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The Slick and Sordid History of the Mackintosh Coat

04/24/14

It seems only appropriate that the inventor of the Mackintosh (or, in plainer terms, "raincoat") was Scotsman Charles Macintosh, a man heralding from a place so damp and drizzly when someone merely mentions the country, you generally think of just one thing: green. This was not a piece of clothing that was ever going to come out of Majorca. 

In its purest, original form, the classic Mackintosh was made out of a dense, rubberized fabric invented by Scottish surgeon James Syme for use in ERs, ORs, and basically anywhere you'd probably see a lot of blood and bodily fluids bandied about. Dude spent a lot of time in "dissecting rooms," which sounds pretty much like the last place you'd want to be in the early 19th century. Getting stuck in the rain, however, became much less of a daunting prospect once Macintosh began incorporating the medical material into everyday wear. 



After joining forces with Thomas Hancock, an established clothing company, in 1830, production ramped up and rubberized coats became increasingly popular. That's not to say they were the perfect item, by any means. The early adapters of the Mackintosh coat had a lot of issues to contend with. First, there was the smell (I'm imagining something between the inside of a rain boot and a Goodyear tire plant). Second, stiffness (a supple fabric, this was not). And third, once the temperature ramped up a bit, you might find yourself wearing a melting pile of goo (hope this thing came with a warning note). In other words, people had to deal with a lot of potential discomfort just to thwart getting wet. 



Eventually vulcanized rubber came to the rescue, the result of a chemical process that added sulfer to rubber in order to form bridges between the polymer chains. The result? Rubberized goods were less sticky and infinitely superior. Melting in the sun no longer remained a problem. Once they nailed down the details, the coat quickly became the government go-to as the official supplier of the British Army, police department, and railways, paving the way for future iterations--including the ubiquitous, rubber-free trench--to be worn to this day, nearly 200 years later.