Last weekend, the Wall Street Journal featured an article on trends in men’s wear. At the bottom of the page they illustrated 5 “quality slickers” ranging in price from $375 to $2,695 for an “Oversized Weatherproof Parka” by Burberry, presumably, at that price you would be “proofed” for any weather condition imaginable. Today the weather here is rain mixed with a bit of snow. We do get some snow in Santa Fe, the remarkable part is there is rain!!! We consider rain a blessing and it is greeted with great joy by everyone except tourists. So the topic today is RAINCOATS.
The idea of waterproofing fabric to make clothing and protective wrappings is an old one. Some say native Amazonians used the milky sap from rubber trees. Europeans tried waterproofing fabric through the early 1800’s. G. Fox & Co of London is credited with the manufacture of the first raincoat in 1821.Raincoats are made water resistant or repellent by treating the fabric with chemicals or compounds. While early fabrics were treated with rubber this did not produce the most satisfactory garment: hot, in summer and stiff and brittle in winter.
Macintosh, a chemist and manufacture of chemicals in Scotland patented a process for making suitable fabric for rain wear by combining rubber with the fabric in 1823 and production began in 1824. In Great Britain, even today, these garments are called Macintoshes or Macs. In1849 a process called calendaring was being used in America, which involved passing the fabric through heated rollers under pressure. This Macintosh fabric was waterproof, but also more pliable.
For the British military in WWI, Thomas Burberry created the Trench Coat, which became a classic. Brown, khaki or black, it had ten buttons, was double breasted with raglan sleeves and cuff straps. And was worn belted. Picture this: a handsome, well-built man stands on a bridge in a European city. It is drizzling with rain and he wears a trench coat with the collar turned up, his hands in the pockets. SPY!!
Today there are many waterproofing materials; their use is determined by the type of fabric: cotton, wool, nylon or other synthetics used to create the garment. Raincoats come in many styles, and in great designs and colors. Especially sweet, I think, are the vinyl raincoats made for children, often with matching rain boots.