We could call this a long term test - I’ve been using the Barbour International Jacket quite religiously for over four years now. From riding my motorcycle in Chicago winters, to a torrential rain storm in Panama, I’ve never been let down. It's made from wax cotton; a fairly basic material that’s as simple as can be. Wax naturally repels water, and cotton is naturally breathable, bring the two together and it’s Gore-tex circa the 1930’s. The retail price is $419.99, however, these days you’re more likely to pass down a Barbour jacket to your kids then it is a car - they last that long.
The funny thing with a Barbour jacket is that the older, and more beat up the jacket becomes; the more sought after it is. My particular model has three royal warrants from the British Royal Family. The older jackets with two warrants can be more valuable, especially if they have a worn in, patina’d look. A quick walk down Portobello Road in London will show a beat up, worn out looking Barbour will usually sell for more money than a new unit. Once I saw this - I looked at the jacket as an investment.
The International has a rich product history, Steve McQueen wore one in the 1964 International Six-Day Trials in East Germany, and submarine captains wore a similar design in WW2. From the minute you first put on this jacket, you can tell it’s handmade, it just oozes charisma, character, and quality. It’s one of those items that after you purchase has an instant sentimental value. I bought mine in the middle of a warm summer, I’d actually take my motorcycle out just so I could wear it. Being breathable with a loose fit, you’re able to wear this jacket year round; however, don’t expect it to replace your down parka. There is an abundance of storage on this jacket, four large pockets are placed predominantly on the outside, the pockets are safe from rain and dust as the opening folds over, creating a seal when buttoned. One of the more iconic features of this jacket is the tilted map pocket on the left breast; it really does make reaching things easier when you’re on the motorcycle. The pocket on the right breast, which bears the ‘Barbour International’ patch, has a zipped enclosure. All of the buttons and zippers on this jacket are oversized, and made of quality, solid brass. The interior of the jacket features Barbour’s traditional tartan lining, it’s made of a durable cotton and is used throughout the jacket, including the sleeves. Buttons along the zipper allow the jacket to be further sealed from wind and rain, a stiff belt is also included to secure the jacket further.
When riding on a motorcycle, you’ll notice some buffeting from the extra material used on this jacket, primarily in the sleeves. It isn’t bad, but it’s worth noting. This does mean that there is plenty of room for layering and movement, but it’s not a fitted jacket by any means.
Barbour Jackets have maintenance, compare them to a vintage Land Rover (they look fantastic together) - a little bit of love and they’ll go forever. The wax cotton will loose its waterproofing after a while, but it’s easy however to re-apply the wax again yourself using the cheap tin of it Barbour sells. They also offer a service to do it for you if you’d prefer to not get your hands dirty. If you have a dog or cat, actually if you have any pet that has hair, prepare to get a lint roller. Your worst nightmare comes in the form of an affectionate dog that decides to sit, or jump on you. On the bright side, your jacket will singlehandedly clean your entire house of hair, crumbs, or dust completely free of charge.
When I bought this Jacket it was considered a traditional icon, something worn primarily by vintage motorcycle enthusiasts. At that time, Barbour was still a fairly traditional company with several popular offerings. It seems Barbour has become more mainstream now - it isn’t a bad thing; but the company is changing. The International has now become a fashionable style icon, in part thanks to Mr. McQueen. It’s hard to even locate the ‘traditional’ International; there’s several versions of it, most of them adorned with some kind of Union Jack, or additional design. It’s not my cup of tea, but they’re popular. When you visit their website, you can’t help but think the entire thing is a bit overdone and likely confusing to the customers they’ve had for a while. Five years ago, you would see traditional images of people using their products while fly-fishing, perhaps driving a Land Rover; now it seems they’re more concerned with the latest fashion trends. They don’t mention that their jackets are handmade anymore, so I can’t say with complete certainty that if you go to the store and purchase a International that it will be made in South Shields, UK where they have always been made. They do have some very modern attractive designs, I just hope they are as well made as the jacket I’ve owned for years, and will enjoy for years to come.
J Barbour & Sons LTD
Tyne and Wear
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 455 4444