- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 26, 2005

They’re made of a range of materials from waxed cotton to nylon. They can cost anywhere from $5 to more than $800, and they are very popular this time of year.

Yes, raincoats.

And they’re no longer just about repelling rain, says Gregg Andrews, fashion director at Nordstrom.

“Raincoats are an integral part of every woman’s fashion wardrobe,” Mr. Andrews says. “They’ve gone beyond just being a necessity.”

One reason raincoats have gone from utilitarian garment to fashion must-have is the development of materials, Mr. Andrews says. It’s no longer necessary to use heavy-duty rubberized materials to repel rain. Various chemicals, such as Teflon, are used to coat materials, such as cotton, to create water resistance, he says. Weaving techniques also have improved.

“The fabric evolution has enabled the lean, chic look,” he says.

One of the most popular rain garments in the past few years is the trench coat, often made with cotton or poplin. It is, however, not a new item.

Burberry, one of the most recognizable trench coats with its trademark checkered lining, was created by Thomas Burberry in England in the mid-1800s. These trench coats, which are traditionally long and khaki-colored, were worn by the British military in World War I.

“It was never designed as a fashion piece and therefore carries the unique label of being a true iconic garment that is functional with a strong aesthetic style,” says Christopher Bailey, creative director at Burberry.

These coats can cost in the $800-range and are marketed to last a lifetime. And unlike most fashionable garments, Burberry is not bound by a narrow demographic, Mr. Bailey says.

“[The Burberry trench coat] is both ageless and genderless and is worn by everybody from royalty to rock stars and everyone in-between,” Mr. Bailey says.

But not everyone wants the classic trench look, particularly women.

“Designers have taken the inspiration of the traditional trench coat and created shorter lengths, more details, other colors,” Mr. Andrews says.

Burberry also has created spinoffs of the classic trench and offers various colors, designs and lengths.

At Nordstrom, a common price range for women’s raincoats is $100 to $200. But there are also cheaper and more expensive options.

So, if Mr. Andrews were to recommend something for this season, what would it be?

“I would say a shorter, more fitted version of the trench,” he says. “It’s sophisticated and versatile. You can wear it with a dress or with pants.”

In terms of colors, black or dark blue are always good choices for a first raincoat. Light blue, pink or a crisp white can work well for a second raincoat this season, he says.

But a classic khaki trench — like the traditional Burberry — is also a sound investment.

“The trench is like the little black dress or the classic tuxedo, it will never go out of style,” Mr. Andrews says.

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