While Mackintosh is nowadays synonymous with a style of (rain-) coat, it actually is a brand name introduced in the early 19th century. Charles Macintosh invented a way to waterproof cloth by incorporating a thin layer of solvent; rubber dissolved in a by-product of petroleum, in between 2 layers of fabric, and started selling coats with his brand name. The material gained huge popularity with civilians as well as professionals like soldiers, policemen, and state employees. The picture below from the brand’s website shows a Mackintosh coat as used by the British railways.
Creating a Mackintosh raincoat was, and is, mostly manual work performed by specialists using age-old construction methods. Over time, with rising labor costs, this resulted in original Mackintosh raincoats becoming more expensive and the target audience slowly shifted to more affluent people.
Competitors saw the prices of Mackintosh raincoats crawl up and started experimenting with different materials to produce coats at lower prices. During the 50’s and 60’s PVC was used as a base material as it is inherently waterproof. The thinness of the material required it to be welded together instead of sewn, but once the basics of production were mastered this meant raincoats could be produced with relatively little manual labor. With low prices, a wide range of colors, different levels of opaqueness, and different thickness levels, these coats became a huge success during the 60’s.
Unlike the original Mackintosh raincoats the PVC coats had a waterproof lining that was visually pleasing and instead of sandwiching the PVC between 2 layers of fabric the PVC was fully visible as outer layer. Downside of this was that the glossy look gradually disappeared due to wear and tear and exposure to the sun. Besides PVC also PU (polyurethane) was used and SBR; which is a chemically produced rubber which gained popularity during the Second World War when the import of rubber from Asia became impossible, to expand the range of products that could be offered to consumers.
As fashion changes over time the shiny Mackintosh rainwear slowly fell out of grace and was replaced by different styles of coats made with different materials. There still remained a small demand for PVC and SBR raincoats, although this was more part of a subculture.
While the whole craze around Mackintosh raincoats was before my time, and mostly played in Britain, I do see the attractiveness and stylish features of especially the SBR, and rubber, raincoats coming back into picture at some point in time. With the popularity of Stutterheim rainwear became fashionable again and seen as a clothing item deserving attention. Visually the black raincoats of Stutterheim, both the normal as well as the opal range, seem very similar in material as SBR or rubber raincoats with either a dull or shiny surface. The style of the coat is off course totally different, with the Mackintosh being much more classic and at the same time more distinct as it is a long coat.
A long SBR coat would fit nicely in today’s picture. Maybe combine it with some bright features like a scarf in yellow or red, or just go for all-black as shown in the picture below where a long SBR Mackintosh coat is combined with a pair of black rain boots and a grey cap to break to whole SBR/rubber look in black. The overall look might be a bit too “serious” for a younger audience, and it will look best worn confidently on a rainy day.
For rubber raincoats the market will definitely be smaller. The material is strongly associated with a subculture making it less suitable for daily wear. But for special occasions, where you want to look on your best in rainy weather, for example on a night out, a short or medium long version of a rubber rain coat in black might just do well. Or, when you are confident enough, it might even be suited as a classy coat for any foul weather condition. Best to stay away from the longer coats to knee level or even lower as it quickly overpowers your complete outfit and it will send out the wrong signals. A shorter coat can be perfectly combined with some stonewashed jeans, sneakers, or even a pair of rubber rain boots. Unlike the range of bright colored PVC rainwear I normally prefer, this type of raincoat would combine perfectly with a dress or skirt , something I would not recommend with industrial grade heavy-duty rainwear. A combination with a dress, skirt, or tight jeans will suit a younger audience also, although unfortunately the prices of rubber rain coats are often relatively high, well above the prices of other coats, meaning most will pass on them as it is hard to justify spending over 300 euro’s on a rain coat for special occasions only. Below a picture from the Japanese DJ and model Iori Sakai to illustrate how trendy a rubber rain coat can look.
For me a rubber raincoat is something interesting to keep my eyes open for as the material is inherently perfect for rainwear, but the prices and limited opportunities to actually use them would make it a bad choice. For an SBR Mackintosh raincoat I consider myself too young and the style does not really fit what I am looking for in rainwear, not to say these coats are only suitable for more mature women.
This article was written on request of a reader, so if you have any requests for more information or a take on another brand or type of rainwear please let me know in a message or comment. It might take a while before I actually come around writing about it, but I will do my best to pick it up as soon as I have time.
p.s. Some of the pictures used above have no source, but due to the high quality of the pictures and the models showing them my best guess is they are product pictures from either gekkorainwear or weathervain. For anyone looking for some high-quality (SBR) mackintoshes I would recommend checking them out.