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A riding coat or jacket is a garment originally designed as outerwear for horseback riding. It protects the wearer's upper clothes from dirt and wear and in some cases provide additional protection in the case of falls.
The Manchu "horse jacket" (magua) was a dark blue riding coat worn by Manchurian horsemen before becoming a staple item of menswear across the Qing Empire. It subsequently developed into the Burmese taikpon and the Chinese tangzhuang.
Original waterproof designs – similar to a mackintosh – generally comprised a full-length coat with wide skirt and leg straps to keep it in place. Other typical features included a belted waist, large patch pockets with protective flap, raglan sleeves with tab and wind cuff, fly front, throat tab and a broad collar.
In 1823 Charles Macintosh (1766–1843) patented his invention for waterproof rubberised cloth, pressing together two sheets of cotton material with dissolved India-rubber sandwiched in between. It was a brilliant idea for making any fabric weatherproof, and the very first macintosh coats were made at the family's dyestuffs factory, Charles Macintosh and Co of Glasgow.
The rubber processing pioneer Thomas Hancock (1786–1865) was aware of Macintosh’s work and in 1825 he took out a licence to manufacture the patented "waterproof double textures". For historical background, refer to the hardback "The Hancocks of Marlborough" and website "Bouncing Balls", author John Loadman
Using masticated scrap rubber instead, Hancock's solutions had a higher rubber content than those of Macintosh and so could more readily give a uniform film on the cloth, minimising water penetration and odour.
Eventually the two men co-operated, so that in 1831 Hancock became a partner in Charles Macintosh & Co and their two companies merged. One feature of the co-operation was the construction of an automated spreading machine to replace Macintosh’s original paint brushes. In 1834 Hancock's London factory burned down and Macintosh had already closed the Glasgow factory, hence all the work transferred to Manchester. See the "Virtual Encyclopedia of Greater Manchester"
From then on, the manufacturing of "proper" raincoats or macs impervious to all weathers – constructed of two layers of rubber-coated cotton fabric or "double textured" – was concentrated, with all necessary expertise and experience, in Manchester or the Lancastrian cotton towns. There such rubber or rubberised products amounted to a "cottage industry", as confirmed by the abundance of company records in the National Archives at Kew, Surrey.
Classic, belted, double-textured trench coats in off-white or fawn for riding or walking were fashionable prior to World War 2 until the end of the century as a specifically British fashion, flattering the human form and enhancing its magnetism. To see typical wartime usage, a good reference is Danger UXB (Anthony Andrews), Thames Television's acclaimed drama series first broadcast in the late 1970s, or the 1976 movie The Eagle Has Landed (film) (Donald Sutherland). The military flavour of rubberised raincoats continued with the 1997 programme Bodyguards (TV series) (as sported by John Shrapnel playing Commander MacIntyre of the elite protection team).
A model pictured in the December 1944 issue of Vogue (magazine) showed the attractiveness and practicality of these macs for the fashion-conscious, whilst they appeared in favourite 1950s and 1960s feature films such as Genevieve (film) (1953) (worn by Dinah Sheridan), Me and the Colonel (1958) (Nicole Maurey) and Twice Round the Daffodils (1962) (Sheila Hancock), always sharp, clean, rustling and making a bold statement.
Meanwhile, traditional gentlemen's outfitters such as Cordings, Hackett and Gieves & Hawkes continued to sell plenty of smart walking coats in thick rubberised cotton, very popular at the time. Common in Britain around 1960 were neat zipper jackets for young and old, frequently with pinched waist, and hooded anoraks in the same materials - the latter in dark green for scouting, hiking, climbing, canoeing and yet more of the great outdoors.
Developing on from that, double-textured "gangster" macs were the must-have, trendy outerwear for girls with chutzpah around 1970, having originated with the Valstar "Gangster" brand designed by Maurice Attwood.
Featuring a signature yoke front and back, a belt and peplum, and wriststraps with buckles, these styles were sold in a range of colours, different lengths, and either cotton or viscose, at major high street stores like Debenhams (under their Debroyal brand) and C&A (Vivienne style) at prices from £10 to £20. The snazzy yoked design was all the rage among the younger set, even appearing in suitably small sizes for daughters proud to copy their mums.
This or a similar style of rainwear graced the foremost actors and actresses of the time. Cinema films included Country Dance (film) (1970) (Susannah York), Hoffman (film) (1970) (Sinéad Cusack), No Blade of Grass (1970) (Nigel Davenport, Jean Wallace, Lynne Frederick), The Ragman's Daughter (1972) (Victoria Tennant) and All Creatures Great and Small (film) (1974) (Lisa Harrow, Simon Ward). Examples of the many TV series in that period containing Valstar “Gangster” type double-textured rainwear were Take Three Girls (Liza Goddard), The Lotus Eaters (TV series) (Wanda Ventham) and Man About the House (Paula Wilcox).
Since they provided effective insulation against the cold, the garments were later called “winter macs” by females, who would wear them buttoned, with upturned short collar and - to complete the look - a neckerchief giving a bright, contrasting slash of colour.
The retro "gangster" style has been revived as the "Chorlton" in a choice of five colours by Lakeland Elements of Lancaster, since Chorlton-upon-Medlock, now part of Greater Manchester, was the location of one of the early macintosh factories.
Other design initiatives and variants over the years included the introduction of “light double-textured” and “single-textured” rubberised macs, again in many hues. There were ponchos, military-style capes and more recently the short, navy blue Margaret Howell hoody. Then, on the Continent of Europe, you would see the green hooded anorak or slicker, with yellow rubber lining, as worn by Anne-Laure Meury in the classic French relationship movie The Aviator's Wife (1981) and the similarly unisex Friesennerz reversible hooded anorak in yellow rubber with blue (sometimes fawn) lining, sold on Germany’s high streets and sported by Glenda Jackson in her 1978 film The Class of Miss MacMichael. Certainly the latter mac was beloved by young tourists of German nationality making pilgrimage to the fashion mecca of the Swinging Sixties, Carnaby Street in London W1.
- "The Hancocks of Marlborough" by John Loadman & Francis James, Oxford University Press, 2009
- Bouncing-Balls.com, author John Loadman
- Papillon Graphics' Virtual Encyclopedia of Greater Manchester