Technological improvements in waterproof fabric from nylon to Gore-Tex have long since surpassed oilskin wax cloth. What then is the continuing allure? Isn’t it little like fencing in the age of handguns, or perhaps, an even better example would be horseback riding in the age of the automobile?
On Archaism and Inefficiency
Among the aristocratic class and other well to do elites, there is a strange background principle that needs to be acknowledged and brought to light. And that is the principle of ‘archaism’. Stated rather succinctly, if not bluntly: Old money loves old things – think horseback riding, sailing, polo, antiques, old country houses, etc.
The beauty of archaic objects is that they refuse the adolescent novelty of the latest trend and affirm the long history of the familial and community bond of heritage.
Moreover, archaic things or pursuits are not about the cheap efficiency of mere utility. Usefulness is the kind of demand for penny-pinching efficiency. And a display of wealth is precisely freedom from such narrow constraints. Art, fashion, and beauty, mark a lifestyle not dictated by the efficiency of mere usefulness. A long ambling driveway is not efficient; nor is a large country manor. Indeed, cars and motorboats are faster than horses and sailboats respectively. And so too with oilskin wax cloth. Yet these are the objects to which the elites are drawn.
Archaic = Luxury = Flaws
Wax cloth jackets are less efficient and effective than nylon in the rain. In fact, like all luxury goods, part of their essence is not defined by its perfection but rather by its flaws. For instance, Toyota cars are far more reliable than Ferraris. Indisputable. Yet, as counter-intuitive as first seems, part of the very allure of Ferrari lies not just in its raw passion, but also in its very flaws. Seen from the perspective of scarcity, inefficiency itself is a kind of flaw. And thus, flaws and inefficiency are the marks of true luxury items.
Oilskin Wax Cloth
And it is much the same with oilskin wax clothing. It’s beauty lies in part with its archaism. It acknowledges a past and heritage not easily calculable in terms of efficiency.
Wax cloth jackets and bags develop a gorgeous patina and one of kind character than cannot be matched by its so-called modern equivalent. And it’s luxurious beauty lies precisely in the flaw of its inefficiency and refusal of utility.
But those in the know recognize its subtler pleasures and the joys of heritage. Enjoy!