Nicola here, rambling (literally) today on what to wear for a dog walk in the rain and adding in some historical sidenotes. Each day I go out with Angus, our pet Labrador, or April, our guide dog trainee in the inclement winter weather, generally getting soaking wet in the process. This has prompted me refine my outdoor wear to suit the different elements of winter – frost, snow and wind as well as rain – and make sure that I have the right clothes for the right activity, because you know the saying: “There’s no wrong sort of weather, only the wrong sort of clothes.”
On April’s training walks it’s relatively easy as we are walking on paths and pavements and it isn’t too muddy underfoot. Sometimes we’re even under cover! A pair of warm trousers, sturdy shoes and a rainproof jacket is usually sufficient. However, on a walk like that there is the question of whether or not to carry an umbrella. April is partial to a nice stick and she needs to learn to ignore umbrellas, parasols, and walking sticks when she is working, whether I’m carrying them or we meet someone with one.
Umbrellas aren’t the most convenient of accessories. They aren’t suitable in a high wind, of course, and you need a spare hand for them, not easy when you’re trying to train a small dog. They evolved from parasols in the 16th century although in England adoption of parasols for men was considered a curiosity and rather unmasculine, perhaps even something that only foreigners would use! (The guy in the picture is French!)
John Evelyn, in a diary entry from 1664, refers to a collection of “rarities” shown to him which included “fans like our ladies use, but much larger, and with long handles, strangely carved and filled with Chinese characters.” In the ninenteenth century in his book Domestic Manners of the English, Thomas Wright includes a drawing of an Englishman attended by a servant who is carrying an umbrella with a handle that slopes backwards in order to shelter the person walking ahead of him.
The parasol evolved into a wet weather item when oil and wax covers were invented. English ladies were using them in the early 18th century but it was still considered unmanly to use one. Jonas Hanway, the first man in London to use an umbrella in about 1750, was attacked by hackney carriage drivers who saw the umbrella as a threat to their business. Nevertheless the umbrella eventually caught on in the 1780s but the French and Italians, sensible as well as stylish, were far ahead of the English in seeing the umbrella as a fashion accessory.
The alternative to an umbrella is a coat with a hood, and this works pretty well for dog-walking. When I was a child my school uniform included something called a “gaberdine” which was a waterproof coat of heavyweight material with hood attached. Lighter coats for summer showers were known as a mackintosh after Charles Mackintosh who invented a waterproof fabric coat in 1824. I’m not sure whether anyone calls them that anymore! The problem with the mackintosh was that it had a strong and not particularly appealing smell, it was very stiff and had a tendency to melt in the heat. I remember a waxed jacket of mine in this style that smelled oily and disintegrated one hot summer day! These days I guess we have a vast choice of raincoat, cagoule, and other waterproof coats and jackets when we go out.
Now to footwear. The modern-day hiking boot is wonderful thing for my dog walks, tough, comfortable and waterproof. There’s no doubt that walking shoes have come a long way since 3,330 BC when Otzi the Iceman traversed the Alps in shoe made from tree fibres covered in deer hide and tied with string! But what about the trusty Wellington boot?
Another historical aside – the first Wellington boots, which were made by Hoby’s of London for Arthur Wellesley, then Viscount Wellington, were cut lower than men’s leather boots had previously been to allow for more comfortable riding. However the Prussians weren’t too happy to adopt a British boot and so they invented the “Blücher” after Field-Marshal von Blücher, which was an even lower cut more like an ankle boot. The Brits weren’t impressed. In 1841, satirical magazine Punch called them “shocking imposters.” The name Wellington Book, however, was co-opted by the North British Rubber Company in the 1860s when they started to produce waterproof “gum boots” which evolved into the Wellingtons we know and love today. And when things are really bad and the rain is up to my ankles, there really is nothing better!
I haven't even touched on hats, gloves and scarves – all very necessary if you are up against a wet or cold winter. And I'm wondering what is the appropriate outfit for a dog walk if you live in a hot climate! Anyway, please share your outdoor tips with me.
What is your rain wear of choice? Do you favor an umbrella or a hood? Do you ever have a need for a parasol? And what would be your favoured footwear?