What is a Mackintosh?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A Mackintosh, often called a "mack" or a "mac," is a rain-resistant coat developed in the United Kingdom. Despite the term becoming a generic word for any raincoat, an authentic version of the coat uses a rubber coating to prevent water-seepage. Mackintoshes have recently undergone a revival in fashion, with updated designs making them popular in many places.

Mackintoshes were invented in the UK.
Mackintoshes were invented in the UK.

Born in the late 18th century, Charles Macintosh was the son of a Glasgow, Scotland, factory owner who produced textiles. When Charles took over the plant, he began trying to increase the profits of the factory by finding some use for the waste products of a nearby Glasgow gas plant. Through experimentation, Charles discovered that a naphtha solution would dissolve rubber, forming thin sheets of the material that could be laminated onto fabrics, making them waterproof.

Macintosh partnered with a clothing company owned by Thomas Hancock, who had conducted his own waterproofing experiments with little success. The original coats made through the lamination process were quite stiff and uncomfortable, and the rubber often melted around high temperatures. Hancock invented a vulcanization process for the rubber in 1843, which used an ether solution to cure the rubber, making it more durable and flexible. Original experiments were conducted on wool fabric, which did not stand up well to the rubber coating. Soon, the plant was making Mackintoshes from light cotton fabrics, which added flexibility and could handle the vulcanized rubber.

For most of the 19th and 20th century, Mackintosh coats were considered functional, rather than fashionable. The company was taken over several times by various rubber-making and clothing companies who operated with varying success. The Mackintosh coat retained popularity in areas like the United Kingdom, where variable weather is a staple of the environment, but failed to attract new markets of buyers.

In the 1990s, the Mackintosh appeared to be on the verge of failure, planning to close its Scottish factory due to falling sales. However, the style was saved when it was overtaken by David Dunko, who decided to revitalize the look and appeal of the functional coat. In the 21st century, Mackintosh Limited has partnered with several fashion designers to create beautiful coat styles using the traditional waterproofing methods of the original design. The colorful patterns and fashionable cuts of the new coats have attracted considerable worldwide success, particularly in fashion-conscious Japan.

While many coats similar to the Mackintosh style are available inexpensively, the genuine article is still produced by the original company. The pairing of the company with famous fashion brands has lead to skyrocketing prices, with basic models of the coat available for approximately $800 US Dollars (USD). At the company’s flagship location in the United Kingdom, customers are allowed in by appointment only and can custom-design their coat from hundreds of fabric, style and design choices.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


Here's yet another term that means very little in the United States. Use the terms "Mac" or "Mackintosh" over here and people will assume you are referring to a computer made by Apple -- ironic as the last thing you'd want to do with one of those is put it out in the rain.

Still, us happy Beatles fans are somewhat aware of the term, at least those of us who bothered to figure what Paul McCartney was going on about in "Penny Lane" when he sang, "And the banker never wears a 'mac' in the pouring rain..."

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