Anytime the weather takes a turn, I start running through what jackets I have in the house. That list only excluded a waxed jacket once.
The clothing itself isn’t super complicated and wears its components right there in the name. It’s a jacket where the cotton fabric has been treated with some kind of wax in order to improve the fabric’s resistance to water. A waxed jacket is a ridiculously long-lasting piece of outerwear, mostly thanks to the complementary features of the fabric and the wax treatment. The jackets are usually made of some kind of natural fiber like cotton or wool — both of which are extremely durable on their own. Adding wax boosts that durability to the point that a properly maintained waxed jacket should be more than capable of lasting as long as you do.
Waxing the fabric is also a reasonably simple process and any guy with a bit of DIY competence should be able to apply the wax himself.
History of Waxed Canvas
Waxed canvas is the successor to oilskin, the latter which you might have first heard about back when all those sea shanties were dominating social media. Oilskin was used mainly by 15th century Scottish sailors for two different but related purposes: to protect a boat’s linen sails, and increase the sail’s performance. Those Scotsmen noticed sails work better when wet, and treating the sails with fish oil gives a similar performance boost in addition to waterproofing.
The sails weren’t the only thing that benefitted from a bit of oilskin. Sailors started treating large coats with fish oil, which gave the sailors much needed protection against sea spray and precipitation while on their voyages. In time, the fish oil was replaced by linseed oil, which proved more durable.
A few hundred years later, in the 19th century, tea suppliers were competing to get their products to Britain from China and India as fast as they could. Egyptian cotton, a product they were picking up on their way home anyway, produced lighter, faster sails than the traditional linen. Naturally, the Egyptian cotton sails got a linseed oil coating to retain the waterproofing. Wax entered the picture in the 1930s, when a few different clothing manufacturers developed a paraffin wax treatment that provided the same, if not better, waterproofing that oil treated fabric did.
The popularity of waxed canvas exploded thanks to, like so many other menswear trends, World War II. The cheap, durable fabric was used to waterproof the tents and coats of the British Army. From there, it moved into any and every industry, hobby, pastime, or sport that needed waterproofing, and it maintains that strong popularity to today. The only real update to the material has been to replace the paraffin wax with more eco friendly alternatives, like Otter Wax.
What’s the Point of a Waxed Jacket?
Obviously, you can’t beat a real rain jacket for protection against rain. Rain jackets made of plastic or rubber are waterproof in ways that waxed canvas just can’t match. For example, when I was hiking in the Irish countryside in the middle of the driving rain, I’m happy I had a rain jacket from L.L. Bean and not a waxed jacket. The waxed canvas simply wouldn’t have stood up to the conditions and I would have been soaked through and freezing instead of annoyed and sweaty.
That said, if I’m heading out on the town with friends in similar conditions, I wouldn’t hesitate to wear a waxed jacket. When it’s raining, most of us aren’t spending hours in the mountains. At most, we’re walking a few blocks to whatever bar we’re supposed to meet our friends. A waxed jacket can handle that. It’s a sensible, fashionable piece of outerwear that’s suitable for the vast majority of situations the average guy finds himself in day to day.
Can Waxed Jackets be Washed?
It depends on what you mean by “washed.” Can waxed jackets be cleaned and maintained? Yes, definitely. Can they be chucked in the washing machine with all the rest of your dirty laundry? No.
The short of it is that waxed canvas simply doesn’t need a ton of cleaning. A brush or dry rag should be more than enough to take care of most dust or dirt, and some cold water and light soap should handle the rest. You definitely don’t want to put it through a washer or dryer since both will compromise the wax treatment. Detergents and extreme heat are both the enemy.
The Best Waxed Canvas Jackets For Men
Flint and Tinder Flannel Lined Waxed Trucker Jacket
Huckberry’s always a solid source for those products that are worth the higher price tag. In this case, it’s Flint and Tinder’s waxed trucker jacket, a long-popular option that now comes with interior flannel lining. There isn’t much in the way of bells or whistles on it. You’re just getting a solid, warm jacket to endure the colder, wetter months of the year.
Dry Waxed Canvas Highland Jacket
This one takes the durability inherent in waxed canvas fabric and really runs with it. I’m almost tempted to call it an everyday kevlar. Not like it’ll stop a bullet, but that there’s no chore or activity in my own daily life that I can think of that’ll put a hole in it.
Upcountry Waxed Cotton Down Jacket
L.L. Bean is almost too good at making hardy outerwear, and the brand’s waxed jacket is no exception. This one’s a little heavier duty in terms of insulation and will likely stand up to lower temperatures than the other two. I’d also say this one could be used as a fancier sort of winter jacket, for when there’s snow on the ground but you need to look good at a nicer restaurant.