How to Choose a Raincoat

I never had a raincoat growing up in San Diego.  I always wanted one then, like I always wanted a cast or braces or glasses, but the worlds most inoffensive climate precluded the need for one.  Now, thanks to global warming (or the impending ice age, depending on your view), it seems that place is immune to unending sheets of rain that never stop please make it stop for the love of all that is sacred can I please see some sun OK now I know why Kurt Cobain killed himself.

Last year was bad, but this year is just ridiculous.  Who cares that a the first mandatory urban water restrictions in the State’s history happened just two years ago?  The weather pendulum has swung to the other extreme, and to date this season’s rain is destroying the streets of cities with crater-sized potholes ruining wheel alignments, and forcing almost 200,000 to evacuate their homes near a bulging reservoir in Oroville, one of many in Northern California that is at or above capacity.  The President has declared it an emergency.  Enough already.  

Time to get a raincoat.

Today, one can protect themselves from the rain with a variety of materials, in an equally vast array of styles.  Here’s a few that I’ve been reaching for this season, from off-and-on drizzles to full-on typhoons.

  • A leather jacket
    I’m surprised this isn’t on many lists, but maybe purists want to keep their leather in like-new condition.  But come on – it’s skin; you can’t get much more watertight than that (queue Seinfeld clip).  Once I wore my Schott cafe jacket in the rain when scooting home from work; fifteen minutes later I was holding a warm cuppa and my upper body was still dry.  Clothes are meant to be worn after all, not kept on a hanger for your Instagram feed.  Besides, leather as a material has a special quality in that over time it develops a history; a very personal one.  The more a leather jacket is are worn, especially in the rain, the quicker it will mold to your body, the softer the leather becomes, and slowly but surely your own patina begins to develop.  The bonus is that it keeps you dry during drizzles.  Just dab a little waterproofing moisturizer on your jacket once a year and you’re good to go.
  • A Barbour in lightweight waxed cotton
    Not waterproof, but enough to keep you dry when you want to shed the mists of Redwood rainforests, or a drizzle in urban alleyways.  With four outside pockets and two inside, it’s got plenty of storage space for keys, wallet, cell phone, and either a map or your Clipper card.  There are a few styles, some of which go well with tailored clothing, but I much prefer them with more casual clothing, from flannel trousers and a turtleneck to jeans and a t-shirt.  The waxed cotton finish emits a particular smell, faint but distinct, a little earthy and musty, something I imagine Steve McQueen’s jacket would smell like after a few rounds on the track.  
  • A no-holds barred waterproof jacket
    Time was, if guys wanted to be sure to keep the rain out, the only choice was to wear the equivalent of a plastic bag in highlighter-yellow or safety-orange.  Nowadays there are plenty of choices, all using more or less the same technology: bonding a waterproof membrane on the inside to something else on the outside.  The “something else” can be cotton, wool, or varying synthetics.  Any of these will cost a pretty penny, but if staying dry is your goal, nothing else will do.
    Mackintosh is the proprietary eponym for any generic bonded jacket, and has been so for over 100 years.  After languishing in the 1970s and relegated to making uniforms for various state officers, Mackintosh was revitalized by promoting its legacy alongside fashion house collaborations for a constant fresh interpretation of the heritage brand.  Today it remains the go-to choice for the aristocracy when the weather threatens.  My own Mack was originally made for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, cut and designed like a trench coat, long and double breasted with a high collar for added protection, in a dusty loden green.  The outside bonded cotton is attached to a wool lining for added warmth, because Canada.  Underarm grommeted holes are added under the arms to assist with ventilation so the wearer doesn’t become a sweaty mess.All last month, I decided to put it to the test by walking 45 minutes in the rain to work, and the thing performed beautifully, if a little hot.  Not one drop made its way inside, and the long, wide skirt kept my legs from getting wet, leaving just my boots to stomp the puddles underfoot.

If you don’t want to go the trench coat route for fear of deep-rooted associations with flashers, bad disguises, or Inspector Gadget, don’t worry; you’ve got options.  I really like this season’s design from Norwegian Rain at No Man Walks Alone, made from a waterproof fabric of recycled polyester.  Plus, it comes with a detachable liner and hood for the poor souls that have to suffer Nor’easters (I did for three years, and then ran back to California).  However, don’t dismiss the trench coat entirely.  None other than the Smithsonian published a fantastic article on the ascension and following ubiquity of the trench coat, and practically every year designers put their own spin on the classic piece.  

Whatever you choose, do it quickly – another storm is scheduled to roll into town later on today, and no matter what you have on underneath your jacket, it’s gonna look lame if you’re all wet.

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Peter Zottolo
Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.
Peter Zottolo

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Peter Zottolo

About Peter Zottolo

Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.

4 thoughts on “How to Choose a Raincoat

  1. Where to buy waterproof moisturizer for leather jacket? I never knew I could wear it in the rain. It’s good quality so I was scared.

    • I use Sno-Seal on my leather boots and it does a decent job. Note that it may darken lighter leathers, and is not meant for suede. I hear Nikwax is also good, but haven’t personally used it.

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