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Thread: Waterproof clothes?

  1. #1

    Waterproof clothes?

    I was wondering what waterproof clothes a character could wear in my story. (They're sailing aboard a small sailboat and it's raining)
    What did people use years ago, does anyone know?

  2. #2
    I think that closely woven wool garments would be sufficiently waterproof. Wool is naturally water-resistant due to the sheep's oils. Beyond that, I'd imagine oilskins and waxed leathers could be used to fashion waterproof clothes with a limited technology base.

    Does that help?

  3. #3
    You could also go the route of making something up entirely, some beast's or amphibian's skin of your own creation that people in your world use to stay dry.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Helbrecht View Post
    I think that closely woven wool garments would be sufficiently waterproof. Wool is naturally water-resistant due to the sheep's oils. Beyond that, I'd imagine oilskins and waxed leathers could be used to fashion waterproof clothes with a limited technology base.

    Does that help?
    I never knew that about wool. I've heard about oilskins before can you explain these further?

    Quote Originally Posted by Map the Dragon View Post
    You could also go the route of making something up entirely, some beast's or amphibian's skin of your own creation that people in your world use to stay dry.
    That's a great idea - I doubt I'll use that in this particular story of mine but that's a really inventive idea

  5. #5
    Sealskins used to be used for wetsuits by Vikings... leather can be made waterproof, as can a lot of closely woven cloth can be waxed or oiled to be made waterproof.

    We are also waterproof, but want to stay dry to keep from getting sick when it is cold, like the sea would be.
    Come visit my blog, and see what I've been up to.

  6. #6
    I don't think they had much back then. I'd just go for a big cloak with a hood, and hope for the best. Like others said, probably a cloak made of wool.

  7. #7
    Lavender, oilskins are cloth or hides that have been soaked in oil. It is an effective way of rain-proofing because water will not be able to penetrate the oil soaked garment.

    The other aforementioned methods would work too. I was especially intrigued by Map's suggestion of inventing a creature's hide which would be water proof.

    You could also go the magic route. If magic exists in your world you could have a spell cast on their clothes that causes rain to run off their clothes instead of soaking into the cloth.
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  8. #8
    Thanks for the suggestions everyone. I think I'll probably use oilskins or leather cloaks.

  9. #9
    You are right, using sealskins, which were very popular as the skin is also designed to be aerodynamic under water, would smack of endangering an endangered species these days :-)

  10. #10
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    "Waterproof" (to a greater or lesser extent) fabrics can be made by taking heavy cloth—usually canvas, which can be made from hemp, linen or cotton—and impregnating it with any of a number of varieties of tar… wood resins, peat, or natural deposits would be the pre-coal industry sources. Impregnating cloth in wax can also make it shed water, and boiling leather in wax or oil can make it resist water—with the side-effect of also hardening it: this process was usually used to make armor, so it isn't too suitable for everyday garb. More often, soft leather would be oiled (that is, smearing oil on the garment, not impregnating it by boiling), which will cause it to resist water for a time… this is still done today: I remember oiling boots several times, back when I wore boots.

    Wool—at least that from sheep: not sure about other types—is indeed water-resistant in its natural form; however, most wool will have this oil removed in the manufacturing process (since it is undesirable if you want to do anything else with it, such as dyeing it, or making it even remotely comfortable to wear…), so in general woolen garments will have very limited water resistance unless they have been made specifically for this property. Which, of course, is quite doable: woolen cloaks could be made from untreated wool. As with any other "waterproof" cloth, this property will deteriorate over time, since the lanolin in the cloth isn't being refreshed… which is probably why this wasn't commonly done.

    Several animal pelts are naturally water-resistant: beaver is probably the prime example here, but figure any aquatic or semi-aquatic mammal (otter, muskrat, etc.) will probably share this property… especially if kept oiled. (Seal skins may be hydrodynamic when on a seal, but I seriously doubt they would prove more aid than hindrance when on a human trying to swim, any more than any other bulky clothing would. Penguin hides are waterproof and hydrodynamic, too, but I've never heard of anyone trying to take advantage of this for clothing.…)

    Most scaly hides would be water-resistant (think alligator-skin boots), though they would otherwise wear like leather: a bit too bulky for overall garments. I imagine properly-prepared fish skin would do wonders, the biggest problem there being having fish large enough that the garment wouldn't be composed from too many pieces, leaving too many leaky seams (though there are plenty of these, most but not all of them deep-sea species). That, plus finding someone interested in turning it into leather, since it would have to be carefully removed rather than simply scraped off. (Some Asian cultures do do this—with stingray hides—so it is at least possible. In fact, if you want a comparatively "unique" form of waterproof garments, this may be the best route to explore. No reason some enterprising seaside tanner in an area of heavy fish catches wouldn't see an exploitable market niche here.…)

    Cloth can also be "rubberized" (coated), assuming rubber is available in your setting, though this would have low durability if vulcanization had not been invented (a process associated with the Industrial Revolution, but all it requires is sulfur… and for someone to try combining these items). For that matter, rubber can be worn directly, if in very limited applications: one of the Central American cultures (Olmec? Mayan?) sometimes used "shoes" that were nothing more than rubber allowed to dry over one's feet. Doing this over one's entire body would be a very bad idea, however: it doesn't breathe very well.

    Or you can go the route most of humanity has for most of its history: you just plain get wet. If your characters are on a "small sailboat," they're going to get wet, whether it's raining or not… and salt water can have very different effects from fresh water when it comes to how rapidly waterproofing (and even the substance the garments are made of) deteriorates. Sailors on pre-industrial ships rarely wore any form of waterproof clothing: it was pointless to even try.
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