Today, we’ll do a deep dive review on a highly requested piece of outerwear, the Trialmaster jacket from Belstaff. It has become an iconic staple in a man’s wardrobe that started out as a motorcycle jacket. It has a long-standing pedigree and the jacket has changed very little over time which qualifies it as a classic, at the same time, it’s whopping price tag has us wondering, is it really worth your money or not?
A Brief History of The Belstaff Jackets
In 1907, the first Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race was held in England. At the time, the conditions were very dusty and men would still wear the stiff collars that you know from that period. In combination with their regular jackets that were buttoned up all the way was a formal look on a very dirty race motorcycle course. Two years later, in 1909, the British motorcycle racing club was founded. The same year, a certain Eli Belovitch set up shop in Staffordshire with a business for reclaimed fabrics and rubber goods.
The first “Isle of Man TT Race” was held in 1907.
During World War I, Belovitch’s company provided the British Army with waterproof fabric in forms of tents and capes. After the war ended, motorcycle racing resumed in England and it became somewhat of the Golden Age of motorcycle racing. In that spirit, Belovitch formed the Belstaff brand in 1924 together with his son-in-law, Harry Grosberg and he focused on motorcycle clothing. They were big into manufacturing waterproof outerwear for men and women. Eventually, Grosberg brought back Egyptian cotton which was high-quality but when waxed, was more breathable than traditional rubber garments. At the same time, it was water proof-able.
WWI Tents Capes
Belstaff is a brand that gained recognition and by 1930, it included several famous motorcyclists and other adventurers among their client base. One of them was Joe Wright, the motorcycle lap record holder at Brooklands from 1925 to 1935. Another was the Explorer and motorcyclist T.E Lawrence. Some famous female Belstaff customers at the time were aviatrix, Amy Johnson, who was the first female pilot who flew solo from England to Australia, as well as aviatrix Amelia Earhart.
Amelia Earhart in Belstaff Jacket
With the start of World War 2, Belstaff started again producing for the military but the demand was so high that they added over 600 workers to the company. After the war, they went back toward a new best which was motorcycle jackets. In 1948, they created the now iconic Trialmaster jacket made out of a waxed cotton. It was originally designed to withstand the Scottish six days trial which was a very hard extreme on road and off-road motorcycle race.
Scottish Six Days Trial
The Trialmaster became popular very quickly and by 1952, Ernesto Che Guevara wore the Trialmaster Belstaff while riding on a motorcycle through South of such famous people, the Trialmaster Belstaff jacket was the number one seller of the company by 1960. In 1963, the famous Steve McQueen, who we covered in another video about Persol sunglasses, which you can see here, wore a Trialmaster Belstaff jacket in the movie “The Great Escape“. In the movie, you can see the jacket in the famous motorcycle scene where he jumps over a barbed wire. As you probably know, McQueen was an avid dirt bike enthusiast and there is an unconfirmed rumor that he has skipped a date with Ali MacGraw because he preferred to wax his Trialmaster Belstaff jacket instead.
Steven McQueen in Belstaff Trialmaster Jacket
In 1969, Belstaff underwent somewhat of a rebrand and introduced the Phoenix as the brand logo. By the 1990s, Belstaff survives a sagging demand for his jacket and disappearance of the British textile market. The company Belstaff changed hands a few times but it is now owned by the largest privately held company in the UK called Ineos. In the last few years, Belstaff really turned the brand around and it was often featured in movies such as Mission Impossible 3 through product placement but it also became more of a lifestyle and Couture brand that focuses on British heritage. In 2018, the Trialmaster it’s still a popular jacket in the lineup of Belstaff. Of course today, they offer a range of different jackets but overall, they’re more about casual sports wear for men that is inspired by the motorcycle history. With all that history, let’s now focus on the jackets themselves starting with a waxed cotton version, the original Trialmaster.
The “King of Cool,” Steve McQueen, wearing a Belstaff TrialmasterThe Belstaff Jacket: A Closer Look
In the US, it retails for $595, In Europe, for €495, in Britain, for £450. It comes in a greater color variety than most men’s jackets including black, red, navy, olive, and a military green that they call capers. The Trialmaster‘s iconic design include four roomy patch pockets that have flaps you can push down with snap buttons, a belt, you have a throat latch, as well as pads on the elbows, and shoulder reinforcements. Unlike most outerwear jackets I tried on, I was surprised by the length in the sleeve of this jacket which comes down to 27 inches measured from the seam, that’s about 16 and a half centimeters and quite a bit longer than what you get, for example, from Barbour.
Belstaff Trialmaster Jacket in Waxed Black
The size I chose for both jackets is a 44US, 54EU, or extra extra-large. I was surprised when I saw that because overall, it has a rather slim fit. If I compare that to anything from Barbour in the same size group, the Belstaff is a lot slimmer. At the same time, the same size has longer arms. Right now, I’m wearing a polo shirt underneath but I could add a thicker sweater and it would still work, especially with the adjustable belt that has six holes. I really like the high cut arm holes which allow a great range of movement and I can see why they do that because when you’re on a motorcycle, you have your arms up and you want to be comfortable even when you ride the bike. Overall, the sleeves are cut pretty trim, for my taste, they could be cut a little fuller especially in the biceps area but then again, I’m someone who has an above-average upper arm measurement. I got the red version of the cotton wax jacket simply because a like that they had a bolder color choice available.
Sven Raphael Schneider in Belstaff Trialmaster
The Belstaff Trialmaster is quite long measuring in at thirty two and a half inches from just underneath your collar, that’s about eighty two and a half centimeters. Because it is so long, the zipper is placed a little higher, it doesn’t go all the way down so it’s a little more flexible when you sit and you can see that someone thought through the design of this jacket. The red waxed supplied by the British Millerain company. It’s a good traditional fabric that ages well over time and it develops a patina. It’s maybe not the most breathable out there anymore because today, you can have durable water repellants that are in all sorts of functional wear but this is old-school, it’s meant to age and a lot of people just like the look of them especially when it’s many years old and has been rewaxed a few times.
Interestingly, it has those little rivets underneath your armpit that are supposed to probably cool you down but since they’re not really incorporated into the lining, I doubt that they’re highly effective. Just like any other waxed cotton jacket, it feels a bit stiff at first but once you wear it, it not only develops a nice patina but it also gets a little softer. On the inside of the jacket, you can find a cotton. The sleeves, on the other hand, are so nothing sticks and it’s all very smooth when you put it on and when you wear it.
Underarm Rivets on the Trialmaster
On a positive note, I couldn’t find any plastic parts on this jacket, they’re all metal which is quite nice. The zipper is made by YKK just like on the jackets of Canada Goose or Moncler and just like the ones from Barbour, they’re also made out of metal. As I mentioned before, YKK is a big standard, it’s relatively inexpensive you can find it everywhere, including on Amazon but it’s not the highest zipper quality you can find out there. Right out of the box, it zipped up beautifully, much better experience than let’s say, with Canada Goose. So with the zipper not reaching all the way down, it gives you that extra flair which is great for guys like me who have a big bum so you get a little flair without creating any wrinkles. If you’re slimmer or if you want to close it all the way, there is a snap button at the bottom so you get a clean straight look.
Zipper on the Trialmaster
The Trimaster Belstaff is designed to make you feel like a debonair rebel, because of that, it’s not meant to be worn over a sport coat, a blazer, or a suit. Instead, it’s better with a sweater, maybe a t-shirt, polo shirt, or maybe a cardigan. The styling is very old school motorcycle, especially with the angled pocket on the left side meant for people who are right-handed so they can more easily reach in the pocket when they’re on the bike. Now, even though that’s a classic look, it’s really disadvantageous for people who are left-handed because the left pocket is at a weird angle. With its big roomy pockets, it is quite practical, it’s a bit more sporty and casual. In my opinion, it has a distinctive vintage edge look and because of that, it’s best paired with denim and boots. Of course, it also works great with Oxford cloth button-down shirts and maybe a sweater or a vest.
Because it’s a waxed jacket, it’s a little more high maintenance. It can’t be washed, bleached, or exposed to any high heat such as an iron, otherwise, you’ll really damage the jacket. Instead, it needs to be rewaxed occasionally depending on how often you wear it, some people go a few years in between, others do it every year.
The whole brand Belstaff is very big about their British heritage; every snap button says “Belstaff England”, the hang tag on the inside advertises the British Millerain fabric yet if you look for the very small made in tag, you find that it’s made in Romania, of all places. If you have followed this channel for a while, you know that good quality products can be made anywhere. Romania has a robust textile sector but chances are they move production there not because of the high quality standards but because of the much lower labor costs. Also, considering the high retail price and the really strong emphasis on the British heritage, I find it a bit disappointing, to be honest. Frankly, with that marketing, I would have expected nothing but made in England or at least the UK. While other emerging brands who provide lifetime warranties and guarantees for their garments, Belstaff only has a 24 month warranty on their jacket.
While Belstaff boasts of its British heritage, the Trialmaster is made in Romania.
Let’s take a closer look at the Trialmaster panther jacket which is made out of leather. The retail price for this jacket is $1795, €1495, If you do the math, that’s roughly three times the price of the cotton waxed jacket. When we bought it at the Belstaff website, it was available in black, a black brown, and a cognac brown color which was lighter. It seems like they sometimes switch colors around especially the brown ones but you always should be able to find a black and some version of a brown.
Even though they’re technically not exactly the same jacket, they’re very very similar so I just want to highlight the differences in those two jackets. Obviously, the biggest one is the leather. To my surprise, neither the website nor the hangtags actually tell me what animal this leather was made from. Seeing it in person, I don’t think it’s a calf leather, I also don’t think it’s a bison or buffalo leather but a regular cowhide. Based on the touch and feel, I think it’s a chrome tanned leather. According to Belstaff, it is waxed and then polished by hand before it is tumbled to achieve this wonderful deep colorful look of the leather. I really like the waxy crackling finish, it’s not as extreme as you might know it from some upholstery leather or some leather bags we covered in the past but it’s just really beautiful to see the lighter texture of the leather, it’s not top coated, it looks like an Aniline dyed leather that is just finished in a beautiful way which is really ideal for a leather jacket.
The Trialmaster Panther Leather in Brown (Left) and the Trialmaster in Waxed Red (Right)
The leather smells like leather and wax and it feels a bit waxy, it is not super soft but also not super stiff so it, for me, has the right balance for a leather jacket that is a mix of comfort but also longevity. For example, if you compare it to soft lambskin jackets, they’re really soft but they show the wear very quickly and age very poorly. Right out of the box, I could tell that the leather jacket was a lot heavier. When I weighed it, it came in at 2350 grams which is about 5 1/4 pounds versus 1530 grams for the waxed jacket which is about 3 1/3 of a pound. Overall, I’ve definitely held heavier thicker leather jackets, the Belstaff Trialmaster panther is not the heaviest one out there but it’s also not super lightweight. It really strikes that well-balanced middle ground. Of course, we also tested it for its water repellency and it seemed almost better than a cotton waxed jacket which I was impressed by.
Leather of the Belstaff Trialmaster Panther in Brown
In terms of the cut, the Trialmaster leather jacket, at first glance, looks exactly identical. Sleeve length measures in at 27 inches which again, is 68 and a half centimeters just like the cotton waxed jacket. Interestingly, when I put it on, it definitely felt different. It felt roomier in the arm and it is cut a bit wider. I also think that this leather is a little more stretchy and has a little more give than the stiff cotton waxed fabric. Because of that, I find this jacket a lot more comfortable to wear even though it’s heavier than the cotton version. I was surprised that the leather jacket was one inch or 2.5 centimeters shorter coming in at 31 and a half inches or eighty centimeters. Also, the collar was a bit shorter; while on the cotton waxed jacket, it was a little bit over 2 inches or 5 centimeters, it was slightly under 2 inches on the leather jacket.
Belstaff Sleeve Measuring
Overall, the seams on the jacket seem to be all identical except for the back because the leather jacket has split seam versus the fabric version has a solid back. The reason for that is simply leather consumption; if you would cut the piece without a middle seam, the leather consumption would go up and therefore, the production costs. Now, considering this jacket retails at without the middle center seam in the back. When it comes to little details, overall, the jackets are very similar. Cotton lining, they both have viscose sleeves, and the snap buttons seem to be made out of the same material just like the zippers, it’s just the color that is slightly different.
They also both have the angled chest pocket but if you look at the details such as the collar tip lining or your sleeve tip lining, the leather Panther jacket has a dark brown corduroy versus the cotton jacket which has more of a brushed cotton fabric there. Also, if you take a closer look at the pocket and the way they’re sewn, the cotton one seems slightly roomier and with a slightly different construction than the leather pockets. The leather pockets also have rounded corners which is nice because they won’t wear prematurely. Another detail I like on both jackets is that you can have the snap buttons to make it tighter. Overall, I think that could be even tighter than they are but it allows you to wear gloves or not get a little air or breeze in your sleeve or not depending on a temperature outside.
Interestingly, the logo was a little different; while the cotton jacket has a contrasting fabric logo, the leather jacket has a tone in tone leather logo which is less contrasty and preferable, in my opinion. I checked the website and two weeks after I bought this jacket, they seem to have a slightly different logo than the one I have. I don’t know if that’s a general change in model or it was just a one-off thing.
Each Trialmaster features a logo patch
Even if the zipper on the leather jacket is the same make and model as in the cotton jacket, it felt easier to zip up. So when I took a closer look, I saw that it’s constructed in a slightly different way; while the cotton jacket has an extra flap and the zipper is underneath, the leather jacket has it more on the outside so there’s no extra layer, that makes it easier to slip up but I also think when it rains really heavily, you get a little more protection with the cotton jacket.
Interestingly, this jacket was made in Italy. Once again, not in England but at least Italy has a tradition of leather crafting and leather jacket making so you could argue they went to Italy because of that even though the price level is probably higher than in Romania but still lower than in the UK. Probably the thing I was most disappointed about was the lack of information on their website or on the hangtags. For a price like that, I really expect to learn more about the materials that go into the jacket, maybe where they’re sourced and if you don’t want to go that far, then maybe share what goes into them, right? I don’t even know what animal this leather is made of and of course, they don’t mention if it’s aniline dyed, chrome tanned, or veg tanned it’s just up to the consumer to feel and decide what it is.
Rather than being made in Romania, the Panther jacket is made in Italy.
Overall, it comes with the same 24 month warranty which is a bit disappointing but just looking at the jacket, I would say it’s solidly built, it is not the most hardcore heavy duty jacket I’ve ever had, at the same time, I would still assume that this jacket was meant to last at least for a decade or more.
The Verdict: Is it worth it?
So now that you know all the details and differences about the leather Panther jacket and the regular Trialmaster, let us answer the big question, is it worth it?
Che Guevara Trialmaster
The pros are it’s definitely iconic, it has a rich history of over 70 years and provides you with a debonair rebel look that a lot of people want when they get this jacket. It was worn by Steve McQueen and Che Guevara, it works, it’s practical, and it is an attractive slim flattering cut. The leather is really nice, the Millerain fabric is very functional and they even offer a repair service which is something that is nice especially if you invest a lot of money into a product. On the flip side, the cons are that they’re both more of transitional jackets; the waxed cotton jacket more so than the leather one. There may be only six weeks out of the year where you could wear the cotton jacket with the leather version that is a little heavier maybe you can wear it a little more often for longer but ultimately, it depends on where you’re located.
Trialmaster Worn With Sweater
In the UK, you may get away with it even as a winter jacket when you pair it with a heavy sweater. Where I live, in the Midwest of the US, you definitely could not use this as a winter jacket. The cotton jacket is definitely not low maintenance even though some people don’t do anything with it for two or three years or even more years, eventually, you’ll have to rewax it which takes some time and skill. The leather jacket is a little less maintenance intensive especially since it has that water repellent quality to it. Overall, if you have to, Belstaff recommends that you use a brush, a sponge, some cold water, and some soap to clean it. I would probably also add just some leather product to get a nice sheen. Obviously, it depends on how hard you are on your jackets but I would assume you could probably go for five, six years without ever having to touch the leather jacket.
As I mentioned, it is a more rugged, more sporty garment that doesn’t work with blazers, suits, and sport coats really but that’s not what it’s meant for. I’d probably say it’s a difficult jacket for men who are bigger or men who are shorter because it’s cut rather slim and if you’re short and you wear a long jacket, it just makes your legs look even shorter which is just unflattering overall. On top of that, the four big patch pockets, as well as the throat latch are just visually too overwhelming so if you’re shorter, I say stay clear of the Trialmaster jacket. If you’re a bigger guy or if you have shorter arms, I think the Belstaff just won’t work for you. Instead, maybe go with something like Barbour which is just cut roomier with a shorter sleeve. Compared to other jackets, I think the upper sleeves are quite slim so if you have slim arms, it works for you. If you have bigger biceps, I’d stay clear of the cotton wax version because it just will be uncomfortable for you to wear.
Trialmaster Not Worth It
Now, last but not least, $595 for cotton wax jacket is downright expensive. If you want to look at alternatives, there’s the Barbour a7 jacket out there, another jacket that was worn by Steve McQueen. Apparently, he liked the Belstaff more than the Barbour but just looking at them, they’re very similar and that jacket retails for $429 which is quite a bit less than the Belstaff Trialmaster. There are also many other brands including Vedoneire from Ireland, a brand that has been around since 1951 which offers a similarly looking cotton wax jacket for about $170. That being said, if you plan to wear your Trialmaster cotton waxed jacket for years to come, the cost per wear is not that much and you can go with the real thing if you’re suited for this slim fitting longer garment. With all that being said, in my mind, the Trialmaster cotton waxed jacket is not worth it for the full retail price especially considering the alternatives, the short warranty, the stiffness in the fabric, and the fact that it doesn’t fit jacket, it’s slightly different.
Trialmaster Panther Worth It
Between the cotton jacket and the leather jacket, I definitely much prefer the leather jacket even though the cotton one is the more iconic of the two. I think the leather is really nice and to my knowledge, there isn’t another one on one copy of this kind of a jacket in leather. Leather is also harder to duplicate or replicate so even though it may be a leather jacket, it may feel and look entirely different than this one. Maybe a Schott Perfecto could be an alternative with fewer pockets and has an angled zipper, it just looks entirely different. The only thing it has in common is that it’s leather and a motorcycle jacket.
If the Belstaff Trialmaster isn’t your style, the Schott Perfecto might be an alternative.
Considering that the length is a little shorter than the cotton version, it can work for shorter men too. Because leather is thicker, I can also wear it for a longer time and personally, I am not a leather jacket a fan or enthusiast at all but I have to say, I was surprised that I really liked this jacket and the way it fit and felt when moving around and going about my day. I think a bespoke leather jacket will definitely set you back more, at the same time, off the rack despite it being more sporty than what I usually wear, I’m tempted to say it is worth it at the retail price simply because the leather is nice, it is iconic, it’s great for travel, it has roomy pockets and it just makes you look like a cool rebel.
Trialmaster Panther Outdoors
Personally, I’m not a motorcyclist so I don’t know how well it would hold up on a hardcore biking road trip. That being said, for my purposes, it will probably last for years to come, even though I’m still disappointed that a jacket at this price point just comes with a 24 month warranty, that’s just a joke! Probably have eventually returned this jacket simply because I wouldn’t have gotten enough wear out of it to justify the investment. At the same time, when we purchased the jacket, for some reason, it was $718. Now, for that price, I think I’ll keep the jacket even though it is not a perfect fit for my wardrobe but I like that it’s different to what I usually have and it just creates a more well-rounded wardrobe and if I ever go on a motorcycle trip, this is a jacket I’m going to wear.
Of course, maybe we can do a follow-up video in five or ten years to see how well it held up, that way, you get a real-world review over a long period of time to see if the jacket is actually worth it or not.
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