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The Story Behind a Forgotten American Outerwear Brand with a Cult Following

Garments that stood up to harsh Northeastern winters and were prized for their durability and comfort.

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courtesy of Katie Duggan, 2016

Innovations in outdoor apparel aren’t limited to the last half-century. In the early 1900s, Brown’s Beach Jacket Co., then based in Massachusetts, created a number of forward-thinking garments that became very popular with outdoorsmen. The most notable included a hip-length jacket and vest, both of which featured metal snap buttons, distinct pockets and a unique fabric knit from a blend of cotton and recycled wool.

Prized for their durability and warmth, the garments were utilized by Admiral Richard Byrd’s second South Pole expedition in 1934.

William W. Brown founded Brown’s Beach Jacket Co. in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1898, before moving to Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1901. The company’s name is rooted in Brown’s first business association in Hartford — the Beach Manufacturing Company — which produced fleeced fabrics for underwear. A smart businessman, Brown wagered the success of his new company on the functionality of its fabric. The material was knitted from a two-ply blend of 30 percent cotton and 70 percent recycled wool, and it featured a warm fleece lining. It was water-resistant, unshrinkable, essentially untearable, surprisingly warm and incredibly comfortable — perfect for use in inclement weather. What’s more, Brown’s use of reclaimed wool allowed the outerwear to be sold at competitive prices.

The jackets and vests became commonplace in the wardrobes of hunters, guides, fishermen and lumberjacks of the early 20th century. Prized for their durability and warmth, the garments were utilized by Admiral Richard Byrd’s second South Pole expedition in 1934. In an effort to appeal to a larger base, Brown’s Beach Jacket Co. produced a range of other garments and accessories with its all-weather fabric, but the company was eventually sold to Jacob Finkelstein and Sons in Rhode Island, who continued to produce the iconic apparel until the late ’60s. The brand finally went out of business due to the influx of synthetic materials, such as polyester and nylon, into the outerwear market.

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The brand fell into relative obscurity until the early aughts, when a number of brands in Japan started to produce faithful reproductions of its core garments. After acquiring the rights to use the Brown’s Beach Jacket Co. label, Japanese retailer Speedway began producing a line of jackets and vests that replicated the original garments. Other Japanese brands acquired similar rights — Fullcount in 2010 and Lost Hills in 2012 — and began producing their own “Brown’s Beach Jacket Co.” garments, contributing to a renewed interest in the brand both domestically and abroad.

Today, numerous brands produce garments directly referencing Brown’s Beach Jacket Co. designs. Examples include American heritage-inspired brands like RRL and Lady White Co., as well as cult Japanese favorites like Sugar Cane, Kapital and The Real McCoys. His aesthetic influence aside, Brown’s decisions to utilize recycled wool and blended yarns — now commonplace for contemporary outdoor brand like Patagonia — were forward-thinking at the time, foreshadowing trends over century later.

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