central storm flap) don’t secure that well, and neither does the strap around the neck. The buckle on the main belt would definitely benefit from being more substantial and you must make sure it is secured sufficiently before riding to avoid it coming undone and flapping annoyingly.

Learn its foibles however and it’s easy to live with; I do like this a lot. Even the way the brown outer has faded over the years simply adds character. With a RRP of £169.99 this jacket doesn’t feel as cheap as that, or indeed like some cheaper brands that can feel and look cheap to wear. Indeed if you want the classic look combined with modern rider protection, then the Spada Staffy is well worth checking out for size (and there is a version for the ladies too, cut for the female figure and named the Hartbury). www.spadaclothing.co.uk

Richa Scrambler
Richa Scrambler
Waxing lyrical – retro waxed cotton jackets | REVIEW
Waxing lyrical – retro waxed cotton jackets | REVIEW
Waxing lyrical – retro waxed cotton jackets | REVIEW

Richa Scrambler: RRP £179.99

The Richa Scrambler is the final of the three I’ve been wearing, this one for about six months now. A short waxed cotton jacket, the Richa Scrambler combines two of the manufacturing elements of the previous pair, made from British Millerain waxed cotton but the final coat produced abroad to keep the RRP competitive.
Being a short jacket the Scrambler is something you are more likely to wear in the summer and, as I found out, was perfect for those days out that turned into evenings, the Scrambler providing both warmth as the sun set as well as keeping me dry when the clouds darkened, the latter thanks to a waterproof and breathable membrane. For protection it features CE approved armour at the shoulders and elbows, with a pocket in the back to insert a protector of your choice.

As far as fit goes this is nice and snug, the removable thermal lining being thick enough to keep you warm yet not too thick so as to restrict your movements. There are adjusters at the waist and cuffs, and also tabs on the arms to allow you to suit whatever you may be wearing underneath; another noteworthy feature.

Being a short jacket also means less restrictions than a longer jacket may give a rider, and I do love the quilted shoulder and elbow padding for both added protection but also as a neat stylish touch.
If I have to criticise, it is again with the neck strap not being as good as it could be, but that is a small gripe and what is essentially a nice piece of kit indeed. With a RRP of £179.99 the Scrambler is certainly worth considering over cheaper options if the wax cotton style is what you want, but form and function are both boxes you want to tick – this does both, which at the end of the day is important for those who want practicality while riding. www.nevis.uk.com

At Crystal Palace race track, 2015, wearing a Barbour International on the far left, then a Spada Hartbury (female cut of the Staffy), followed by some classic Lewis Leathers and another wax cotton jacket.
At Crystal Palace race track, 2015, wearing a Barbour International on the far left, then a Spada Hartbury (female cut of the Staffy), followed by some classic Lewis Leathers and another wax cotton jacket.

Lab report

I’ve ridden thousands of miles in these various waxed cotton jacket over the last 18-24 months or so, and to be honest they’ve all performed well. By that I mean I’ve been warm and dry while riding, as well as comfortable both on and off the scooter. They’ve each got their negative points as I’ve mentioned above, but nevertheless I’ve not relegated any to the dark corner at the back of the shed, only to be dragged out again when repairing the fence in the rain.

Of today’s wax cotton jackets therefore, I reckon these cut the mustard regarding both style and function, something I can’t say about some other brands’ items I’ve seen hanging in shops on my travels – some of those simply look and feel too cheap for my liking.

Compared to modern riding clothes these are a little heavier, require more TLC and are probably not what you want to be snuggling up with in a damp tent on a scooter rally, but for style and protection they’re not bad at all.

My favourite of them all? The Spada for easy day to day riding thanks to the built-in armour, the Richa to throw on for a summer jaunt, and the Barbour for pure style.

Andy

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