This essay uncovers new sartorial roles of men's waterproof coats that emerged in late Victorian and Edwardian England. Since the 1820s, England had witnessed remarkable improvements of waterproof cloth. Its primary purpose was to protect the body from the elements, though in the late nineteenth century, London tailors developed fashionable waterproof coats for gentlemen. By the end of the century, such coats became so familiar as to be depicted in fiction. One remarkable example is Sherlock Holmes, a famous fictional detective of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wears one in the stories. Taking his coat as an illustrative example of the period, this essay focuses on three main topics: 1) the correlation between the development of waterproof coats and class distinction in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods; 2) the role of Holmes's clothes in the stories; and 3) defining Holmes' waterproof as a contemporary fashion for gentlemen.
Holmes' waterproof functions not only to reinforce his image as an intellectual and proficient detective, but also as a respectable agent who modernizes the dress code for gentleman. This is demonstrated as follows: 1) Investigating the development of waterproof coats of the periods reveals that the waterproof symbolized British industrial advancement, idealism of innovation, as well as middle-class respectability; 2) Holmes is an educated upper-middle-class gentleman, whose class-specific behavior and ideology are crystalized in his waterproof coat; 3) For middle-class men, being gentlemanly dressed and fashionable were always hard to achieve, because of the paucity of information and the intricacy of dress codes to observe. In such circumstances, Holmes in his waterproof serves as a denominator of the modern gentleman. Being functional, innovative, respectable, British and at the same time fashionable, his coat exemplifies how modern gentlemen should look.