Rain City Challenges

If this last month has been any indication, it looks like we’re gearing up for one of those charming, Leave It To Beaver autumns. Old people in matching track jackets will walk hand in hand past piles of crunchy leaves with children nestled inside. Young people will whiz by on bikes, their colourful cable knit scarves trailing behind like capes. The air will be crisp, but the sun will shine and everyone will eat pumpkin-flavoured coffees and treat each other with respect. Right?

Wrong! Even as I sit here in Our Town, being assaulted by the heat from the south-facing window, regretting my beverage choice (a London Fog) and sweating profusely from all the wrong places, I know that the unusually late summer we’ve experienced this year is not something to get used to. Pretty soon the sky will cast its shadow and the rain will start and neither will let up until April, or later.

Those of us who have grown up on the West Coast are used to this by now, and know that there’s no use complaining. But year after year, I find that while Vancouver understands rain and seems to understand fashion, the two continue to remain separate entities. If it’s true that the two cannot mix, then Vancouver might as well declare itself “fashion-free” for eight months of the year. Can you live with that? I certainly can’t.

While sometimes not all that obvious, there are many options for wet-weather protection. I ran to the store in the rain a few weeks ago wearing just a sweatshirt (oh, and pants and shoes and stuff) and as I was waiting for the light to change a woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know, Mountain Equipment Co-op has really good raincoats, and they’re pretty inexpensive.” I was a little thrown off by her out-of-nowhere suggestion so I just stammered, “thanks” before trotting off across the street. But she seems to share a common frame of mind with the rest of the city. Popular outdoors store MEC has a plethora of well-constructed, waterproof jackets and ponchos that range from $85 to $240 and upwards (incidentally, “waterproof” is different from “water-resistant,” so pay attention to wording when shopping for outwear). And while they don’t exactly scream high fashion, Vancouverites across the board seem to be okay with looking like hikers, so long as their plaid button-ups stay dry.

A few years ago, a friend of mine worked at the outdoors store Eco; I would meet him after shifts and he would complain about all the clueless young men who had come in looking to buy down jackets. “They’re not waterproof!” my friend would cry. Still, the bros came for those puffy jackets, visions of P. Diddy dancing in their heads. 20 minutes outside on a typical fall Vancouver day, however, and the stylish jacket would be reduced to a soaking sack of wilted goose feathers – an effective method of scaring off the ladies, but not so much the common cold.

I’m notorious for dressing weather-inappropriately, but a few winters ago I found a rain jacket on the sale rack at Holt Renfew that seemed too good to be true: with a swing-style silhouette, accordion hood and the claim to be both wind- and water-proof, the jacket was the best of both worlds. And reversible to boot! I’m still putting it to good use, but I’ve never been able to find anything else from the obscure brand (“Mycra Pac”) since.

In my opinion, the best option for foul-weathered seasons is not Gore Tex, but wool. Wool is a miracle fibre. It’s easy to cultivate (and if done properly, doesn’t harm the environment or animals), dye, spin and blend with other fibres. It’s warm, breathes easily and most relevantly, it’s hygroscopic. This means that while wool does absorb moisture, it does so very slowly, and wetness is sucked to the core of the material so the wearer doesn’t feel wet. I have a fantastic wool coat from Opening Ceremony and its kept me dry and warm at many an uncovered bus stop.

But what about footwear? I refuse to buy rubber boots because I still harbour leftover grievances from my preschool days when my socks would come down inside my boots. Horrible feeling. Last winter, I sucked it up and bought a pair of Fluevog boots that I really couldn’t afford because, as an avid thrifter and hoarder, I didn’t have any shoes left without holes in them. Much to my disappointment, my new fancy boots revealed themselves as less than protective within a few days. And when I brought them back to complain, I was told that “these boots can’t last all day in the rain.” So while John Fluevog may have grown up in Vancouver, evidently he has forgotten what its like to live in Vancouver.

Stylish rainwear may be slim pickings in Vancouver, but there is hope yet. Every year there are local designers who take admirable stabs at addressing this very problem. So keep your eyes peeled and your minds open, and if all else fails there’s always the army surplus store.

//Kala Vilches

Kala Vilches is a graduate from the fashion program at Kwantlen college. Because of that, as well as her notably next-level wardrobe, she is in a position to share her experiences and woes with us. Find her on Facebook. Then "like" her photos. She loves that.

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