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Behind the Design: Halley Stevensons Waxed Cotton Fireman’s Jacket


To find the perfect fabric for our new fireman’s jacket, we traveled all the way to Dundee, Scotland (the reputed birthplace of waxed cotton), where the renowned Halley Stevensons mill has been making its unique take on the water-repellent cloth since 1864. 


 The view in Dundee, Scotland.


 1. THE FABRIC 

Waxed cotton, a fabric that has become standard in British outerwear, dates back to the 15th century. It started with sailcloth. In an attempt to waterproof and make sails more durable, Scottish fishermen started treating flax and linen sailcloth with fish oils and grease and then using the leftover fabric as waterproof garb. By the mid-1800s, cotton treated with linseed oil became the fabric of choice for seafarers looking to stay dry. Through the first half of the 20th century, technology and techniques improved, and waxed cotton grew in popularity as it became a staple for field clothing and motorcycle gear. 



 2. THE MILL

 Established in 1864, Halley Stevensons is one of the companies that pioneered and perfected waxed cotton. Today, it still operates out of its Baltic Works plant in Dundee, Scotland (a town on the north bank of the Firth of Tay, about 55 miles north of Edinburgh), carrying on the town’s waxed cotton tradition with its custom machinery and special process. 

The factory runs several tests before they approve a piece of fabric for shipment, including pouring two liters of water on the cotton to ensure waterproof quality. 
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Halley Stevensons starts the process with rolls of cotton—sometimes dyed, but most times not—and runs them through a tub of hot wax, after which the materials are scraped with a dull blade and cooled by a cold drum. With a wide range of waxes and thicknesses, Halley Stevensons has long been the go-to for some of the best and most beloved waxed cotton products out there. So when it came time to make our new fireman’s jacket, we knew where to turn. 

  1. 01.The factory runs several tests before they approve a piece of fabric for shipment, including pouring two liters of water on the cotton to ensure waterproof quality. 



 The finished product in J.Crew’s design offices. 


 3. OUR JACKET 
Our design took inspiration from vintage 1950s firemen’s jackets, but we wanted something more casual without sacrificing the gritty and masculine qualities of the original design. While the original jackets’ closures fastened with heavy metal clasps—so that firemen could still work them with their gloves on—we simplified them, opting for a smaller version based on an old U.S. Navy jacket (see 02). Back then, these firemen’s jackets came with flannel linings (see 02), but ours is more lightweight, with an interior design nodding to old motorcycle jackets. As opposed to other coated jackets, ours has a “dry hand,” which means the cloth feels less waxy. Best of all, Halley Stevensons’ lightweight waxed cotton allows for a durable jacket that still breathes—meaning it has all the ruggedness of those older styles, but with a modern comfort and versatility. 

We wanted smaller clasps on our fireman’s jacket than the traditional ones had, so we took a cue from this old U.S. Navy jacket (top left image). A vintage 1950s fireman’s jacket was our original inspiration for the design (bottom left image).
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  1. 02.We wanted smaller clasps on our fireman’s jacket than the traditional ones had, so we took a cue from this old U.S. Navy jacket (top left image). A vintage 1950s fireman’s jacket was our original inspiration for the design (bottom left image).



 Photographs by Bryan Derballa.

Shop our fireman’s jacket here.

 Shop our men’s collection here
TAGS: mens, behind the design, waxed cotton, jacket, outerwear, scotland, halley stevensons, fireman's jacket, vintage, military
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