I started The Modern Otter because I totally geek out on fabrics and manufacturing. I like to know where things are made, how they’re made and why the hell I am paying what I am for my goods. The origin story is important, because the more I know, the more I am willing to invest in quality.
So today we’re talking about WAXED COTTON.
There are a million Heritage brands out there who coat their products in wax (likely beeswax or paraffin or some modern new wax I don’t know about). Barbour was one of the first with their coats targeted at gamekeepers. Then Belstaff with their motorcycle gear (see: Steve McQueen) and waxed cotton was one of the main military fabrics used around the world in WWII.
But you can trace the practice of waxing cotton back to the 15th Century. Mariners would coat the sails of their ships in oil and wax because it improved their performance. They would cut old sails into ponchos and coats because the waxed fabric was water resistant (hence why clothing manufacturers started turning out all kinds of waterproof goods).
Why are waxed cotton goods expensive?
The process of infusing cotton with wax isn’t exactly easy. And wax isn’t exactly cheap. The process used to include oils and chemicals which tinted the fabric a yellow hue (which is why the most common waxed products are black, green and tan).
Is there upkeep required?
Yes. You have to reapply wax every year (or every couple of years if you’re lazy) to ensure the wax seal stays strong. Wax will rub off over time.
Check out this video from Otter Wax (no relation). They show you how to wax your own cotton pants. I have a leather Tanner Goods portfolio that is coated in wax. I use Otter Wax products to reapply a wax layer and then condition the leather. It brought my portfolio back to life last year.
Downfalls of the fabric:
It doesn’t breathe very well. That’s good if you’re in colder climates because it insulates, bad if you’re just wearing it as a lightweight rain coat in the late Summer. But it’s a hell of a lot better than rubber. I sweat my ass off in my rubber rain coat in the warmer months. I’d rather be wet, honestly.
This waxed parka is from Mitchell Evan. It’s an LA based brand. Mitchell’s designs have a WWII American Military aesthetic with many pieces inspired by his grandfather. Two things I love? Designs with a story and anything military inspired. (see my post about Cadet). This parka is lightweight but is completely water repellant. It’ll be my go-to till it gets too cold for cotton.
And thank the Lord! Boot season is right around the corner. I am itching to break in my boots, starting with these from Thursday Boots! Check out their lineup after you dig into everything wax related.
So what should we dive into next? Are there other fabrics, products or trends you want to know more about or how to style? Let me know and we’ll investigate together!
Photos by Nick Urteaga.
Shop the Look:
Mitchell Evan waxed cotton jacket (see the FW collection here) / Tilit NYC chambray shirt / Jack Threads tank top / All Saints trousers / American Trench socks / Thursday Boots / Todd Snyder x Timex watch / Amp&rsand backpack