The glass ceiling has yet to infringe upon this realm. Apparently.
As an obsessive travel junkie who’s trudged through near-freezing downpours because I might never be in Italy again and who lives in a rainy town during the annoyingly long non-travel segments of my existence, I tend to take gear rather seriously. And I’ve noticed over the years an adorable yet jealousy-inducing trend taking place in the outdoor apparel industry that I wish could be happening to both genders equally. Namely:
The best women’s rain jackets are way better than anything I can get. Particularly when it comes to travel.
For whatever reason, women’s waterproof jacket designers are moving in exactly the direction that is ideal for ultralight travel fans. They’re making high-tech rain shells that not only function properly, but also allow backpackers to pack smaller, lighter, and simpler, perhaps without even realizing it, merely by infusing their creations with one criminally underrated characteristic:
They look good.
I don’t know why so few people have figured this out, but there’s absolutely no reason that high-tech performance apparel needs to be stupidly ugly, and there are plenty of great reasons to do the opposite.
Why beauty is actually a performance advantage
This is especially relevant for travel, which is why I complain about it so vocally. If you’re trying to fit everything into the overhead compartment on the plane (and you should definitely give one-bag travel a try), you don’t want extra nonsense taking up extra space.
What most outdoorsy companies don’t seem to realize (or care about) is that if their gear is ugly, you might have to bring non-ugly clothing as well, which defeats the purpose of all their lightweight fabrication techniques, which is a stupid problem that’s incredibly easy to solve.
Instead of hauling both a waterproof jacket for rainy days and a classy jacket for evenings out, you can just get a single classy and waterproof jacket that’ll handle everything. It’ll be half the weight and take up half the space, simply because it looks good.
But wait! There’s more!
Why beauty is also cost-effective
Have you ever bought something for functional reasons, and bought something else for fashionable reasons? How annoying! If everything were functional and fashionable simultaneously, you’d only need to buy a single item.
And although it might be emotionally devastating to pay twice as much for something, you may have been doing that already, by buying multiple items with only half as many applications.
High-tech gear gets pricey, particularly when it comes to rainproof jackets, but it’s not so bad if you’re able to find something that allows you to skip other items, which is why combining function with fashion is so damn useful.
“But I want to look good!”
I’ve heard this one too many times to count. People complain all the time about how travel clothing looks incredibly ugly, and they’re usually right. It’s a pointless ordeal that simply doesn’t need to exist.
But what’s even more annoying is that lots of people think it’s not possible to look good in high-tech gear, which is just ridiculous. It’s not like those bright colors and “hey, I’m a tourist” zippers just magically appear out of nowhere. Travel clothing only looks ugly because the designers are stupid, and decide to make it ugly. But they’ve actually been so consistently ugly for so long that people don’t believe the world could be otherwise.
Argh. It’s like those people who said humans could never fly because it had never happened before. Look who’s stupid now!
What the best women’s rain jackets get right
Though it’s certainly true that aesthetics are often subjective, there’s a very tangible benefit to a rain jacket that doesn’t look like “just” a rain jacket, which is the direction these jackets are going, and they’ve all got a few things in common that I think help make them acceptable in a wider range of social situations than just hiking up a mountainside.
Here’s what I think fashionable women’s rain jackets do especially well:
- Little to no branding. Plenty of companies still love sticking their logo all over the place, but at least with some of their classier options they’ll often make it the same color as the rest of the jacket, or they’ll stick it in less obtrusive places.
- Visually textured fabric. Although flat black is pretty classy, plenty of options these days closely resemble the varied texture of wool or tweed. In other words, you can get a high-tech jacket that looks a lot like a classy coat. The texture also helps to reduce the synthetic sheen that is typical of most rain jacket fabrics.
- “Low-tech” hardware and other details. It’s rather common nowadays to see women’s rain jackets in trench coat styles, with removable belts, metal snaps and buckles instead of velcro, zippered pockets concealed under fold-down flaps, and other minor details that you’d find on a regular coat. Though you could argue that it’s sometimes heavier than necessary, I would point out that if you’re carrying two jackets instead of one, it’s even worse. You can skip the ones that have too many extras anyway.
With the potential exception of extra buckles, there’s really nothing here that would negatively impact performance, since all they’re doing is using nicer-looking fabric in less-flashy colors and hiding logos and other features. You no longer need to make the choice between staying dry and looking good. You can indeed have it all. Liz Lemon would be proud.
Luckily for all the ladies out there, at least in this particular category, plenty of outdoorsy designers have done it right. It’s quite refreshing.
I just wish they’d make some for me, dammit.
So do they only look good for ladies?
It’s not like rain jackets for women have a monopoly on style, but it certainly takes a lot more digging to find something comparable for men. Maybe it says something profound about gender roles and the patriarchy. But I’m not here to philosophize. I’m here to complain.
I’ve seen a few options here and there that look nice, but when you’re dealing with aesthetics, preferences get rather subjective, which is why a broad range of choices would be ideal. But options tend to be far more numerous when it comes to women’s rain jackets, where rack after rack of performance apparel just yearns to be worn to the opera.
Who’s got the best?!?!
I won’t pretend to be an expert on women’s fashion, and the final say will of course be up to you, but I’ll mention that it was especially easy finding classy rain jackets from REI, which actually has a dedicated category, titled “women’s casual rain jackets.” Columbia, The North Face, and Nau have quite a few options as well. It’s nice to see some of the major players getting in on the action, since they usually have quite a few choices.
Options are so numerous nowadays that it’s quite likely that instead of digging around to find the best women’s rain jacket in the universe, you’re more likely to get stuck picking between several favorites. Not entirely a bad problem to have. Enjoy!