Inclement Weather Garments: Oilskins

Figure 1.--Here is shot of a child wearing a real working oilskins on a sailboat. probably belonging to her father. Notice the neoprene cuffs, closed front, drawstring hood, and very slick finish. Maybe the term 'slicker' comes from such a shiny finish

Oilskin was a strong fabric, often canvas or similar material, which is impregnated with oil to make it water repellant. We are not sure when they first appeared. Oilskins were the major alternative for waterproof garments and coverings in the 19th and early-20 centuries. They were commonly worn by sailors and fishermen and often their families. Oilskins could keep them dry, even it adverse conditions at sea. Gradually designs were developed to improve tgeceffectivenrss of the gear suchbas high collars and closed fronts. Even more effective synthetic materials were developed in the 20th century bwhich replaced the oilnimpregnated canvas, butkept the effective designs develooed. As a result, these garments are often still called oilskin even though the original oilskin material has been replaced. A British reader tells us, "I remember was "oilskins" as rainwear. These were bright yellow and worn by working adults when it was raining heavily. I think that they were bought from Millets - that shop sold workwear as well as scout and cub uniforms. I never remember boys in the 1960s wearing such oilskins. I think that they were originally worn by fishermen on board ship and so only in adult sizes. Long after I'd grown up (the 90s) there were brightly coloured raincoats and hats in this style for children, but they were made especially for children and that was not the sort of thing you'd see in the 60s or even early-70s -- another sign of changing fashions I suppose driven by economics." We see boys in oil skins being used in Uneeda biscuit ads (1902). This was to sress the freshness packing.


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Created: 7:12 AM 1/1/2011
Last updated: 7:12 AM 1/1/2011