When talking workwear, the usual images that come to mind are denim, canvas, and heavy leather boots. An accurate picture in the United States, but across the ocean in Europe, specifically France, workwear had a slightly different look with the prevalence of a fabric known as moleskin.
Moleskin isn’t actually made of mole’s skin but heavy cotton. Its name is due to the fabric having a soft brushed hand, which is similar to the skin of the subterranean mammal. While it isn’t seen as often as denim, for those who’ve felt moleskin, it’s almost an unanimous opinion that it is one of the softest and hard wearing fabrics out there. So let’s dive a little further into moleskin and what exactly it is.
THE HISTORY OF MOLESKIN
The origins of moleskin are a little hazy but its use can be traced back to medieval Europe where the fabric was first made to be used by farmers and hunters who needed clothing that was comfortable, warm, durable, and wind resistant.
Fast forward to the nineteenth century as various industries began to develop in France, steel workers were wearing moleskin pants and aprons to protect themselves from molten metal. As more industries continued to grow in France, the use of different fabrics including moleskin for workwear increased. Soon not only were there different variations of the fabric being used in many different trouser and jacket designs but moleskin and other fabrics were also being dyed different colors depending on the industry it was being used in.
For a portion of the mid-twentieth century, the West German Army also utilized moleskin in their uniforms. Like the indigo dyed moleskin use by French mechanics and the black moleskin used by carpenters, the West German Army also chose a dyed moleskin to match the olive/gray colors used in the military.
THE STRUCTURE OF MOLESKIN
Moleskin is technically a fustian fabric which is used to classify piled heavy cotton fabrics like corduroy and velveteen. It’s a tightly woven twilled weave with both warp and weft typically the same color and then has one side sheared and brushed to create the soft nap that moleskin is known and named for.
Like with all other fabrics, moleskin fabrics can vary in density, yarn size and also in softness depending on it is sheared and/or brushed. Moleskin’s wind resistance and warmth can be attributed to the denser weave and brushed nap.
HOW MOLESKIN IS USED TODAY
It’s a little bit harder to find clothes made from moleskin but brands like Filson and Barbour still use them in some of their jackets and shirts. Outdoor focused brands like Orvis and Land’s End also use moleskin in a few varieties of pants and trousers.
It also should come to no surprise that Mister Freedom also features the fabric in a few collections in both jacket and trouser form.