By Andy Gilchrist

In 1557, an English gentleman by the name of Thomas Tusser compiled a collection of writings he called A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry. In the April Husbandry section, he wrote, “Sweet April showers do spring May Flowers”. In England, the month of April brings huge weather swings with the jet stream lifting northward at the start of spring.

Sometime later, this sentiment is found in a poem by Mathilde Blind titled April Rain.

“Life is not a highway strewn with flowers
Still it holds a goodly share of bliss
When the sun gives way to April showers
Here is the point you should never miss
Though April showers may come your way
They bring the flowers that bloom in May
So if it's raining have no regrets
Because it isn't raining rain you know, it's raining violets.”

"April Showers" is a 1921 popular song with music written by Louis Silvers and lyrics by B. G. De Sylva.

The song was introduced in the 1921 Broadway musical Bombo, where it was performed by Al Jolson. It became a well-known Jolson standard: the first of his several recordings of the song was on Columbia Records in October 1921. It has also been recorded by many other artists.

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are a 20th century innovation made of waterproof or resistance material, often chemically treated cottons and may have a removable lining for more versatility in wear for rain in different temperatures.

Coats are loose outer garments made to be worn over other garments and protect us from the elements. The word “coat” comes from the Latin word “clocca” meaning “cloak,” or “bell” (from the shape of a cloak). Coat also describes any type of outer garment that might also be called a cape, mantle or coat.

Raincoats are made from waterproof fabric or fabric given a special surface finish. There are several methods of producing water-impervious fabrics (see “weather protection terms”). Here are some common raincoat fabrics:

  • Cotton fabric, like Burberry’s gabardine, which is waterproofed both in the yarn and then in the final fabric.
  • Gore-Tex, a trade name for fabric with Teflon based membrane sandwiched between nylon outer fabric and soft inner fabric. The fabric has many minuscule pores, which make it breathable yet water and vapor proof.
  • “India rubber cloth,” patented in 1822 by Charles Macintosh. This was the first raincoat. The cloth was two pieces of material sandwiched together with rubber softened by naphtha.
  • Vinyl, a synthetic material of non-porous plastic, which is tough, flexible, shiny, elastic, and can be transparent.

Stitching can be a weak point for raincoats since poor stitching can let the water in. Make certain special waterproofing has been used on the seams. The stitches should be even and straight, strong, and secure, more hand stitching is best.

Lining – A zip in/out lining for warmth usually called “all weather” (makes the raincoat more useable in other weather besides rain).

Buttons – For the dressiest raincoats, horn buttons are best, since they look stylish and are durable. Horn buttons have a non-uniform coloration, and they are not shiny.

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Weather protection terms:

These definitions will help you fit the raincoat to the type of weather you’ll be facing.

Water-repellent: the first level of non-absorption of water. The garment should remain dry in a light rain shower.

Water-resistant: the second level of non-absorption of water. The garment should shed water for a time.

Waterproof: a relative term depending on the quantity of water. It describes fabric that cannot be permeated by water. The garment may have sealed seams in addition to a waterproof coating. Some fabrics/finishes are more waterproof than others and may not be waterproof if you go swimming in them!

Color for Raincoats

Raincoats should be beige, never black, according to research done by John T. Molloy in his popular book, "Dress for Success".

Styles of Raincoats:

or Trench Burberrys of London created this cotton twill raincoat for British troops during World War I. It has wide lapels, a back yoke, button in-or-out lining, military style details such as epaulets, buckled wrist straps, a button-down storm flap on the shoulder, and a belt with D rings to clip on military equipment like grenades. Thomas Burberry (1835 – 1926) born at Brookham Green, near Dorking, England, was an apprentice to a draper. He started his own business in 1856 in Basingstoke, Hampshire, and expanded into clothing.

While he was researching waterproof material, a doctor stated that the ideal fabric would be impervious to rain and wind, but allow the body to breathe. Inspired by the closely woven linen smocks of local shepherds he designed a cotton fabric, which was waterproofed both in the yarn and then in the final fabric. He called the material “Gabardine”, but the raincoats were soon known as Burberry. During the Boer War, officers begin to wear Burberry raincoats, which persuaded the War Office to give official approval and the coat model Trench 21, specifically designed for World War I trench warfare, was produced in 1914.

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Macintosh or “Mac” (listen to the Beatles’ “Penny Lane”) is made from “India rubber cloth,” patented in 1822 by Charles Macintosh. Introduced in 1830, this was considered the first raincoat. The cloth was two pieces of material sandwiched together with rubber softened by naphtha. The original intention was to make tarpaulins, but tailors started using the fabric for raincoats. The trouble was when they sewed the fabric it let rain in through the needle holes. Macintosh, to save his name from disgruntled raincoat consumers, started making coats the right way with waterproofed seams. He added a tartan lining and had a rainproof coat. It was, however, hot to wear, leading George Spill to invent the addition of metal eyelets under the armpits in 1851. The original raincoats were yellow with capes, the kind you still see on public servants during rainstorms.

Charles Macintosh was a Scottish chemist who invented the Mackintosh raincoat. In 1823, Macintosh patented a method for making waterproof garments by using liquefied rubber dissolved in coal-tar naphtha for cementing two pieces of wool cloth together.

While he was trying to find uses for the waste products of gasworks, Macintosh discovered that coal-tar naphtha dissolved India rubber. He took wool cloth and painted one side with the dissolved rubber preparation and placed another layer of wool cloth on top.

This created the first practical waterproof fabric, but the fabric was not perfect. It was easy to puncture when it was seamed, the natural oil in wool caused the rubber cement to deteriorate. In cold weather the fabric became stiffer and in hot weather the fabric became sticky.

When vulcanized rubber was invented in 1839, Macintosh's fabrics improved since the new rubber could withstand temperature changes. His business partner Thomas Hancock acquired the British patent for vulcanized rubber in 1843. By applying the "new" solution, which was stronger and less sticky to cotton instead of wool, and gluing seams instead of sewing them Macintosh succeeded in providing a lightweight, waterproof raincoat. By 1897 the coat was a marketing success. The company is now owned by Traditional Weatherwear, Ltd.

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Poncho – This garment was originally styled as a blanket with a slit in the middle so it could be slipped over the head and worn as a sleeveless garment. Now, poncho describes any garment (waterproof or not) resembling the original and having an integral hood. The word “poncho” is a 1717 Spanish word (perhaps a variant of “pocho”, meaning “faded, or “discolored”).

Rain Cape – A cape with slits for arms, made of water repellent fabric or vinyl.

Siphonia – A long weatherproof overcoat worn in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Also came in a “pocket siphonia” which was short and thin enough to be rolled up and carried in case of rain. Often called a “fold-up”, a lightweight raincoat frequently of clear vinyl, which folds to pocket size.

Slicker – A bright yellow oilskin or rubberized fabric usually fastened with clips. Originally worn by sailors.


Dry cleaning removes the waterproof qualities of a coat so clean only when required. They need to be cleaned by a specialist who can restore the weather protection properties that dry cleaning can remove. Ask your dry cleaner to re-proof the coat every time you have it cleaned.

Test for waterproofness: apply a few drops of water to the sleeve. If the drops bead up, blot them off and congratulate yourself on your wise dry cleaner choice! If the drops soak in, take the coat back, or better try another cleaning establishment.