Tuesday, January 31, 2012
The first coat in most men's dress coat wardrobes tends to be a raincoat, either single breasted or the double breasted trench (to the left and right respectively in the illustration) made from tan, khaki or beige fabric in recollection of the first world war's fields of mud that were responsible for their popularity. Knee length or a little below, either is typically worn in the wet and as a windbreaker rather than for protection from the cold, though the addition of a zip-in wool liner lets them function as a topcoat. And they are British in origin of course, since that country's frequent rains created the demand in the first place.
Around 1830 Mackintosh was arguably the first major English brand to introduce what we would consider a raincoat. Its rubber coating and taped seams kept rain off the wearer, but steamed up inside because the fabric did not breathe so that vapor could escape. In 1853, Aquascutum developed waterproof wool that did breathe, dramatically improving the wearer's comfort in its coats. Still later, Burberry, the third great raincoat brand, developed its cotton gabardine, another water-resistant yet breathable fabric. In 1914 Burberry was commissioned by the English War Office to develop what became the trench coat, and by the end of the war the trench had become optional officer's dress in the British Army. Many veterans kept the coats after they returned to civilian life and they became fashionable for both men and women They were always purchased ready to wear, even by men who had the rest of their wardrobes made for themselves, as the coat construction process does not lend itself to the skills of the tailor.
Today, a quality raincoat like Burberry's Prorsum classic cotton trench is still most likely made by one of the three aforementioned brands. It is still usually seen in tan, khaki or beige, though some individualists have theirs in navy. It is sometimes seen in above the knee lengths for greater convenience in a car, despite the wet trousers and lessened elegance that accompany this particular innovation. And it is still purchased ready to wear.