After a particularly long month of wet & rainy 'English' weather in NYC, here's the skinny on weatherproof coats.

The Rain Coat Review

11 years ago I was invited to speak to the members of the British Menswear Guild at their annual lunch in London. I thought very hard of what to say to this congregation of highly successful fashion export companies. On the plane I finally found my subject. I decided to make 10 predictions about the state of classic style in 2010. I thought this was a very clever idea because nobody would remember then what I had said ten years ago.

Some of my predictions were correct but today I would like to mention the only prediction that was completely wrong. I said that traditional raincoats will be obsolete in 2010 because the textile industry will finish coats of any fibre in a way that makes them completely waterproof.

I noticed some raised eyebrows are many more grins in the audience during my speech that day. Later  somebody explained the reaction…on that very day a maker of raincoats had been introduced as a new member. These people may have been offended by what I had said on that day but today they wouldn’t mind (because they are obviously still in business!). Rainwear is still what it was ten years ago. The industry does have ways of waterproofing garments perfectly but the classic gentleman will still fabrics from the pre-goretex era despite their drawsbacks. Why?

A coat of cotton gabardine cut either in a Raglan style or as a belted Trench is still the most important anti rain garment in a gentleman’s wardrobe. Who cares that water will leak through the seams when it rains real hard? And what does it matter that cotton gabardine needs regular reproofing? A classic raincoat looks better than any modern alternative. There is a wonderful photograph of David Niven arriving at an airport somewhere in the seventies. He is perfectly dressed in a tweed jacket and carries a neatly folded Burberry over his shoulder.

You can even wear this type of coat year round, if you get one with a removable wool lining. I own both styles but I wear the unbelted Raglan model 99 percent of the time. I think it’s more elegant and more relaxed altthough the belted trench is perfect for cycling on rainy days. I might get a bit wet here and there but I feel so much for elegant than the other cyclists in their modern rainwear.

More waterproof than cotton gabardine but much stiffer and heavier is the original Macintosh coat. It’s made of a cotton fabric with a rubber coating on the inside. No water will get inside but the waterproof lining smells strongly of latex which may be embarassing if you stand close to other passengers in the subway. I always felt like sales rep for condoms who’s pockets are filled with samples of his goods and thus reserved my rubber mac for isolated walks in the country. The Barbour jacket is another European classic that poses olfactory problems. People either love or hate the odor of the wax that is used to make the Egyptian cotton fit to withstand rain, sleet or snow. But who cares? Old furniture smells of wax too.

The old saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, gets a new meaning when you look at what people wear in the rain. It may be right to go for a goretex anorak if you want maximum protection but it stylewise it’s a serious mistake. (Unless you’re summiting Mt. Washington. Then it’s acceptable). Could you picture Humphrey Bogart in an anorak? Sometimes it’s wrong to judge a product by it’s actual performance…like luxury watches.