Barbour Sylkoil vs Waxed Cotton (Thornproof). Which is Better?

If you’re curious about the differences between a Barbour sylkoil finish and the waxed cotton (thornproof) finish, you’ve come to the right place. In this article we explain what these finishes are and how they are different.

As a fashion brand, Barbour is both venerable and venerated. With roots firmly planted in the 19th century and with a well-earned reputation for quality, Barbour makes some of the most striking and iconic pieces of outerwear – a Barbour jacket can last a lifetime if taken care of properly.

Barbour jackets need to have their waxed finishes re-applied about once every 12 months for optimum durability. This maintains the legendary weatherproofing that Barbour products are so famous for.

This finish, however, comes in two different subtypes, each of which has different characteristics: sylkoil and waxed cotton.

Sylkoil vs Waxed: Why Use Two Different Methods?

These two types of wax finishing methods have their advantages and their disadvantages, but why use two different methods at all? The truth is that these methods are tied to the history and tradition of the Barbour brand.

An outerwear fashion line as venerable as Barbour, which dates back to the 1800s and has its roots in providing weatherproof outer garments for the marine industry, has evolved its methods over time all without losing sight of what rose the company to prominence.

This is, in essence, why Barbour still produces jackets with a sylkoil finish as well as with a waxed cotton finish. Sylkoil is an older, more traditional method, created at a time when more modern finishing methods had yet to be developed.

Waxed cotton finishes, meanwhile, reflect much more modern techniques and technologies; while these more modern techniques produce a different type of weatherproofing, they’re not necessarily “better” in terms of creating a fashionable piece of outerwear that’s also comfortable to wear.

barbour wax jackets: thornproof vs sylkoil
Left: Waxed Cotton (Thornproof), Right: Sylkoil. Image credit: OLAF2046

Main Differences Between Waxed Cotton (Thornproof) and Sylkoil

Waxed Cotton (Thornproof)Sylkoil
ShinierLess Shiny, matte finish
Thicker wax, stifferSofter, smoother, silkier
WaterproofMore wind resistant, slightly warmer
Higher maintenanceLess maintenance
Smells niceOdorless

What Is Sylkoil?

Considered a traditional finish for Barbour outerwear, sylkoil is known as an “unshorn” wax. This wax finish is applied to the cotton material making up your Barbour jacket straight from the loom, while there’s still some slight fluffiness to it. At this point, the cotton is both dyed and then waxed.

The characteristics of sylkoil wax Barbours include a more subdued, matte finish when compared to other types of wax finishes. This often brings out the character of the weave itself, highlighting the rich variations in the color and texture.

sylkoil wax finishes often lead to Barbour jackets becoming more comfortable to wear over time as the cotton softens.

Waxed Cotton (Aka: Thornproof)

Waxed cotton finishes, which are sometimes referred to as “thornproof” finishes by Barbour, are applied much differently than sylkoil finishes. The cotton is treated first by running it through heated rollers in a process that produces a calendered finish. This seals the weave of the fabric, with the results being one side which is matte while the other being more glossy.

Waxed cotton finishes are naturally more resilient and weatherproof than sylkoil. The colors are also much less subtle, being deeper and smoother, which brings out less of the character of the fabric at the expense of durability. Overall, the look of a waxed cotton Barbour jacket, when compared to a sylkoil one, is stiffer, with more shine, and more formal.

Re-Waxing a Barbour Jacket

Regardless of whether you choose a sylkoil or thornproof waxed jacket from Barbour, both types of outerwear have very stringent care requirements.

As mentioned above, both of these wax finishes wear thin over time, robbing your Barber outerwear of their famed weatherproofing and durability. This requires a re-application of wax roughly once a year to keep your jacket in excellent shape.

Many send their jackets back to Barbour directly, as the company provides ongoing maintenance for all their outerwear. Barbour estimates that it refinishes approximately 40,000 of its own jackets this way every year. Conversely, you can re-apply a wax finish to your Barbour jacket yourself at home, as Barbour offers tins of their Thornproof Wax for do-it-yourself waxing as well. You can purchase some from Nordstrom.com here.

barbour wax thornproof dressing
Buy wax thornproof dressing on Nordstrom.com

This wax can be used safely on both sylkoil and waxed cotton finishes. Using a thornproof wax on a sylkoil Barbour jacket will temporarily smooth the nap of the jacket. It will also give it a slight sheen, but this will wear away quickly.

Your sylkoil Barbour will go back to looking as distinguished as ever. As an additional bonus, it will have renewed protection against the elements.

Other Barbour Jacket Care Concerns

Because of their wax finishes, Barbour jackets are highly resistant to the weather. However, even the best wax coating doesn’t necessarily offer much protection against becoming stained and soiled.

Yet unlike most other jackets, you simply can’t toss a Barbour in the washing machine. You also can’t have it dry cleaned – in fact, both methods are a great way to strip your jacket of its waxed finish permanently!

Instead, check the care instructions on your jacket, which are usually present inside one of its pockets. More often than not, these instructions will tell you to wash your Barbour jacket exclusively by using cold water and a sponge.

This will preserve the longevity of your jacket. A final note: if you’re particularly worried about visible stains, sylkoil jackets tend to show these more prominently than those with thornproof wax finishes.

Which Finish Is Right For Me?

Still unsure of what type of Barbour jacket finish is the best one for your needs? It’s not necessarily an easy decision. You need to consider a number of different factors, many of which have been discussed above.

In addition to cut, color, fit – all of which are obviously crucial when choosing a piece of fashionable outerwear – these different finishes affect the texture of the cotton, its appearance, and its wearability, all while providing roughly commensurate levels of weatherproofing.

Sylkoil Barbour jackets offer a traditional finish that highlights the weave and texture of the cotton. It underscores the beauty of the cotton itself, but it also reveals every little imperfection, shows stains much more readily, and, while offering perfectly serviceable weatherproofing, does not add as much durability as a more modern wax finish.

That being said, Sylkoil jackets tend to be slightly less stiff and more comfortable to wear. If you’re looking for an old-school look with lots of character, then sylkoil is an excellent choice.

Waxed cotton Barbour jackets, meanwhile, offer much better durability – hence the “thornproof” moniker. This comes at a slight sacrifice of wearability, as waxed cotton may be a bit stiffer than sylkoil, at least at first.

Waxed cotton jackets are remarkably striking in their own way. Though, as they feature a shinier, deeper finish that hides stains quite well, all while sacrificing texture to some degree. Waxed cotton is a more appropriate choice if you want superior durability and protection from the elements. Plus, waxed cotton has a striking, eye-catching style.

Have More Questions about Sylkoil vs Thornproof Finishes?

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