Historians reckon that the first raincoat (or call it a waterproof covering) probably originated from somewhere in the Amazon region around 1200AD. It’s a rainforest after all. It seems that the evidence points to tribes utilising the water-repellent properties of the sap from rubber trees.
It took European explorers to fathom how to use it on an industrial scale, waterproofing clothing and ship sails for the most part. While these early attempts at rain dodging were crude, it took one Scottish Chemist by the name of Charles Mackintosh to rubberise a new tarpaulin fabric that he defined as Indian rubber cloth. Thus the Mackintosh was born, and still remains one of the essential rainwear garments in modern menswear.
Over the decades, there have been numerous leaps in waterproofing technology and fabric development, but rubber treatments and wax finishes still prevail to this day. The great thing about today’s rainwear is that it’s not perceptibly different from any other outerwear – it slides seamlessly into a contemporary wardrobe and comes crafted in a number of different styles, from sartorial silhouettes to techwear shapes.
We’ve curated the key styles that will keep you fly and dry this year.
Originally developed for military use during World War I by Thomas Burberry, using his patented gabardine fabric, the trench coat has become one of the essential wet-weather menswear silhouettes, remaining virtually unchanged since the early 1900s.
Its signature features include a double-breasted front, epaulettes and a belt (the original styles had D-rings to carry flasks, maps and grenades on), while it is constructed from a tightly woven cotton fabric, the fibres of which are waterproofed before being woven, which gives it its lightweight handle.
Its timeless style and functionality have earned it a place in the annals of great menswear design, and it remains an essential winter garment to this day. Although Burberry has become a luxury fashion brand in its own right, the trench still plays an integral role in each and every collection.
Is a trench coat really a trench coat if Burberry didn’t make it? Well, Aquascutum had a pretty good claim on the garment too but they have largely gone the way of the dodo, and while other menswear brands have attempted their own spin on the classic silhouette, Burberry’s renditions always set the bar.
The British brand presents its iconic Kensington trench in three lengths and three colours: traditional beige, as well as navy and black. The outer is constructed from organic cotton and all of the linings come in that immediately recognisable Burberry check pattern.
The trench will hold up in a shower but won’t resist heavier downpours so if you live somewhere persistently wet, you have a decision to make with regards to style over substance.
Taking its name from Charles Mackintosh, the Scottish chemist who first patented rubberised cloth in 1823, the mac, as it’s more commonly known, is a classic tailored garment specifically designed for wet weather.
The core material is the bonded cotton fabric, which consists of two layers of cotton bonded together with rubber that is dyed to perfectly match the outer layers. All the seams are then bonded with glue and waterproof tape, making them impermeable to rain.
One of the more sartorial silhouettes on this list, the mac has a minimalist design, being a single-breasted mid-length jacket with a traditional turn-down collar and concealed buttons, making it a timeless option for wearing with suits and separates, as well as off-duty outfits.
If Burberry has a monopoly on the trench coat, then Mackintosh the brand rules when it comes to its namesake coat. Made entirely by hand, the classic Oxford mac is a timeless garment with a clean-cut silhouette and three-quarter-length finish for a super-modern look.
Where things get really interesting is Mackintosh’s collaborations, with the likes of A Cold Wall, John Elliot and Aether joining forces with the heritage label to produce excellent contemporary versions of the iconic original.
The Waxed Jacket
An icon of the British countryside and an ever-present in motorcycling kit since the 1930s, the waxed jacket has remained a timeless menswear silhouette that is impervious to the rain. Its genesis goes back to Scotland’s sail-making industry in the late 18th century when one Francis Webster created an oil flax sailcloth that was used by the early tea clippers.
By the 1920s, paraffin-impregnated cotton had become the waterproof standard, and cloth manufacturers such as British Millerain and Halley Stevensons had begun touting it to the clothing industry.
Two companies lapped it up – Barbour and Belstaff – and they remain two of the most stylish proponents of the waterproof cloth today, constructing an array of modern field jackets and motorcycle jackets respectively.
While a number of brands use waxed cotton in their outerwear collections, Barbour and Belstaff are known as the specialists, certainly offering the broadest array of styles.
Barbour’s jackets are rooted in the British countryside, constructed from heavy waxed cotton in a field jacket silhouette, featuring a tartan lining, and corduroy collar. The Beaufort is the brand’s hero piece, while the cropped sleeker Bedale style is more suited to city wardrobes.
Belstaff’s waxed jackets revolve around their heritage motorcycle designs, most notably the Trialmaster, which is a classic four-pocket belted style with a stand collar, and the Fieldmaster, which is a boxier shape and without the belt. Belstaff also produces a number of cropped blouson styles that riff on the café racer shape.
Typically, waxed cotton comes in dark tones such as black, navy, brown and green making them a great addition to autumn/winter wardrobes (saying that, Palm Angels have just collaborated with Barbour to create a bright orange Bedale jacket).
They are extremely versatile but work especially well with a rugged masculine aesthetic, such as black denim, combat boots and chunky knitwear.
The Technical Jacket
Fabric innovation has massively accelerated in recent decades, especially in the realm of lightweight technical textiles. One of the key players pushing the envelope in this genre has been Stone Island, which has been a pioneer in the application of unique dyeing techniques and the use of technical waterproof nylon textiles.
The rise of techwear has certainly accelerated demand for future-facing minimalist silhouettes – coming in the form of parkas and down-filled options made from regenerated nylon – while also raising the profile of brands that were once merely seen as ‘outdoors’ labels.
The likes of The North Face, Patagonia et al have now become brands with a fashion identity. Amazingly functional and easy to slide into a streetwear-focused wardrobe, lightweight technical jackets are an excellent addition to contemporary getups.
Not all tech fabrics are created equally when it comes to waterproofing, so if staying dry is of paramount importance, know that nylon is not waterproof unless treated. Polyester is a little better at naturally repelling water, but again needs to be treated with a waterproof coating.
Tightly woven, and treated, both fabrics will do a sterling job of keeping you dry in heavy showers, but don’t count on them withstanding a biblical downpour. Technical jackets offer more than just shower-proofing however – nylon brings a unique textural finish to your looks and can be used as a layering device given it’s so lightweight.
Much like the technical jacket above, the shell jacket has transcended its original purpose as a mountain-dwelling ski or hiking jacket to become a genuine style statement.
Yet unlike the technical jacket, the shell jacket is the very definition of waterproof. Typically constructed from fabrics such as Gore-Tex, which is made from expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) breathable membrane containing 9 billion microscopic pores per square inch (each pore is 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet, but 700 times bigger than a molecule of moisture vapour, hence the breathability).
The popularity of techwear as a branch of streetwear has meant that shell jackets have come into their own, with a number of techwear/fashion brand collaborations fusing the two worlds, as well as the rise of labels such as Arc’teryx, Veilance, And Wander and ACRONYM sitting alongside giants such as The North Face, Jack Wolfskin and Patagonia.
The shell jacket was designed to withstand the elements so your first consideration is to ensure it does that. Gore-Tex sets the bar, but many of the various champions of techwear produce their own varieties of waterproof shell (The North Face’s Futurelight™ and Patagonia’s H2No, for example).
Then you need to think about the style of the jacket and how you can integrate it into your wardrobe. Brands like Arc’teryx and its Veilance subline definitely have an edge on the others when it comes to an urban aesthetic, favouring a muted colour palette of dark tones or understated neutral that is an easy fit with most wardrobes.
Opt for versatile boxy silhouettes rather than longline designs, which will make styling that much easier. You can also find shell overshirt silhouettes, which although less than effective in a downpour, do offer a unique textural layer to your winter outfits.
The iconic parka jacket’s origins begin with the early Inuit people of the Arctic who fashioned animal pelts into a hooded smock-type coat. Early 20th-century explorers adapted it, and like much of modern menswear, it was appropriated by the military.
Its distinctive features, which haven’t really changed much in a century, include a fur-lined hood, roomy pockets and a longer length cut, making it an ideal choice for cold climates. It’s more often thought of as a cold-weather jacket rather than a raincoat, but modern variations have enabled the jacket to be a master and commander of wet, cold environments.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the fishtail parka gained mainstream popularity as a symbol of counterculture and rebellion, thanks to its adoption by Mods and later by British and American youth subcultures. While it doesn’t have the same cultural connotations today, the parka has been appropriated by techwear and fashion brands alike, culminating in a diverse garment ready for anything the elements can throw at you.
Modern parka jackets typically come in two definitive styles: lightweight technical versions, associated with the likes of Stone Island, and the down-filled big coats crafted by Canada Goose, Moncler et al.
The latter are designed expressly for the cold and feature down-filled or synthetic padding throughout. They are typically constructed from a polyester blend that is given a water-repellent treatment, which is not the same as being waterproof.
Likewise, the lightweight parka is more likely to be constructed for a fashion-conscious wardrobe, incorporating technical design details and interesting dye treatments, but probably won’t give you much protection in a persistent downpour.
So balance out your needs – cold-weather functionality or style statement?