What is a Balmacaan?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A balmacaan is a loose single-breasted overcoat designed to be worn over layers of clothing as protective gear. A variety of textiles are used to make balmacaans, but as a general rule the overcoat is designed to be functional, rather than dazzlingly attractive.

A balmacaan is designed to be worn over layers of clothing as protective gear.
A balmacaan is designed to be worn over layers of clothing as protective gear.

Some fashion companies have adapted and updated the balmacaan design to create stylish overcoats for the image-conscious, but they are still usually checked at the door. Like all overcoats, the design of a balmacaan is intentionally very loose, so that it can be worn over an assortment of layers which may include thick sweaters and trousers.

A balmacaan may be worn over trousers.
A balmacaan may be worn over trousers.

The balmacaan is named after a famous Scottish estate near Inverness. In the frequently inclement weather of Scotland, a protective overcoat is a vital piece of wear. Some people are more familiar with the nickname for the coat, and prefer to call it a “bal.” Both men and women sport balmacaans, although women's designs are usually cut with darts to hint at the shapely figure which may lie beneath.

The loose fit of the torso of a balmacaan allows it to be slipped on over multiple layers of clothing. The sleeves are made using a raglan design, which means that the sleeve travels all the way up to the neckline from the wrist, making one smooth piece of fabric. This reduces the risk of water flowing through seams on the upper part of the balmacaan, and creates a distinctive look. A balmacaan may also have a high collar or detachable hood, along with an assortment of pockets inside and out, and a belt to secure it.

Originally, rough wool cloth was used to make balmacaans. Wool is insulating and water resistant, which makes it a good choice for outerwear. With the invention of waterproof synthetics, more lightweight waterproof coats were designed. Fashion coats may be made from any number of textiles, including tweed, crepe, silk, velvet, and other similar materials which would be impractical for unfavorable weather, although they look attractive.

In Scotland, several companies make traditionally styled balmacaans which are available for export and sale. They are well suited to visits to Scotland, Wales, and other traditionally chilly, damp places. More fashionable balmacaans are made by an assortment of manufacturers, depending on the season and the dominant styles, and they are made available in boutiques and department stores. The raglan long sleeve design and calf length are retained in both the fashion and practical balmacaan.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


That picture is not a picture of a Balmacaan.


@ceilingcat - Sounds like you wouldn't have lasted too long in Scotland in the past! I don't think you would have had many alternatives to wool to keep you warm.

Luckily now we live in an age with synthetic fabrics. I personally think waterproof coats with down linings are the way to go. They are the perfect mix of natural and synthetic!


Balmacaans sound pretty useful. I don't think I will ever be able to sport a traditional balmacaan though-I am highly allergic to wool! I'm so allergic to it that I can't even wear wool as an outer layer.

If I ever saw a balmacaan made of a synthetic material, I would consider purchasing it. I'm not very fashion conscious, and it gets cold here in the winters!


The older I get, the less I tend to care about fashion and would rather be warm and comfortable.

It is best if you can have both though, and I found this with a women's leather jacket that was in a balmacaan style.

It is a longer styled coat with raglan sleeves so it is functional and stylish. It is the first coat I reach for on a cold, damp day. The longer length keeps more of my body protected, but the sleeves, the cut of the jacket and the leather material also make it very stylish.


My daughter married a man from Ireland, and they lived in Ireland for several years after they were married.

Because Scotland is only a short ferry ride away from Ireland, she visited Scotland many times. She comments on how beautiful a country it is, but would never recommend visiting there in the winter.

They have very cold, damp winters and she said you see many people wearing a balmacaan raincoat in Scotland. They get a lot of rain, so these are common year round. In the winter when it is colder you see many balmacaan coats, which are heavier than a lot of the raincoats.

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