Boys' Rainwear

Figure 1.-- This English birthday card shows a biy wearing turn-of-the 20th century rainwear. I would date it to the around 1910. He is wearing a Southwester rain hat. A reader writes, "I'not sure about what the English boy is wearing here. He is definitely wearing a Southwester. Looks to be rubber rather than oiled cloth, but my research show that modern oilskins are both rubber and synthetics".

The first effective rainwear was the oil skin which was oil impregnated cloth. We are not sure when they first appearted, but were widely adopted by sailors and fishermen. The McIntosh or mac was the first modern rainwear. They were much more widely adopted than oil skins. Rain hats and coats are necessary items for children, especially if they walk to school. These were orginally black, but eventually yellow and later other colors appeared. Umbrellas are also important rain items, but perhaps more suitable for girls than boys. Boys are more likely to use them for sword fighting. We notice British boys using them commonly, but less so for American boys. Girls in ASmerica do use them.



We note quite a number of rainwear garments. Threy have varied over time. They were fairly standard for some time. Black was iknitially the standard color for these garments, we're not entirely sure why. Yellow appeared in the 1960s. More varied styles began to appear in the 1970s.

Rain Hats

We notice several different styles of rain hats.

Rain Coats

The first modern rainwear was the McIntosh or mac. Rain hats and coats are necessary items for children, especially if they walk to school. These were orginally black, but eventually yellow and other colors appeared. Raincoats have been done in many different styles. Some children may wear a simple anorak, nut in a real rainstorm that does not offer sufficent oprotection. An English HBC reader tells us that as a boy he did not like the gabardine overcoat he wore for school and preferred a rubberized raincoat. I certainly remember the black raincoat I wore to school as a little chap in the late-1940s and early-50s. It had a matching helmet like cap. Mom always insisted that I wear it with these huge galoshes with clasp like closures. Yellow raincoats in the same style appeared, I thought in the 1950s, but we have since found evidence of them much earlier. A HBC reader rembers the to yellow rain coat he wore as a younger boy. Older boys would get teased for wearing them. More varied rainwear appeared in the 1870s.

Light Jackets

We note American boys wearing light jackets. These did not commonly have hoods for rain protection. Light-weight jackets with hoods are much more common in England. Two common terms are anorak or cagoule. These terms especially cagoule are not commonly used in America. Cagoule is a British term. I do not think many Americans will recognize it. It means a lightweight anorak. This would be a light-weight hooded waterproof top or jacket. It is made of such a light-weight material that it can even be folded up and easily. We have noted brightly colored ones (often red or yellow) being carried by Cubs on their belt as a compact bundle at the back. It is useful in England and Scotland where rain showers can come up quickly. So boys can carry this garment instead of a heavy raincoat. The term appears to have appeared in the mid-20th century, adopted from French. The term reltes to “cowl,” from Latin cucullus “cap, hood” which is the source of the English word cowl. All cagoules have hoods for rain protection.


Oilskin was a strong fabric, often canvas or similar material, which is impregnated with oil to make it water repellant. We are not sure when they first appeared. Oilskins were the major alternative for waterproof garments and coverings in the 19th and early-20 centuries. They were commonly worn by sailors and fishermen and often their families. Oilskins could keep them dry, even it adverse conditions at sea. Gradually designs were developed to improve tgeceffectivenrss of the gear suchbas high collars and closed fronts. Even more effective synthetic materials were developed in the 20th century bwhich replaced the oilnimpregnated canvas, butkept the effective designs develooed. As a result, these garments are often still valled oilskin even though the oruiginalm oilskin material has been replaced. A British reader tells us, "I remember was "oilskins" as rainwear. These were bright yellow and worn by working adults when it was raining heavily. I think that they were bought from Millets - that shop sold workwear as well as scout and cub uniforms. I never remember boys in the 1960s wearing such oilskins. I think that they were originally worn by fishermen on board ship and so only in adult sizes. Long after I'd grown up (the 90s) there were brightly coloured raincoats and hats in this style for children, but they were made especially for children and that was not the sort of thing you'd see in the 60s or even early-70s -- another sign of changing fashions I suppose driven by economics." We see boys in oil skins being used in Uneeda biscuit ads (1902). This was to sress the freshness packing.

Plastic Macs/Anoraks

I'm not sure when light-weight plastic macs first appeared. I recall in the 1950s that my dad had one. We boys had much heavier rain coats. I don't recall other children wearing them either. One reader refers to plastic macs. They were all grey when he was in primary scgool during the 1960s. The plastic mac and the anorak are similar garments. Both are light-weight rain garments. They are not, however, the same. An anorak ws not a garment commonly worn in America. It was a common garment in Britain. We notice boys wearing brightly colored anoraks in the 1970s and they were more commonly called anoraks. We are unsure as to the precise time line when the the colored ones appeared. The anorak was not a cold-weather garment, but useful on a cool or especially rainy day. It was an extremely light-weight garment and could be rolled up and taken by Cubas and Scouts on trips so they would have something to slip on if it started to rain. (The weather in England and even more so Scotland is highly variable.) A Scotish rreader writes, "The word 'anorak' became a term of abuse in this country recently - surely unique for an item of clothing?. This is not new though - I remember boys wearing anoraks in the 70s and 80s being put down even though they were practical for the rain. Like I said boys we wanted bomber jackets or parkas like shown in the Scottish film "Ratcatcher". Wearing an anorak in the rain was almost as bad as wearing sandals in the Summer (which is why I was surprised James wore them in the film). That's how it was in Glasgow anyway."


The poncho, a blanket or sheet of water proof material with a hole cut out for the wearer's head. Its origins appear to be the Native American people of the Andes. The Spanish conquest briught the garment tobEurope and North America as the poncho. The Andean people made the Poncho in wool as a garment worn for warmth. The simple square or rectangular shape meant that no sewing or fitting was needed and was thus an easy garment to weave. Done in water proof material, it can be used as rainwear. Modern uses are oprimarilyas rainwear. It is popular wuth campers abd has been used in the military, In both cases it was useful as a garment that could be compactly folded and multiple uses in outdoor situations. A reader writes, "I vividly remember my Boy Scout poncho as being an excellent, multi-purpose garment. It was rubber coated cloth with grommets in each corner, snaps down the sides, and a drawstring closure hood. I used it as rainwear, a shelter, a ground cloth, and backpack cover. " Today, families and older boys tend to wear coated nylon ponchos and younger boys tend to wear single or multi-layer plastic ponchos.


Umbrellas are also important rain items. The word umbrella is derived from the Latin word " umbraculum " meaning a shady place or bower. Before the development of water resistant fabrics, the umbrella was primarily designed to create shade. They were used in many ancient cultures (Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Persia, and Rome). The first rain resistant umbrellas were made from leather and were used in both China and the Middleeast. Modern umbrellas first appeared in Italy during the 16th century. The concept proved popular and spread throughout Europe. A fashionable style for ladies appeared in the 19th century--the en tout cas. It was an elegant parasol, but sufficently strong to stand up to a summer shower. This umbrella becane known as a 'gamp' after the Charles Dicken's character Mrs Gamp. Inexpensive umbrellas are also used by children, primarily to go to school. They are perhaps more suitable for girls than boys. Boys are more likely to use them for sword fighting. We notice British boys using them. We note many colorful styles for childre, often with cheerful designs,

Country Trends

We have not developed much country specific information on rainwear yet. We do have an American raiwear page. We also have a little informtion on England and Germany. Curiously we have found very little information about European rainwear, except in England. I can recall in America during the late 50s and early 60s that I had a heavy rubberized rain coat with a matching hooded affair. The coat if I recall correctly had metal clasp closures. What I really hated about this get up were the galoshes that my mother insisted I wear--at least until the age of effective resistance. I hated them because of all the trouble needed to get them on an off. A Canadian reader tells us, "In Canada, we wore what was called a 'swamp coat' which was a reversible coat with yellow rubberized material on one side and green or blue cloth material on the other. It came down to near our knees and had a hood. We wore them with black and red rubber boots. Canadian boys were Souwester rain hats with unhooded coats up until the 1970's, when these hooded coats took over and rain hats were not really worn any more. These 'swamp coats' are still popular today with younger boys. Today, older boys tend to wear a shorter PVC or vinyl hooded jacket."

Individual Experiences

A HBC reader has provided information on the rainwear he wore as a South African schooboy.


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Created: 6:00 AM 2/22/2005
Last updated: 7:22 AM 1/12/2011