Skip to content

Why are Brown’s Beach Jackets So Popular?

The Thread
Photo from @frysvintage

Brown’s Beach Jackets are among the most coveted items in vintage outdoor wear. Their distinctively knit fabric gives them a recognizable and striking appearance that is unique to the brand. This fabric is a testament to early American textile innovation, specifically designed for hardworking outdoorsmen. The jackets appeal to a wide range of Americana collectors, making a vintage Brown’s Beach Jacket highly valuable; they often sell for a thousand dollars or more depending on the style, size, age, and condition. Despite their high price, those who own them will tell you they’re worth it; the comfort and durability of the jackets have stood the test of time.

At the turn of the 20th century, William W. Brown, an entrepreneur from Worcester, Massachusetts, recognized the need for durable outdoor apparel suitable for harsh New England winters. In 1898, he developed the Brown’s Beach Jacket, utilizing a novel fabric innovation that would set a new standard for outdoor wear. This fabric, affectionately known as “Beach Cloth,” was a robust two-ply material conceived by Mr. Brown, characterized by its blend of 70% recycled wool and 30% cotton. The fabric features a knit exterior and fleece interior, providing a then-unmatched balance of warmth, water resistance, comfort, and durability, crucial for the frigid and damp local climate.

When Brown developed Beach Cloth, wool textile waste was plentiful, and the cost of raw materials was rising. Using recycled wool was a practical approach that allowed Brown to offer his jackets and vests at a “surprisingly low price.” The process of repurposing wool results in a fabric with shorter fiber length which can, in some cases, result in a weaker fabric. Repurposed or “shoddy” wool was considered a lower quality product and, with the environmental movement 70 years away, environmentally conscious production was not a selling point. Brown chose to conceal this production detail; manufacturers were not required to disclose wool fiber content until the passing of the Wool Products Labeling Act in 1939. Despite Brown’s use of shoddy wool, his jackets were anything but. Fishermen, loggers, and hunters loved the jackets for the comfort, warmth, and durability they provided.

Photo from @form_follows_function_ on Instagram

Beach Cloth could be considered one of the earliest examples of a technical fabric designed specifically for outdoor work and recreation. Its two-ply construction and blend of materials were specifically engineered to meet needs not addressed by traditional textiles. The fabric has all the hallmarks of the technical fabrics developed today, such as high durability and dimensional stability, a high warmth-to-weight ratio, high warmth-to-bulk ratio, crease resistance, breathability and moisture management.

The functionality provided by Beach Cloth led to Mr. Brown’s jackets being not only endorsed by sportsmen and outdoor workers but also by pioneering Arctic explorers. Their advertisements featured testimonies from Admiral Richard E. Byrd and Commander Donald B. MacMillan who found the jackets integral to their expeditions. They faced extreme Arctic conditions, with temperatures well below freezing, accompanied by fierce winds and blinding snow. The ability of Brown’s Beach Jackets to provide warmth and comfort in such conditions not only proved their functional worth but also helped cement their status as a staple of early technical wear.

Photo from @taxedonrags on Instagram

“In the spring of 1923, when we started on our North Greenland expedition to spend the winter in the rigorous climate we encounter there, we both purchased your Beach Jackets and found them so entirely satisfactory and comfortably warm that we desire to equip our crew and scientists with your garment for the coming expedition which leaves Wiscasset, Maine June 25th, knowing that they will experience the same pleasure we did in wearing them in the arctic regions.”


D.B. Macmillan

Ralph P. Robinson

As synthetic fabrics began to gain popularity after WWII, more contemporary textiles offered similar functionality at a lower cost. BBeach Cloth couldn’t compete with these newer materials, and Brown’s Beach Jackets went out of production in the 1960s. Recently, the Japanese brand Full Count has started making faithful reproductions, but for most vintage heads, only the original will do. Keep an eye out in the field and tag us if you find one—we’re still on the hunt for ours.

Share this story:


Be the first to leave a comment