Anyone who has looked for a synthetic-fabric-free jacket quickly learns that synthetic fabrics are everywhere. Nylon and polyester shells dominate the market. Gore-tex sells well for people looking to stay dry in wet weather, stretch weaves rule for fitted coats, and nylon and polyester linings help us slide into our jacket sleeves. Artificial furs and fleeces trim jackets and help keep them warm. If you need to stay away from synthetic fibre, it takes some effort. Although I was frustrated at first, there are some options out there.
- Jean jackets – Although lousy for winter, jean jackets are often cotton-based denim lined with a cotton print fabric. There are so many out there that I don’t need to share a link.
Waxed cotton jackets – These ones are pretty common if you know where to look, but a bit easier to find. UK-based Barbour makes some awesome ones that are sold at Orvis.com in North America (among other places) and dozens of stores online in the UK. Another popular brand is Belstaff. Both companies have been making these jackets for almost 100 years. Barbour has at least three women’s models and several men’s that have cotton liners. The cotton is first woven, then dyed using a cupro-ammonia treatment. Finally, the wax is applied and calendared into the fabric’s fibres (heated and rolled heavily). The fabric can then be sewn into jackets. The coats cannot be washed in a washing machine, only wiped/dabbed with a wet cloth or sponge. Once a year, they require re-waxing, usually with the manufacturer’s special wax formula. This re-waxing may reduce the limited breathability of the jacket. Companies are pretty secretive about their waxes, but rumor has it that the wax compound contains paraffin or beeswax and heavy, pine-based turpentine.
Ventile cotton jackets – Ventile is an old British technology (1943) using very fine cotton threads woven very tightly to produce a water-resistant surface. Since there is no fabric treatment beyond the weave, the material breathes very well, and is still windproof. Though it is not fully waterproof, anecdotal evidence shows jackets holding out for three hours in downpour before the wearer starts getting damp. As the jacket becomes wet, the fibres absorb water, expanding and closing the spaces between the threads, increasing water resistance. This does tend to make the jacket heavier and stiffer. There is anecdotal evidence that two-layer Ventile keeps the wearer much drier because the second, inner layer remains water-resistant and dry while the outer layer holds back the rain. Some people wax/treat their Ventile jackets, though this process fills some of the pores of the fabric, reducing its breathability. Although Ventile is of limited availability, from a single supplier, there are similar fabrics on the market if one looks. One of the great things about this fabric is that modifications can be made easily without damaging the water-resistance of the fabric, since there is no membrane or waterproof layer. Some Ventile jackets:
- Dedenroth, based in Denmark, sells only men’s and women’s Ventile jackets, in standard green. They claim to use only certified ecotex and GOTS-certified materials, though the exact other materials are not specified. Their coats contain a single layer of Ventile, and they have excellent customer response times.
- Hilltrek Outdoor Clothing, in the UK, sells a number of Ventile garments in a wide array of colours. Their coats are one layer thick, and loosely-fitted for layering. There is no gender-differentiation in their jacket designs. No synthetic materials are listed (but you should check with the manufacturer).
- Rainmac is also based in the UK, selling one model of Ventile jacket for men and one for women, in single-layer design. They have nice colours and tailored, stylish coats, but the women’s trench is lined with a synthetic fabric (“silky lining”).
- Country Innovation is another UK-based retailer. Their Ventile jackets are the only ones I found with two layers of Ventile fabric. The jackets are only available in standard green, and are not fitted, but they do provide the option for layering. The jackets contain moleskin (synthetic) fabric on the inside collar and possibly in the pockets, but a tailor can remedy that.
- Ice Bear sells at least one unisex anorax in a few different colours, though they only stock “bronze” and red. There is no information listed about linings or how many layers of Ventile are used.
There are many other one-off Ventile jackets out there, most of them in men’s styles and sizes, though they may fit women as well.
Come back Friday for more natural fibre coat ideas!