“The mighty Wills Jacket is second to none”.
It’s a bold claim, doubled down on by Ship John’s motto: ‘Stuff That Holds Up’. In recent years, the Portland, Oregon based clothing company has been making some serious waves in the world of heritage workwear. While Ship John makes a handful of other products including backpacks, leather goods, denim, and collaborations with the likes of Wesco and Good Art Hollywood, the Wills Jacket is its flagship product.
But does the Wills Jacket stand up to its own legend? Is it really worth the category defying price point and the infamous wait times?
The Ship John Story
Ship John was started by Mike Elias, a former Oyster Fisherman/Stone Mason/Welder/Leather worker. (Seriously, this dude has walked one hell of a road.) From his time spent in hard working environments, particularly as a stone mason, Mike found that none of the work coats and chore jackets he could buy were able to stand up to the use and abuse he would put them through. As anyone who has worked on a construction site will tell you, a job site is where clothing goes to die.
Founded initially as Tomahawk Portland, the company was renamed Ship John after the Ship John Shoal lighthouse in New Jersey, and primarily focused on leather goods and backpacks. But on one fateful Sunday, Mike was inspired to take some of the 24 oz waxed twill, used for building backpacks, and make himself a jacket. After a few tweaks to the basic design, along with the help of pattern maker Steven Heard, the Wills Jacket was ready to take on the world.
Well… Sort of.
You see, already at this early stage, the Wills jacket had begun to cultivate a substantial following of folks lusting after its hefty twill goodness. Ship John is a small team, with Mike, Steven, and a handful of other folks that sew each jacket by hand. After that initial run of 15-20 prototypes and early pieces, the company opened up the books for a small pre-order of a dozen jackets at the most. But after the website crashed, they ended up with over 50 orders, a backlog which took the better part of a year to work through.
Fast forward to today, and Ship John opens up their books on a monthly basis and announces when folks can place their order via their email list.
[Related: The 7 Best Waxed Jackets for Men]
The Ship John Wills Jacket Materials & Construction
- 24oz waxed twill
- Unlined; intended as a “shell”
- Heavy brass FASNAP buttons
- Virtually waterproof and windproof
When Mike set out to make the jacket, he wanted to use the heaviest waxed twill he could find. The jacket is made using 24 oz waxed twill, (18 oz pre-wax) which is sourced from a well-established fabric company in the USA, and is made in tan, black, and a new light grey color. There have also been small runs of the Wills in denim, vegetable tanned leather and goatskin by Langlitz Leather in Portland, Oregon.
This jacket is heavy. Crazy heavy. When it first arrives, it is so thick that it will literally stand up on its own and retain its shape. That heftiness is not only because of the fabric itself, but also due to the heavy brass FASNAP buttons throughout and a heavy brass YKK zipper. Buttons in areas of higher stress, such as the cuffs or chest pockets, are further reinforced by leather washers.
From the very beginning, the intention was for the Wills to be a heavy duty shell. As such, the jacket is un-lined. When I asked Mike his thoughts on this, he said that had it been lined, the jacket’s usefulness would be limited in most climates and significantly hinder movement. As much as I personally like the idea of jacket lining, I have to agree with the thinking here – the intention is to layer underneath it.
Thinking of the Wills in terms of a shell and chore coat rather than something like a trucker jacket, its utility is just fantastic.
Especially when it’s new, the Wills is virtually waterproof and the wind doesn’t stand a chance of cutting through. This is due to the heavy waxing, but despite that, the inside of the jacket doesn’t feel overly waxy or ‘wet’ as some other waxed jackets might. To the best of my recollection, I never remember feeling any residual wax on my arms after wearing it with a t-shirt. Even after over two years of heavy use, I’m just now starting to think about maybe rewaxing it at some point.
Despite its 25oz weight, the Wills isn’t restrictive to wear, due to the brilliant pattern used and little design touches like the gusset-esque pleats on the back panel.
This jacket is an absolute beast and feels like armor. It is as rugged as it looks, and isn’t the least bit dressy, something some folks might be less inclined towards. It is hands down the heaviest work jacket I’ve personally ever worn, including the insulated Carhartt coats I used to wear when working in construction. The front pockets are deep and comfortable. The chest pockets are large enough to fit usual items like pens or lighters, or an earbud case, but are not big enough for a full size smartphone. On the inside of the jacket is a small open pocket, that to be honest doesn’t fit much at all. I typically keep a pocket knife clipped inside. My only real complaint about the jacket, and it’s very nit-picky, is the points of the collar tend to curl up a bit with wear. Which is a little annoying.
Despite its 25oz weight, the Wills isn’t restrictive to wear, due to the brilliant pattern used and little design touches like the gusset-esque pleats on the back panel. Make no mistake, it’s stiff when it’s new, but was never unpleasant to wear. Once broken in however, the jacket is very comfortable. Regarding the break in period, it’s difficult to say exactly how long that took. As with all rugged wearing clothing, it’s a gradual process. But I’d say it probably took a good 2-3 weeks of wearing it daily for it to start to soften up. Your experience may be different. As it’s broken in, the jacket has taken on a beautiful patina, something I feel the Tan color is more apt to do than the black or grey. The sleeves have started to develop a character similar to the whiskers or stacking found on heavy raw denim. It’s badass.
[Related: Why Schott NYC Makes the Best Leather Jacket]
Ship John Wills Jacket Fit and Sizing
This is one of the more challenging parts of ordering a Wills Jacket. (Apart from, you know, actually being able to order one in the first place.) But the folks at Ship John have gone through a lot of trouble to put up a very extensive sizing guide on their website that walks you through what to expect and how to measure other jackets you already own so that you can get a good sense of which size is best for you.
I personally had a wild experience when trying to sort out my sizing. Initially, I had purchased a small/long, as more often than not I swim in workwear garments. But one fateful day, I was on the subway in Brooklyn heading home from work. I noticed a guy wearing a particularly heavy waxed jacket, with very well defined pleats on the back. I tapped this dude on the shoulder and said, “you have a Wills…” His response was a wide grin and a “Yes. Yes I do.”
We began discussing sizing, and he shared with me that he had as well ordered a small, but worried that it might have been too small. I expressed a similar worry. There was an awkward pause, after which he offered to let me try it on, which I eagerly did.
So there in the middle of the subway, with our fellow New Yorkers looking at us like we were insane, I tried on this stranger’s jacket. I’m grateful I did. The small fit like a very heavy denim jacket should, a little on the snug side in a slim fitted way, but perfectly functional. As I wanted to be able to layer with my Wills, I ultimately changed my order to the Tan in Medium/Long and I couldn’t be happier with the fit.
In general I’d say the profile of the jacket is slightly more on the fitted side than something like Filson’s Tin Cloth Jacket, which generally wears more boxy. If you’re like me, and found that your measurements were right on the border of two sizes, consider this: sizing down will give you a bit more slender, trendier fit, whereas sizing up will give you more of a true work jacket vibe and room to layer.
Ship John Wills Jacket Price
At $498, the Ship John Wills Jacket is an investment piece, pure and simple. Now, that payment is split in two – with $250 paid up front on deposit, and the remaining $248 paid just prior to the jacket shipping. That can help soften the blow a little bit.
At this price point, you’re less in Filson or Flint & Tinder waxed jacket territory and more in the Barbour or Belstaff territory. And while Barbour and Belstaff have more luxurious details like inner lining, and corduroy on the cuffs and collars to justify their price, the Wills has no such finishing. But what it lacks in frills, it more than makes up for in heft and durability. Comparing the 6oz fabric of both Barbour and Belstaff to the Ship Johns 24oz fabric, the Wills is in a league of its own.
Ship John Wills Jacket Pros and Cons
Let’s wrap things up: is the Ship John Wills Jacket worth it?
- Bomb proof 25oz canvas
- High quality build throughout – solid stitching, buttons, zippers
- Highly water and wind resistant
- Ages and develops patina beautifully
- Designed to move well; unrestrictive
- Hard to come by, making your jacket that much more unique
- No inner lining
- Limited production
- Too warm for year round wear
- Rugged aesthetic is not dressy at all
- Collar tends to curl up
From the time I first saw a Wills jacket on Instagram to when I was able to order one, and then finally receiving the jacket, was damn near two years long. Really.
And while Ship John continues to work their tails off to up production to meet demand, without sacrificing an ounce of quality of course, these jackets are still hard to come by. That difficulty is something that Ship John has gotten a lot of flak for, but as the saying goes – Fast, cheap, or good. You can only pick two (admittedly I only picked one, but hey, at least it’s good!)
Fortunately, preorders happen much more frequently these days, and most folks will not have to wait as long as I did. But to be perfectly honest, even after waiting two years to actually get one, it was completely worth it. Now two years later, wearing it whenever it’s cool enough outside, I still get those ‘new toy’ feels when I put it on. There’s really nothing else quite like it.
Shop the Ship John Wills Jacket here — but only on the rare occasion preorders are open.
Featured image via @shipjohn on Instagram
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