Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Rainwear Issue

Many people have been complaining about the long rainy summer, but not us. For us it's been an opportunity to dress for the occasion, and this year there have been plenty of great occasions to air out the rubber and the nylon.

When we came of age, everyone worshipped at the altar of natural fibers - cotton, linen, silk and wool - which is part of the reason that one iconic word in The Graduate - Plastics - was so howlingly funny then (and is probably unfathomable to anyone young enough to be our children or grandchildren now). It's difficult to break free of the natural fibers hard wiring, but for rainy weather there's nothing like good old plastics and their kissing cousins in the synthetics family.

When we were young, a raincoat was more or less guaranteed to be waterproof. It was plastic or rubber, or coated in plastic or rubber, and raindrops beaded up on those raincoats like little jewels - at least until the plastic cracked or the rubber crumbled. Now, for some reason, much that calls itself rainwear is water resistant rather than waterproof, as if responding to some call from consumers for moist skin on rainy days. As if modern consumers had expressed a yearning to have a stronger connection between their outer weather and their inner weather.

In the photo above at left is Jean in the lobby of The Donovan Hotel in Washington, DC. While appearing to be ready to dance in her fabulous flowing black ball gown, she is actually ready to engage in undercover Special Ops wearing her U.S. Army surplus SWAT Team hooded rain poncho from the Army-Navy store. The U.S. government designers made a coat that is not only waterproof, it can be snapped to another poncho to form a tent for fashionistas who disdain whipping out of buildings and into taxis, and want to prolong their communion with the elements. Jean's DKNY rainboots, unseen under her poncho, are perfect for the flash floods that often accompany East Coast rains. When clearing huge eddying puddles over storm drains is not an option, jumping into them can be a joyous occasion with the right boots.

Above right, Valerie wears black and white polka dotted rain boots and matching umbrella by ShedRain (found weeks and miles apart), black and white tee dress and matching leggings from H&M (97% cotton, and the all-important 5% Elastane), an extra large water resistant (just barely) men's white nylon jacket, black and white plastic target motif earrings from the late lamented outdoor flea market at West 26th Street, and smudgy black and gray canvas bag from H&M. By felicitous happenstance, colorful rainboots are very in just now, which means that those of us who are often compelled to wear flat shoes with wide toes (read: ugly sneakers) can find some small pleasure in patterned Wellies.

Note that both raincoats have ample room to go over our outfits without bulking us up or binding our arms, and allow for the passage of air. We're willing to suffer for our art, but looking ungainly would defeat the purpose. And looking uncomfortable - well, the whole point is to make it all look spontaneous and effortless...

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