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TOO COOL FOR A CAGOULE? WHAT DO YOU WEAR IN THE RAIN?
Written by Samuel Walters in Essentials on the 21st October 2021 / Too Cool for a Cagoule? What Do You Wear in the Rain?
“SAY CHEESE…!” And we did, the whole bloomin’ lot of us – snapped grinning away in our matching Pac a Macs like every other family in the ‘90s. Quite why anyone thought it was a good idea to wear plasticky raincoats that crumpled up into a tiny bag and came out looking like a car that’s been through a compressor, I don’t know. What I do know is that it was absolutely the norm. Many a Kodak moment was blighted by these undignified garments, with families up and down the country sporting various shades of purple and blue throughout the decade. Personally, I think these Pac a Mac childhoods have a lot to answer for. Mine was certainly the beginning of a difficult relationship with raincoats, one that continues to this day and that I’m sure is shared by many of you.
The whole problem really comes down to the eternal tussle between clothes that look nice and clothes that perform a function. Generally speaking, the more practical a garment the worse it looks, and the more stylish it is the worse it performs. Just try and find a nice walking shoe or try going for a walk in an elegant loafer!
Of course, as a grown-up wanting to look smart and presentable, the obvious choice is a trench coat. The classic comes from Burberry but will set you back around £1500. For me, though, the main problem isn’t actually the prohibitive pricing but the slippery nature of the trench coat. What I mean is that, yes, you can look like a sophisticated spy or ‘50s reporter – pop the collar on a wet day and you’re instantly in a world of appealingly shady goings-on. However, you can also look like a dismal old-time shopkeeper in a work coat – see Ronnie Corbett in his Four Candles sketch. Or failing that, you can look like an extra from The Office – drably attired for angst-ridden admin. I just can’t get on with trench coats, for all that people seem to think of them as a wardrobe essential. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t wear one in a summer rain shower over a pair of shorts… you’ll look like a streaker.
So if not the trench coat then what about a Barbour jacket? This waxy little number was once favoured by the huntin’, fishin’, shootin’ type and was cited as a staple for sloaney men in the ‘80s in The Sloane Ranger Handbook. It certainly gives you a country look, and has obviously moved into the mainstream over the last ten or fifteen years. (In fact, it’s now big in Japan. It’s interesting to see the reverence with which these rugged English garments are treated in this video I came across the other day of a man shopping for a Barbour jacket in Tokyo.) However, for all that I’m a reasonably hearty chap, I just don’t feel quite right wearing wax.
Which leads us to the outdoorsy-urban crossover type raincoats. Whether you take the high road, the low road or are simply a roadman, The North Face is now the brand for you. They started off kitting out mountaineers and somehow gained immense street cred, no doubt through affiliation with some rapper. Or there’s Carhartt, a brand with a similar story, except that they began doing hardy American work wear and came to prominence, I believe, through skate culture. Unfortunately, these types of raincoat don’t really work too well for me either – I don’t particularly want to look outdoorsy or urban, or a cross between the two. I did, in fact, have a Carhartt windbreaker once and it was no good at all; granted it was second-hand and it was a “windbreaker” not a “waterproof” – a distinction you must be wary of and more fool you if you shop without due diligence. It wasn’t really Carhartt’s fault, but it still put me off.
And having eliminated all of these, I’m really out of options, which is why I actually tend to avoid raincoats altogether! I do have a short, outdoorsy sort of anorak for wet, muddy walks (worryingly close to the Pac a Macs of my boyhood) but, generally, I prefer to just wear a long overcoat. Being made of wool it’s really very good in the rain, especially when paired with a decent umbrella – the subject of my last article.
I don’t say that everyone should follow my lead and steer clear of a raincoat, though. Indeed, if you have a solution then, believe me, I’m all ears. If you weren’t scarred by a Pac a Mac upbringing or if you have some valuable raincoat insights then do let me know! (But please don’t go recommending a poncho – I had my fill of those as a schoolboy army cadet and the thought of them now just brings to mind miserable boil-in-the-bag curries and big mugs of sugary tea!)
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