Unless you hail from a sun-drenched holiday hotspot, a paradise island or the middle of the desert, getting soaked to the bones by pouring rain is just an occasional fact of life. So why is it that waterproof top layers so often take a back seat when it comes to stocking our wardrobes?
Perhaps it’s because people see them as boring. They’re practically uniform for trainspotters, birdwatchers and old men in pubs, so they haven’t enjoyed the same kind of history as, say, a biker jacket. Don’t judge so quickly though, because if you buy right and style it thoughtfully, you may find that a raincoat is exactly what’s been missing from your wardrobe this whole time.
In practical terms, a raincoat is an essential if you live somewhere with a rainy climate says Tom Bettinson, UK manager for aptly named Danish outerwear label Rains. “A good raincoat is lightweight, waterproof and will fit neatly into your bag; making sure you’re covered when the weather turns.”
And they aren’t just one-size-fits-all. From rubber coats inspired by vintage workwear, through to cutting-edge, tech-packed shell jackets designed for scaling mountains – these waterproof top layers are a diverse breed with a style to suit everyone. They’ve even crept their way into the notoriously snooty world of high fashion over the years – and we’re not just talking about a timeless Burberry trench. These days you’re likely to see a hyped-up Vetements raincoat at fashion week more times than you can shake an umbrella at.
The raincoat’s roots can be traced back to ancient China, where early versions were fashioned from things that actually had roots – namely straw and bamboo. People were still getting wet, but by the beginning of the 1800s, a Scotsman by the name of Charles Macintosh had come up with a solution.
Macintosh was a chemist whose experiments with a substance called naphtha (a byproduct of tar) led to the invention of a truly waterproof fabric. It worked by sandwiching a piece of rubber between two pieces of fabric and once made available it quickly became popular. Macintosh launched the first Mackintosh coat in 1824 and the world hasn’t looked back since. That’s why all sorts of waterproof coats and jackets are now referred to as ‘Macs’.
How To Style A Raincoat
So, they’re functional, they can be fashionable, but how do you go about styling one?
“With so many different types of raincoat, styling one well really comes down to what sort you’re wearing,” says Joshua Meredith, fashion director at Notion Magazine.
“For technical jackets, steer clear of anything too formal – pair with denim and a T-shirt or crew neck for best results. Or, for a more classically-styled raincoat, feel free to wear it over tailoring during the week and dress it down with jeans and a hoodie at the weekend.”
The Best Brands For Raincoats
Get your wallet at the ready and prepare to make it rain, because these are the raincoats it’s worth splashing out on.
Whether you’re scaling the north face of the Matterhorn, or simply hiking yourself to the office on your morning commute, these are the brands that will quite literally have your back covered when the elements inevitably decide to turn. Designed for the outdoors, they’ll feature design touches like water-resistant coatings, visors and taped seams to make sure rain stays out.
Founded in California in the 1970s, Patagonia has built a solid reputation as one of the best outdoor performance apparel brands there is. It’s also one of the coolest, meaning you’re just as likely to see it being worn by fashion-savvy city types as you are hardened explorers.
Plus, with a focus on sustainability and keeping things green, you can feel good about splashing out on some high-end outdoor kit. This is clothing with a conscience.
It may be known to the masses for it’s Kanken bags, but there’s so much more to this beloved Swedish label than boxy backpacks.
Fjallraven’s G1000 fabric is used in most of its jackets and has remained unchanged since it was first introduced in 1968. Not least because it still works better than most other tech fabrics on the market. It’s hard-wearing, breathable and its water repellency can be altered on the go with a spot of DIY waxing.
The North Face
You can’t talk about outdoor brands without mentioning The North Face. The Cali-born mountaineering label has grown to become the most recognisable in the world, producing top-tier kit for everyone from Arctic explorers to, well, the rest of us.
And good news for fashion-conscious men – TNF is no stranger to style, boasting long-running collabs with labels such as Supreme and Junya Watanabe MAN, as well as its own fashion-forward offshoot, The North Face Purple Label.
Okay, so you probably wouldn’t pack a Uniqlo jacket for your next trip to the Himalayas, but the Japanese high-street chain has a great reputation for producing affordable outerwear which is perfectly suited to slightly less extreme environments.
The brand’s packable parka has become one of its staple items and in terms of value for money, is unparalleled. For a cost-effective way to keep the showers at bay, Uniqlo should be top of your list.
This high-end, performance brand is the Ferrari of the outdoor apparel world, and just like a turbo-charged Italian sports car, there’s a lot going on under the hood to justify it.
Arc’teryx gear is touted by those in the know as the best there is, and for good reason. The label’s jackets don’t just look better than the competition, they also boast high-spec features, such as reduced-width seam taping and articulation, that will see them outperform the competition time and time again.
Founded in 2003, Cornwall-based Finisterre has been quietly building a rep amongst outdoor types, creating slick, stylish outerwear and saving the planet one cool jacket at a time with a deep-rooted commitment to sustainability.
Finisterre was created to keep British surfers warm outside of the water but over the years, it’s objective has become much broader. Finisterre now caters for lovers of the outdoors indiscriminately, kitting them out with some of the best looking and performing outerwear to hail from British shores.
Traditional raincoats may not be lighter than air, equipped with GPS tracking and capable of making you a brew, but when they look this good and protect you from the elements, who even cares? Plus, the best of them are more than capable of keeping you dry in a downpour, with water-resistant finishes and a hem designed to drain the rain away from your footwear.
Born out of necessity in the harsh, Scandinavian winters, Elka was established to kit out the workers of Denmark and beyond with waterproof gear that could withstand anything thrown at it. The label’s products have been relied upon by trawlermen and others working in the extremes since 1958, but high-profile collaborations with the likes of Comme des Garcons’ Rei Kawakubo and Norse Projects during the mid-2000s catapulted the brand into the fashion spotlight.
For classic, minimalist styling, proven durability and a hearty dose of fashion cred, Elka has everything you need.
When your business is trench coats and your name is taken from the Latin for ‘water shield’ you had better make sure there aren’t any leaks. There’s no such danger with Aquascutum, which claims to have patented the first waterproof textile in 1853 and developed the trench coat for officers during the First World War (though note that Burberry and Mackintosh make their own claims).
Whatever the history, this is an undisputed icon of British heritage fashion. Its trench coats are all cut classic, either single-breasted with concealed buttons or double-breasted with a belt – although it will offer the odd bold colourway alongside the standard issue cream, navy and black.
Established in 2012, Danish outerwear label Rains was created with one goal in mind: to reinterpret the classic, Scandinavian rubber raincoat and bring its design to a new audience. The plan worked and now Rains is an established global name, producing a rage of waterproof gear that perfectly melds timeless styling with contemporary sensibilities.
Expect style-conscious rainwear that stays true to design heritage while keeping one finger firmly on the pulse.
Swedish label Stutterheim is another name that has made the rubber raincoat its calling card. However, the USP here lies in the quality of its products. Each of the brand’s raincoats is painstakingly handcrafted using premium materials, to produce a piece that is functional, beautifully put-together and looks the part too.
If it’s a high-quality, artisanally-produced, minimally-designed raincoat you’re after, Stutterheim is the only way to go.
Burberry is a brand with its roots in raincoats. Thomas Burberry created the now-iconic trench coat to keep military officers sheltered from the wind and rain during the First World War and his brand has been producing them, almost unchanged, ever since. As well as the classic trench, Burberry also produces a range of stylish, rain-ready outerwear.
If money isn’t an issue and you’re looking for a piece you’ll be able to hand down to your children, a classic piece from this British institution may be the best way to go.
Marks and Spencer
A staple of the British high street, Marks & Spencer has been doing its thing for well over a century and has built up a solid reputation for reliable style in the process. Expect simple, functional, quality clothing at prices that will actually leave you with some change. You’ll find timeless, fuss-free styling across the brand’s various in-house ranges.
As anyone who’s ever spilt a coffee on their MacBook will know all too well, Macintoshes are not waterproof. Mackintoshes, on the other hand, are world famous for their liquid-repelling properties, making them excellent additions to anyone’s wet-weather wardrobe.
This classic piece of outerwear was first sold as early as 1824, making Mackintosh one of the oldest clothing brands in Britain. If you like your clothes to come with some heritage as well as technical superiority, you can’t do any better than that.