Sou’wester / Southwester rain hats

This will be a deep dive in all aspects of the sou’wester, or southwester, rain hat covering not only the history of these quirky looking hats, but we will also be looking at their popularity in the fifties and sixties, how they have become part of fetish outfits, and how you can use them as an accessories to complete your trendy raingear outfit. The “fetish” part of this writing has some overlap with previous writings about Mackintosh raincoats and Wellington rubber boots, so for a complete picture you best read the fetish chapters of those writing first.

HISTORY

The origins of modern waterproof rainwear can be traced back to the start of the 19th century, when fisherman produced their own rainwear to be able to battle the elements at sea. The most common method of producing rainwear was by using cotton-canvas fabric and turning this into a complete rainsuit or raincoat. Making it waterproof was based on the simple premise that water does not mix with oil: by impregnating the cotton-canvas suit or coat with oils it would shed water. This was an extensive method of soaking the raingear in oils, letting it complete drip out and dry for several weeks, and adding another layer of oil on the outside to guarantee a watertight cover, which also needed to be dried again. Most sailors did this process themselves during their onshore time, as there was no rainwear producing industry of scale around that time. Below a print of the catalogue and price list of Joseph H. Rowe & Co, dating back to about 1892 when factory production of rainwear was more common, showing some sou’wester for sale.

The design of the rainwear was purely functional: based on the specific tasks the wearer had in mind the coats would regularly have no buttons on the front to avoid them being caught in a fishing net, and no hood was added as this would limit the field of view of the wearer which could lead to dangerous situations on board. The absence of a hood was solved by creating a rain hat from cotton-canvas and impregnating it with oils the same way as the rest of the raingear was produced. Several models of hats were often made, all with their own strength and weaknesses for particular situations. A range of common models is shown below in an illustration dating back to the start of the 20th century. Source illustration.

The souwester rain hat was often produced with a slanting brim longer in the back than in the front. The idea here was that the brim in the front had to be large enough to keep water out of the eyes, but not so large it could cover the eyes in strong headwinds. In the back a long brim had the main advantage of keeping the rain out of the neck, something that was very important for fishermen as they would often stand with their back to the wind when pulling the fishing nets aboard. The hat would feature a strap for under the chin to avoid being blown away by the wind and sometimes flaps were added to cover the airs. Below “The Captain’s Wife”, a painting by Carl Sundt-Hansen (1895), which nicely illustrates a sou’wester rain hat being worn in combination with an oil impregnated raincoat which has turned yellowish from the linseed oil used.

These rain hats were referred to as sou’wester, or southwester, rain hats, a name believed to be derived from the sou’wester wind which was the dominant wind around the British islands. A southwester wind tends to bring warm air containing moisture, and thus rain. Below three sou’westers produced between 1930 and 1960 which are now part of the collection of the Karmsund folkemuseum.

The first, and possibly only, factory specializing in producing sou’wester rain hats was run by Johan Peter Fugellie who lived on the Leikvoll farm in Randaberg, Norway. In the middle of the 19th century he started producing the rain hats as an extensive home production project, with the help of his mother who ran a children’s asylum, using the girls from the asylum to help cut and stitch the rain hats together. The production capacity started with 300-400 sou’wester hats per year but later improved towards several thousand a year. After about 40 years the production stopped as their oil-impregnated sou’wester hats could not compete against other producers who started making use of materials like rubber. Below a black sou’wester from the Stromness Coastguards in almost pristine condition belonging to the Orkney Museum.

Over time the design of the sou’wester barely changed, the only noticeable development was in the materials used. The cotton-canvas impregnated with oil first got competition from natural rubber. This material became a popular part in the production of rainwear, but had noticeable drawbacks as it often ended up smelly, sticky, and uncomfortable. But for a raingear item as small as a sou’wester this was much less of a problem. The final change in material for sou’wester hats as workwear was with the introduction of PVC just after World War 2. This material was superb in every way, and is still used as the main material in waterproof workwear.

FASHION

While the sou’wester hat was a functional part of a fisherman’s bad weather outfit, they did enter the realm of fashion in the fifties in at least two markets. On one side there was the Scandinavian market where trends in rainwear fashion followed the workwear market relatively closely in cut, colours, and materials, and on the other side there was the British market where the sou’wester hat became a “popular” rainwear item for kids. Below a picture from around 1920 of 3 Scandinavian kids in rainwear which closely matches the materials and styles of rainwear used at sea around that time. Source.

And another picture of (possibly) British school aged kids on their way to school showing a complete rainy-days outfit consisting of Mackintosh raincoats made out of different materials, sou’wester rain hats, and rubber wellington boots to keep their feet dry. Source.

Scandinavian rainwear fashion is quite distinguishable from the rest of Europe as it more closely follows the trends in heavy-duty rainwear for professional use. During the fifties, when canvas-cotton cloth impregnated with linseed oils was replaced by plastics, most notably PVC, rainwear fashion followed and “fisherman style” raingear was marketed to the general population. Below an advertisement from the Norwegian rainwear manufacturer Helly Hansen showing fashionable rainwear in the decades after World War Two. Especially the yellow raingear worn by the woman resembles workwear closely; as the color, cut, and the PVC material would not be out of place on a sailor. She also wears a sou’wester-style rain hat which is only slightly different from the original sou’wester with a smaller brim. Source.

helly hansen pvc raincoat vintage fashion style rainwear raingear

Another prime example is the advertisement below for the stylish Kelly coat by Helly Hansen, showing 4 ladies around a scooter all wearing different coloured fashionable raincoats combined with a more traditional-style sou’wester hat. Source.

helly hansen pvc raincoat vintage fashion style rainwear raingear

Even today there is a good chance a decent proportion of Scandinavian people, young as well as old, wear PVC based raincoats combined with a sou’wester hat. This is unlike many other European countries where the industrial style heavy-duty rainwear is mostly limited to workwear. Exception might be certain markets in France, where Guy Cotten still produces and sells their yellow PVC raingear including a sou’wester hat as shown below.

guy cotten pvc rain hat southwester sou'wester

In Britain there was a sudden surge in popularity of sou’wester rain hats during the fifties and sixties. This was mostly limited to kids though, as it was closely related to the British tradition of school uniforms. School uniforms were introduced around the end of the 18th century to fight the anarchic state of the school system and both private and state school began introducing uniforms in the decades there after. How strictly the uniform rules were set up was at the free reign of the individual schools, with some demanding kids to wear a school uniform purchased at a particular shop to guarantee perfect uniformity, while other school only prescribed a certain colour. In many cases the school coat, which is comparable to an overcoat or raincoat, was the least stringently monitored clothing item giving the parents the most freedom which model and which materials to go with, partly because this was one of the most expensive parts of the school uniform. Pictured below a group of school-aged girls all wearing identical rainwear outfits. This could either be part of their school uniform or a borrowed outfit for during a field trip. Notice the sou’wester rain hats each of them is wearing as well as rubber wellington rainboots.

A dark colour like dark blue or black was often required, but the material or model was left open. During those times most school coats were either made of gabardine, a closely knit fabric that could keep out rain for a limited amount of time, or a rubberized material that would stay waterproof much longer. In some cases the parents would go for the most waterproof option available, an SBR mackintosh raincoat which would guarantee dryness with its rubberized outside. Below an advertisement for school coats, or rain coat, for kids. These coats are made from gabardine with as extra protection a rubber-backed check fabric. At the top it reads you can purchase a coat, together with a sou’wester and a pair of wellington boots, for the set price of 10 pounds total.

A standard Mackintosh raincoat, either of rubberized fabric or made out of gabardine, would often not have a hood, leaving the kid’s head and neck open to the elements. A logical addition to the rainy days outfit for many kids would be a sou’wester for complete protection. Keep in mind that in those times the general idea about raising kids was completely different from what it is now: kids had to look representable, like small adults, with a pristine school uniform or it would not only reflect bad on the parents but could also lead to (corporal) punishment at school for disrespecting the school uniform and therefore the school as an institution. Nowadays the consensus is much more to let kids have fun, do what they feel like, express themselves, and let them play in the rain and mud when possible. This idea was not common back then. Below an advertisement for the Scandinavian brand Rubbertex, showing the stylish shiny rubbery rainwear fabrics popular around the fifties and sixties and a woman wearing a sou’wester in the same material.

The street scene would be filled with kids wearing their sou’wester rain hats and mackintosh raincoats over their school uniform until at least the end of the sixties when youth revolts resulted in school uniforms becoming modified in the direction of informality and parents following suit with giving the kids some slack on how tightly they had to be dressed to reach school in pristine condition. The sale of Mackintosh raincoats started to drop, as well as the matching sou’wester hats. Generations that grew up in the seventies and later were much more familiar with rainwear in other materials and with models that included a hood leaving out the need to add a rain hat like a sou’wester.

FETISH

A fetish normally describes people with an erotic or intimate interest in specific non-genital body parts, fabrics, smells, fluids, costumes, or other non-human objects. You cannot think of a thing so strange, or there will be someone in the world who is erotically attracted to that thing. It is unclear where a fetish comes from: if it is something you are born with, if it develops over time, or maybe a combination of both.

Inspired by the Cass model of gay and lesbian identity formation, Samuel Hughes has identified 5 steps on the formation and development of kink identity which can be applied to an attraction to rainwear in general or rubberized Mackintosh rainwear in combination with the sou’wester rain hat more specifically. In my view this research is interesting as it gives a possible explanation of the development or discovery of this specific fetish, explains why it seems much more prevalent in the past compared to current times, and why it is mostly seen in Britain and not in other countries. Below the cover of the “Dressing for Pleasure” magazine issue 17, a British magazine published by John Sutcliffe who also published the AtomAge magazine, showing a lady wearing an SBR Mackintosh raincoat combined with a sou’wester hat in the same material.

The five steps on formation and development of kink identity are as follows:

Step 1: early encounters. This is when a person first encounters their kink at an early age, often before they are 10 years old. They become attracted, drawn, or fascinated by a certain item without realizing why. This is often an encounter without experiencing sexual arousal and can be based on the look, smell, or feeling of the specific items.

In the case of rainwear, rubberized Mackintosh raincoats, or the sou’wester rain hat the opportunities to come across these rainwear items were ample in the fifties and sixties as they were so common almost every household had them. Many school kids were also dressed in them themselves, and saw their peers wear them to school. Kids who grew up in the seventies would have been less likely to come across any of these items, with the likelihood decreasing the years after as other types of rainwear started coming up and rubberized Macs disappeared from the street scene. A development of a fetish for rubberized rainwear or a sou’wester specifically is therefore much more likely when one grew up in the 50’s of 60’s compared to later generations. Rubberized rainwear also stood out in certain ways, by the looks of the materials and the smell, making it very noticeable and increasing the likelihood it has a certain draw to someone.

Step 2: exploration with self. This stage speaks for itself. It often takes place between the ages of 5 and 14 years old, and can involve fantasizing, masturbation, and exploring the sensations on your body.

Here it is obvious that this step is more likely to build a stronger love for rainwear materials when one has them available in their household. Just seeing a Mac or sou’wester being worn by someone else on the street would help with the fantasizing part, but being able to actually feel and smell these items yourself, and experimenting with them, will create a stronger bond. Below an experimental outfit combining rubber waders, an SBR raincoat, an SBR raincape, and an SBR sou’wester. For protection against the rain this outfit might be a bit too much, for a fetish it can’t ever be enough.

Step 3: evaluation. At this stage the realization comes that the attraction is not so widely shared; that you are different. This is often a very difficult stage of trying to find out your true identity: is this really what I like and is this something I want to live with given all the positive and negative consequences attached to it? At an age of around 11-14 years old these are hard questions and more often than not it ends with pushing the feelings away out of embarrassment. Especially in the past this must have been hard as people were much less tolerant about sexuality and fetishes compared to current day.

Step 4: finding others. In this stage one will realize they are not the only ones out there having this fetish, and they will start a process of discovery and “tribe finding” to accept their likings and build a tolerance against the stigma of their fetish.

Here the rainwear appreciation magazines can come in which were published from the seventies onwards. Especially for people just figuring out what they like it could be a tremendous help to find out there are like-minded people who send in pictures and stories perfectly matching their own interests. Below a peak in one of the rainwear-focused magazines published during the seventies or after, showing several readers of the magazine who have sent in pictures of themselves wearing their Macs, sometimes in combination with a sou’wester.

fetish raincoat magazine a peak inside

Step 5: exploration with others. This fifth and final step is the process of actually integrating the fetish with other people.

The steps described above are in no way set in stone and similar for everybody: it is very well possible that an individual has a completely different experience. But in general these steps should be recognizable for many, no matter to the type of fetish it applies to.

But there are some important things to keep in mind here. First of all a fetish is a very personal experience and while several people might be attracted to the same items in general, they might all like them for different reasons. This becomes very clear when you look at my previous writing about rubberized Mackintosh raincoats where I write about the British Mackintosh Society. The common denominator for the members was their love for the Mackintosh raincoat, but their individual attraction might have been completely different. Some of the members were after the look of a woman in a shiny raincoat, while others were maybe attracted to the specific smell of the rubber layer in the coat or the feel of the material against their skin. Below the experience of being completely rubbered up with boots, a raincoat, a sou’wester, gloves, and an extra mouth cover.

And for some people the raincoat itself was much less important and it was more about control, discipline, and punishment. And this is very interesting because here the sou’wester comes much more in play. Below an example of a rainwear outfit that gets closer to control and punishment than the average Mackintosh outfit. With the Mackintosh completely closed and the sou’wester covering most of the face, an additional rubber cover over the mouth has been added.

Part of the experience many kids had with the raincoat was them being forced into it by their mum (or dad). The general experience of a raincoat, especially of a rubberized raincoat with a peculiar smell or look, was often one of humiliation and discomfort, and having to wear a sou’wester with the coat made it worse. Much worse. Many parents knew their kids didn’t like wearing their raincoat, as the kids would loudly object, but would not give in. Some parents would even use the raincoat as a threat: if the kid’s behaviour would not improve very soon he would be forced to wear his raincoat to school tomorrow no matter the weather. Below rubberized riding Macs combined with corporal punishment.

These strong feelings towards rainwear could later result in one of two ways. Either wearing the rainwear yourself to feel that humiliation and discomfort again which would be closely linked to sexual arousal (taking the submissive role), or having your partner wear the raingear as part of punishment (taking the dominant role). Both ways are closely related to the general BDSM kink, which stands for bondage, discipline, submission, and masochism. Below an example of rubber rainwear combined with bondage.

The trends in “rubberized rainwear fashion”, for both the Mackintosh raincoat as well as the sou’wester rain hat, show a clear link to BDSM over time. Below an example of dressing for the dominant role with an SBR riding Mac combined with leather gloves and a riding whip.

The Mackintosh raincoat was tremendously popular before the outbreak of the Second World War, but sales plummeted when access to raw materials was limited during wartime. The outlook was positive for the period after the war, but once supply lines were reinstated the rebound of sales never really materialized. The rubberized Mackintosh did see increasing sales during the early fifties, but in the years and decades after other materials and other styles of raincoat took over. For tailors who specialized in making traditional Macs times were tough and many producers closed their shop. Other producers found a small niche of Mackintosh enthusiasts, for example the members of the Mackintosh Society, who would still buy their products. Below a model showing a shiny SBR Mackintosh raincoat at the MacSoc society.

The makers of Mackintosh raincoats noticed a different demand coming from this group of enthusiast. In the past the bestselling Mackintosh raincoats were made of double-textured fabric, in stylish cuts, and which were most comfortable to wear. But with groups of enthusiasts becoming the main customers the demand shifted to single-texture fabrics, or pure rubber Mackintoshes, which became more and more “uncomfortable” to wear in several ways. The SBR material, with the shiny black rubber outside, became highly requested, as well as double-breasted raincoats, with high collars, and with cuffs at the end of the sleeves. Wearing the coat would become even more a punishment: the cuffs could be closed, the collar could be worn up, and a double-breasted coat had to be worn closed up all the time. The design moved more from keeping the rain out to keeping the wearer in the coat. Notice the impeccable tight fit of the Mackintosh raincoat below, with cuffs near the wrists, a tight belt around the waist, the collar standing up, and the shiny gloves.

SBR raincoat combined with gloves

The sou’wester came in here also, as the ultimate humiliation or punishment was adding a rain hat to the outfit to cover up even more. At first the sou’wester had a medium sized brim to keep rain away from the face and neck and a simple string for under the chin to keep the hat in place during strong winds. But on requests from enthusiasts the design changed over time to having a wider brim and ear flaps were added to protect the sides of the head from rain. The flaps got bigger over time and in the end they covered almost the complete side of the head. The materials used also became heavier which made it harder to take the hat off and put it in your pocket: when you went out with these modified sou’wester hat you would have to keep wearing them. The screenshot of a fetisheyes.com video below nicely shows the ultimate form the sou’wester reached. The combination of a relatively large hat and the huge ear covers almost completely hide the lady wearing the outfit.

southwester sou'wester rain hat how to add to your rainwear outfit

With the disappearance of the rubberized Mackintosh raincoat and sou’wester from normal life in Britain, it seems the fetish for these specific items in decreasing as well. While the general rubber scene is increasing in popularity, the rubber rainwear scene is slowly burning out with only a couple of producers still making these items the traditional way. Less people ever experience the rubber Macs and discovering their fetish for these specific items becomes less likely.

An unlikely part of the world where sou’wester rain hats have found a way into the fetish scene recently is Japan. It seems a lot of British rainwear fetish things are finding their way to Japan, with SBR Mackintosh raincoats now entering the fetish scene there as well as rubber sou’wester hats. Below a tweet from Hiromi_ohtani showing a made-to-measure sou’wester produced by Japanese rubber artist Kurage. Interestingly she tweets that she is trying to mimic the European rainwear fetish scene (tweet translated from Japanese).

A closer look at the sou’wester below, followed by a picture of her wearing it, and a picture of the complete heavy rubber outfit as worn at a fetish party.

CURRENT TIME

In the past decades the sou’wester has been making a slight comeback, but they are mostly for kids. Unlike previously when kids wore sou’wester hats to keep their school uniform pristine, the aim is now much more to give kids some extra protection during the rain so they can go out and get dirty. Availability of sou’wester rain hats for adults is much more limited in most European countries, with the exception of Scandinavian countries where heavy-duty rainwear is still very common as regular rainwear. Source of picture below unknown, but it probably comes from Instagram.

My own opinion of the sou’wester hat is that it is one of the most interesting and cute rainwear accessories available at the time. Besides that, it also improves safety when worn in traffic over using the hood of your raincoat as you can move your head around more freely and have a wider field of view. Below an old Elle magazine cover showing an alternative solution for giving a wider field of view when using the hood on your raincoat.

Adding a sou’wester to your rainwear outfit is best done immediately when you buy a new raincoat. Preferably purchase your sou’wester from the same brands as the colours will better combine. You can take a sou’wester in the same colour as your coat or suit, but going for a different colour that matches well is also an option. Especially if you have several raincoats you could go for a more neutral sou’wester colour like black which is easy to combine.

Matching your sou’wester with your raincoat often gives the cutest look, and you can even consider combining your sou’wester with your rainpants in light rain, thereby leaving your raincoat away to create that contrast between shiny smooth PVC on top and bottom with warmer fabrics in between, like a woollen sweater. Having a sou’wester as a rainwear accessory just adds options to make your raingear more trendy and cute at a minimal cost. Sources of the pictures below: Classy Girls wear Pearls and Vogue.

As always, leave me a message or email in case you see something wrong, or have more interesting information I might have missed. And feel free to share.

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