When it Rains, It Pours - The Return Of The Mac

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You see them on the sharply dressed in movies, you see them on disheveled Detective’s, and they have become an enduring staple of the City Gent. Spies have worn them, as have Gangsters. I am of course talking about the raincoat. Or more specifically The Mac.

There are many great coat manufacturers that produce their own versions the world over. Brands such as Baracuta and Aquascutum for example. Now why is it known as a Mac, and how did this sort of coat come into being? You will no doubt have heard the coat referred to as a “Macintosh”, and therein lies the obvious clue. For it was a Glaswegian chemist called Charles Macintosh, born in 1766, who was the son of a textile dye manufacturer, that after inheriting his father’s business, made a discovery.

In 1823, he patented a process for bonding melted rubber to wool, which in turn, made the fabric waterproof. He founded the company Macintosh to sell his fabric to raincoat makers.

When it Rains It Pours The Return Of The Mac 2

In the early years, Macintosh cloth was stiff, smelly, and prone to melting in the heat. Wool was not really the right fabric to use, but, considering the climate of Glasgow, it was presumably the first fabric you would think of.

The teething problems soon led to further inventive creations. Macintosh had been savvy enough to merge with the clothing company Thomas Hancock in 1830 and they began to produce their own ready-to-wear coats. Hancock had invented a method of vulcanizing rubber which solved much of the stiffness, smell, and melting problems. They had also had the foresight to use cotton instead of wool, whose oils had a tendency to break down the rubber. They also learned how to tape and glue seams to resist the elements more than stitches alone. Consequently the first of what would be seen as a modern raincoat was created.

Interestingly, the first intended use of the fabric that Macintosh created was for the use of waterproof tarpaulins for tents.

The Mac should not be confused with the Trench Coat, which was traditionally used Gabardine fabric.

The history of the trench coat actually starts almost 100 years before World War I. As amazing as this fabric that was used for the aforementioned Macs, which was for keeping the wearer dry and warm, they did have one major flaw – the fabric was not breathable, consequently, sweat was retained in the garment. As well as this, the fabric also had a rather unpleasant smell and could even “melt” in the heat of the sun, as already mentioned. Regardless of these shortcomings, The Macintosh was used throughout the 19th century by Army personnel.

So, who invented the trench coat?

Designers and fabric manufacturers continued to develop the material over the years, to try and make it more breathable, and more wearable. There are two clothiers who claim to have created the trench, and the arguments seem to continue. These two were John Emary and Thomas Burberry.

In 1853, John Emary developed and patented a fabric that was just as water-repellent as the original rubberised cotton, but was (thankfully) less smelly and more breathable. Emary renamed his company to what we now know as Aquascutum. This name comes from the Latin words “aqua” and “scutum” which translates to “water” and “shield.” This name directly refers to Emary’s focus on designing weather-proof clothing for the gentry.

It is said Emary created his version of the trench for officers serving in the Crimean War.

Thomas Burberry founded his business in 1856. Burberry is still one of the most recognisable labels rocking the fashion world. In 1879, the young draper invented “gabardine.” This was a waterproof twill fabric that was also breathable. It was created by actually coating the individual yarns of cotton or wool. This was a big leap from the original fabric that was used to create the macs, where the entire piece of fabric was coated in one go. Burberry delivered plans for his new raincoat to the British War Office in 1901, where it was readily accepted.

Both Emary and Burberry’s fabrics were very popular with all types of gentlemen - from sporty types and explorers to the upper class and aviators. It is clear to see why these fabrics became an essential for military uniforms. It is still unclear who truly invented the trench. Both companies had connections to the British military establishment, and both Emary and Burberry had previously developed weatherproof clothing similar to the trench.

The trench coat was designed to protect from wind and rain. They were not the warmest coats, however, they were supplied in a large size so that warmer coats and layers could be worn underneath them. In past wars, soldiers wore greatcoats. These were long overcoats of serge; a thick fabric made from wool. They were very heavy, long, and cumbersome, despite being warm (when dry) In the trenches, the long greatcoats proved to be somewhat of a problem. They were very long and heavy and would become weighed down with mud, making them even heavier. Soldiers found it difficult to use their equipment while wearing them. The trench coat was welcomed, as it was lighter, and it was much easier to move in it, and offered a great many uses, as well as being weatherproof and warm. In short; it was a very useful garment and much more than just a coat.

As stated at the beginning - the mac, and indeed the trench coat was seen regularly on our screens at the cinema, and of course on the television. Steve McQueen in Bullitt is a fine example, of a Detective wearing a mac. Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, a spy is another fine example, and then there is Alain Delon in Le Samourai who wears a Trench coat. Each of these stars of the big screen is veritable style icons. On the small screen, a typical detective wearing a Mac is Peter Falk in Columbo, his disheveled look giving him a sort of disguise to his sharp and keen mind. Consequently, as Autumn arrives and the wetter weather that is to be expected, so the style-conscious will search out those accoutrements that serve the purpose of keeping them both dry and warm. Trench Coats may seem to be seen less often, as they do seem less necessary. Their longer length not condusive to wearing whilst driving, but shorter Macs that come to just above the knee are more practical, and many retailers do still produce versions of these classic style coats, which are somewhat smarter than a military parka, or another form of a hooded waterproof coat.


Read 900 times Last modified on Tuesday, 01 September 2020 16:21
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