Friday, April 19, 2013

The Secret Life of the (kinky) Rubber Mackintosh


Back in the 1970’s, there was a ladies fashion shop in Epsom, Surrey located in a shopping arcade near the towns Clock Tower with a secret.

To the casual observer, May’s of Epsom (I am using a fictitious name for the purpose of this blog post) was a high-end ladies fashion boutique which served the needs of well-to- do customers in this historic horse racing town located south west of London.

May’s secret was located in an alcove at the back of the shop. Just behind two large potted Fichus trees and a large glass table covered with ladies fashion magazines which always included the latest editions of Queen and Vogue.

What was the secret? A large selection of shiny black rubber mackintoshes and double texture rubberized riding macs, all displayed on brass clothing rails which could be closed off from view by a large red velvet curtain at any time.

In fact, if not for the strong rubber aroma, it would have been hard for anyone to notice the partially hidden display of rubber mackintoshes positioned as far away as possible from the rest of the shops fashion wear and sales counters.

But to the informed rubber rainwear enthusiast, May’s offered a good and reliable source for quality rubber rainwear in a comfortable and above all discreet setting.

Based on my own recollection, the majority of the rubber mackintoshes on sale at May’s were described as either "Town and Country" walking coats or equestrian "Riding Macs", all fashioned in a single breasted, style with a fly front and accompanying belt. However, occasionally they would stock a full length double breasted military style mackintosh in shiny black rubber which they would describe as their own exclusive "Trench Mac".

Almost certainly, May’s owners recognized the sales opportunities in selling quality rubber rainwear to their customers but also may have felt a little uncomfortable selling what many considered at the time to be kinky or fetishistic rainwear.

Over the years, there have been a number of theories why rubber mackintoshes and especially shiny black rubber (SBR) mackintoshes are considered in some circles to be kinky or taboo. One theory dates back to the beginning of the last century, when reportedly well-to-do upper class women made a point of never going out in the rain. Consequently, any woman who wore a waterproof rubber raincoat commonly referred to as a mackintosh after inventor Charles Macintosh (the k was inserted in the generic name to avoid trademark infringement in later years by rainwear manufacturers) was considered to be a woman of questionable character or ill repute. Further, by the 1920’s, rubber clothing was recognized to have certain fetish connotations. Consequently, any woman dressed in a rubber mackintosh would almost certainly have gained attention and scrutiny in certain quarters.
 
During the 1950’s, rubber mackintoshes manufactured in SBR, rubberized single and double texture proofed cotton and rubber backed satin and nylon were relatively affordable and easy to find in high street shops and department stores across the UK and USA and frequently worn by men and women from all walks of life. The majority of whom were unaware of their raincoats kinky reputation.

Without question or doubt, the shiny plastic (PVC) mackintosh almost certainly took over the mantle of the ‘kinky mac" in the swinging 60’s and progressive 70’s, due in part to its ubiquitous presence in the media. 
Meanwhile, sales of the traditional rubber mackintosh in its various forms still remained relatively strong.

In 1974, New York Dolls and later Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren along with fashion designer Vivien Westwood caused a stir at their shop named Sex located at 430 Kings Road, Chelsea by openly selling amongst other things, rubber clothing. This included, to the interest of the British press and London Metropolitan Police, a selection of latex rubberwear including catsuits, dresses, gloves, hoods, masks, skirts and of course shiny black rubber mackintoshes.

Before long, models dressed in rubber mackintoshes and masks from McLaren and Westwood’s shop began showing up in adult magazine centerfolds, and even the British national press modeling (and promoting) the shops wares and confirming to the world that rubber and particularly the rubber mackintosh was still very much an item of "kinky" British clothing.

Almost certainly, McLaren and Westwood’s relatively short-lived retail establishment drew attention to rubber as a revolutionary fashion material for younger people to wear, during the 1970’s punk rock era resulting in the launch of several rubber enthusiast magazines during that time period in the UK and Continental Europe.

But the rubber mackintosh did not become the adopted street wear of younger people in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and eventually slipped back into relative obscurity as the treasured garment for only the most dedicated rubber rainwear enthusiasts to purchase and enjoy.

Town & Country Rubber Mackintosh
Today in 2013, there are no May’s of Epsom to the best of my knowledge, discreetly selling rubber mackintoshes to their customers from the back of their shop. In fact, there are only a few retailers selling traditional rubber mackintoshes around the world and only a handful of rubber rainwear manufacturers the majority of which reportedly rely on one UK based supplier for the coveted "natural rubber" SBR and single/double textured mackintosh material.

While I can personally attest (based on my email), that the rubber mackintosh is still very popular item of rainwear with enthusiasts around the world, it is hard to predict the long term future of this much loved raincoat and all the "kinky mac" connotations that go with it, which for the record, I happen to believe adds to the mackintoshes’ appeal.

The secret life of the rubber mackintosh will continue...
 

TheRainwearist 

3 comments:

  1. Good input and information!

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  2. Hi Kristine.

    Thanks for this latest post. Really enjoyed it. I wish I'd found that shop in Epsom years ago.

    Like you, I bemoan the fact that there are now such limited places to buy a rubber mackintosh. The only shop I frequent is Weather Vain in London - but like you say there may be a few others but my understanding too is that only one place in the north of England makes all the garments. It's great pity for us rainwear fans - but also for the general public because with the changing climate and summers like we had last year, there could actually be a greater call for coats that genuinely are waterproof.

    I wore mine during a winter holiday on the coast, while Mistress wore her PVC mack, and several people commented about 'how good it was to see people dressed properly for the bad weather,' so it seems people do think that mackintoshes are a good to wear.

    One thing I think holding rubber mackintoshes back is the style. There's nothing like a genuine, traditional trenchcoats, but there might be a little more appeal if there were also some more modern fashionable cuts available.

    The other issue is price. It's around £500 now for a genuine mackintosh which is a huge amount for a raincoat. However, I still believe that properly marketed in the right fashion magazines, the SBR mackintosh could, maybe not make a comeback, but could certainly enjoy a new lease of life.

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  3. Have a look at pelerinen.ch

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