This article originally started off more like a guide to stylish pieces of rainwear – which is all well and good – but it kind of missed the core point of weather-specific clothing: above all, it needs to be functional.
The fact that rainwear should keep out the rain may seem common sense to you and I. However, more often than not the key elements of construction that go into making a piece waterproof or water-resistant play second fiddle to the overall look of the piece.
So with this in mind, we’ve put together this article outlining the various technical elements that go into making a piece truly worthy of being worn on even the rainiest of days.
Water-Proof Vs. Water-Resistant
Surprisingly few items out there are unequivocally ‘water-proof’. This is mainly because as a rule of thumb, the more a fabric keeps precipitation out, the less it allows moisture from your body to escape, which results in a garment that leaves you feeling like a walking steam-room.
- A classic rubberized-cotton raincoat will keep all moisture out, but doesn’t altogether breath.
- Waxed-cotton is a great option since it allows you to reapply fabric wax over time as it wears off, increasing waterproofing on the hood and shoulders or minimizing it under your arms to allow the cotton to breathe where you desire.
- A laminated fabric like the brand GORE-Tex is a high-tech way to keep rain out while allowing fabrics to breathe. The downside is their oft-touted ‘breath-ability’ has no standard for measurement, and cost can quickly run high
Water-resistant fabrics often have a high effectiveness when new, with performance that begins to taper off with wear and as their commonly used coatings break down. Often coated fabrics claim to be waterproof, but in reality only delay precipitation from reaching the body.
- As coating break down and lose their effectiveness, some weather-resistance can be restored through the reapplication of DRM sprays and products, available at most outdoor stores
- While generally less expensive than laminated fabrics, coatings simply don’t provide the full-weather protection
On the day the rains come (and they always do), it doesn’t matter how GQ you look if you’re left getting soaked in the street
It’s All in the Details
Aside from the actual fabric that makes up the bulk of the piece, countless details go into a quality piece of rainwear. Granted, in high-fashion pieces many of these will be omitted in the name of style, but the presence of even a few is a good indication that technical performance was a consideration and that the garment will perform well in the rain.
- Taped Seams: This is when the manufacture applies a rubberized ‘tape’ to seal up the holes created when sewing the pieces various panels together. Some manufacturers will tape all the seams, while others focus on ‘key’ points where moisture is most likely to penetrate
- Vents: No matter what a garment says about the ability of its fabric to breathe, there is no substitution for direct air exposure when it comes to dissipating the moisture your body creates. Venting along the upper-back, and under the arms is most common, and most effective. Some jackets offer vented pockets, which is a nice idea, but as long as the pocket is closed offers little in the way of air circulation
- Rubberized Zippers: Typical of highly-technical garments, these zippers are increasingly being incorporated into more contemporary pieces because they have a clean look along with their effectiveness against moisture
- Hoods: A hood is the only real way for a jacket to provide truly effective coverage against the elements. Whether it’s permanently fixed, removable, or stow-away, there are going to be days and storms when you wish you had one
Ultimately, there’s likely going to be a compromise between the garment you want in terms of fashion, and the one you need in terms of functionality. All we can really say is that on the day the rains come (and they always do), it doesn’t matter how GQ you look if you’re left getting soaked in the street.
- Garments generally fall into four categories: Waterproof/Breathable, Waterproof/Non-Breathable, Water-Resistant/Breathable, Water-Resistant/Non-Breathable
- You’re going to want to find the right compromise between Weather-proofing and Breathability that suits your particular needs. As a rule: the less rain that gets in, the less sweat that gets out.
- Small features like taped-seams, venting, and sealed zippers are usually strong indicators of a garment that has functionality as a key element of its design.
- A quality piece of rainwear is going to cost you, but it will pay dividends when those expensive technical elements work together to keep you cool, comfortable, and dry.
Know a go-to brand or piece that our readers should know about? Got a garment that let you down in the downpour? Let us know!