Brown’s Beach Jacket – beach vest review

I’ve long wanted to try some Brown’s Beach Jacket garments, and not being the type to drop $$$$ on vintage jackets, I’ve kept my eye on modern Japanese reproductions for some years now.

However, as I live in Australia, you can understand that a Brown’s Beach garment is simply impractical and for the longest time I’d put off buying a jacket, given I might get two or three weeks of wear per year due to the generally hotter weather here on the world’s largest island. Last year I finally pulled the trigger, settling on the compromise of a vest, which I should be able to wear during most of our winter days.

So, what’s so special about Brown’s Beach Jackets and Vests?

Overview

Brown’s Beach Jacket Company was founded by an American named William Brown in 1901. The story goes that the signature 2-ply wool/cotton blend fabric was created in the 19th century by one Mr. Beach, though it was Mr. Brown who – through much hard work and business savvy – managed to make Beach cloth a household name in the USA. Mr. Brown initially focused on producing sturdy jackets out of Beach cloth, which he successfully marketed to outdoors-men and workers, later on also producing vests and other garments. Brown’s Beach products were immensely popular and enjoyed thirty-odd years of success and renown – the famed Beach cloth, a woven blend of 73% wool & 27% cotton, offered fantastic protection from the elements and was noted for its performance and durability in inclement weather.

At some point close to mid-century, the brand was sold to Jacob Finkelstein and Sons who continued to manufacture Beach cloth garments under the same brand, alongside a variety of other workwear including flannel shirts, socks, and the like. By mid-century, however, synthetic materials had begun outperforming and undercutting natural fibres for outdoors clothing. After struggling for some years, Brown’s Beach Jacket was shut down in the late 1960s. The latest advertisement I could find dated to 1967.

Some half a century later, Japanese dudes took an interest in reproducing Brown’s Beach Jacket garments, and our story becomes a little more murky. It is said that John Lofgren of Speedway first acquired the Brown’s Beach Jacket trademark in the late 2000s. However, Fullcount claims to have acquired the trademark in 2007. Further, Lost Hills (another Japanese clothing workshop) also acquired the trademark in 2012. How this all works out legally, I have no idea.

What I do know is that Brown’s Beach Jacket replica garments appeared on the scene around 2010, and currently, only Fullcount and Lost Hills are reproducing Beach cloth garments under the Brown’s Beach Jacket brand.

That’s not to say other Japanese makers don’t make Beach cloth garments…in fact, everyone does! You can find similar 1930s Brown’s Beach Jacket designs currently being made by Sugar Cane, Cushman’s, RRL, Kapital, Samurai, The Real McCoy, Trophy Clothing, etc., just to name a few. Only Fullcount and Lost Hills are allowed to use the Brown’s Beach label, however.

This solid-black Brown’s Beach vest we’re examining today was made by Lost Hills, with 1930s detailing and a non-traditional fabric colour.

Fit

This vest has been cut with a vintage-style, tubular fit. As such, it is quite closely fitted, finishing at the waist, and seems to have been designed as an intermediate layer between a shirt and an over-coat. Which make sense…I suppose both William Brown and the folks at Lost Hills would want us to wear a Brown’s Beach Jacket over the vest.

The neck has been cut lower than most vintage Brown’s Beach vests I’ve seen on the Internet. I can imagine that the original, higher neck versions might be a little uncomfortable and are probably appropriate for weather that is much colder than what I have here in the land of convicts and kangaroos.

A word of caution: You’ll need to size up on these vests! I have a 44 inch chest, and needed the largest 46 size in this vest. If you have a chest any bigger than 44 inch, I’m afraid Brown’s Beach has nothing to offer you for now.

Another word of caution: This vest is very warm! Aussies may be able to wear this vest during winter, with jackets in the same Beach cloth being fairly impractical. If you are from South East Asia, don’t even think about wearing anything made of Brown’s Beach – you will develop hyperthermia! The only way to wear a full set of Brown’s Beach clothing is to do so in the snow, or if you develop hypothyroidism.

Fabric

Beach cloth has traditionally been a two layer woven fabric made of ~70% wool and ~30% cotton. This particular cloth here is a fairly exact 73%/27% reproduction.

Whilst the weave on our vest is reminiscent of vintage Brown’s Beach cloth, the solid black colouring is a modern take on the classic salt n’ pepper colours. This black fabric makes the vest look sleeker, and less ‘costume-y’, yet dirt, lint and animal hairs will be more noticeable.

The is a heavy & very warm fabric, relatively breathable but largely resistant to water and air. The cloth has a lot of body and feels substantial in the hand – truly, this cloth was designed for colder climates and the outdoors.

Peripherals

The woven tags are nicely reproduced, down to the fonts of the text.

The 1930s style snap buttons, being wide than the buttons from later decades, are very cool indeed. I’m curious as to how they would age.

The buckle at the back cinch works well and is fairly solid. The cinch itself is made of a solid black cotton fabric, which does cause it to stand out somewhat.

Construction

This solid black vest features black threads and black piping, resulting in a much more subdued appearance than more traditional reproductions of a Brown’s Beach vest.

The pockets & seams are neatly stitched, piped and bar-tacked at points of stress

The twill fabric used for the piping is sturdy and not prone to pilling.

Due to the nature of the Beach cloth, both the front and back faces hide stitching very well, and as such the tonal threads are not visible usually. Even so, on close inspection, the stitches are clean and straight – nothing hangs loose.

The combination of pocket shape and piping lends the vest a very distinct, early century workwear appearance.

Opinion

All in all, an interesting twist on the classic Brown’s Beach vest.

The solid black fabric, although having the same weave, is visually distinct from the traditional heather/salt n’ pepper appearance of Beach cloth. The piping and the snap buttons contributes to the unique flair of Brown’s Beach garments, though on the solid black background they don’t stand out as much as they do on more traditional pieces.

This vest is much more subtle compared with the average Beach vest and is not as immediately recognizable as most Brown’s Beach garments can be, yet the understated appearance allow it to pair with other garments more easily, without looking too much like 1930s cosplay. (Nothing wrong with that by the way, I do it occasionally when my family members aren’t around.)

As far as vintage garment reproduction is concerned, I think the modern Japanese versions of Brown’s Beach garments are rather well done. Every now and then some truly hardcore vintage Brown’s Beach collectors will remark that the modern Beach cloths are not quite the same as the originals in terms of density, though I am nowhere near expert enough on this topic to comment about the minute differences.

However, some of the limitations of reproduction clothing are apparent on Brown’s Beach vests, the most significant of which I believe is the sizing of the pockets – way too small! These pockets are truly useless in the age of palm-sized smart phones…

Other than the size of the pockets, however, there’s really not much to complain about this vest, and quite a lot to like! I particularly enjoy the texture of Beach cloth, and I feel it combines fairly well with denim in terms of contrasting handfeels. The vest itself is also made to a high standard, and would not be out of place when combined with artisan made Japanese jeans or bench-made boots.

Overall?

Highly recommended! For workwear geeks, a Brown’s Beach cloth garment is a must try at some point.

Just remember to size up.

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