Fashion: Isn't it a lovely day to be caught in the rain?

You don't have to be Gene Kelly to make rainwear look stylish this season. From quilted coats to windcheaters and ponchos, our heroic high street shops have found ever-more versatile solutions to combat our winter weather. By Rebecca Lowthorpe
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The Independent Culture
It's raining, it's pouring and it's bloody cold outside. The Met Office predicts that from now until New Year's Eve there will be "high westerly winds" and "above average" rainfall. Great. So, that's a merry soggy Christmas and a happy wind-swept new year. Well, yes, but don't feel downcast, because the fashion outlook couldn't be brighter.

According to a clutch of fashion's most revered super-brands, stormy weather is "in" and element-proof-wear has been decreed the height of fashion. See? It was only a matter of time before designers got their creative heads around the complex equation: rain + fashion = v chic style statement. Instead of rain + fashion = v naff Day-Glo orange cagoule.

It was Prada that first prompted the craze to brave the elements with style, when it launched Prada Sport. The Italian mega-label was so desperate to prove that a fashion line could withstand the elements that it had its own yacht built (the Luna Rossa, currently en route to Auckland to compete in January's Americas Cup) and kitted its crew out with rigorously tested, darling little sailor suits.

Prada Sport may have achieved its practical goal with more panache, but it was only one of many monster brands in a race for global domination of the rain-proof this and wind-resistant that market. Ralph Lauren Polo Sport, DKNY Active and Tommy Hilfiger Active all scrambled to get their semi-permeable linings packed and stacked on the shelves.

Next up, Louis Vuitton's designer Marc Jacobs reinstated the iconic LV monogrammed fabric by cutting it into a water-resistant mac and matching sou'wester. Some said it resembled a wipe-clean tablecloth, others put their names down on a waiting-list for the mac (pounds 720) and hat (pounds 165), such was the irresistible urge for urbanites to get both practicality and style in one hit. The mac, incidentally, has become "transeasonal" which means that it will always be available to buy, subtly up-dated from time to time, along with the classic LV monogrammed luggage.

If it hadn't been for the likes of Ralph Lauren issuing the fashionista- friendly equivalent of the shower-proof poncho, the water-resistant trend might never have gathered high speed. OK, so Ralph sent out yellow, orange and purple ponchos in de luxe silk, a trifle impractical, but where Ralph leads others soon follow... French Connection obviously couldn't resist joining the poncho gang, although its version, pictured here, in grey, is dutifully practical.

But that's the point about the high street's interpretation of the trend: it works! And in a non-fiddly, non-over-designed way, too. Now the style- savvy are quickly heading down the high street to Warehouse (great macs), French Connection (windcheater/ ponchos), and Benetton (wadded coats), instead of Sloane Street.

Another favourite is the YMC label (You Must Create), which recently opened its own shop on Conduit Street, London's new favourite retail pitstop. If you are planning long walks, or even going out, in the next couple of weeks, there is no cooler way of keeping warm and dry than sporting YMC's grey rubberised skirt or beige hooded dress, pictured. And if you can't make it down to London, don't panic, because YMC's low-key survivalist gear, untainted by hard-core branding, is widely available up and down the country.

It is hardly surprising that fashion groupies have already banned Prada Sport from their wardrobes. At least, if they are still wearing it, the loud, red plastic logos have been snipped off. It might have endured the ocean waves, but the cognoscenti can't be seen to be wearing a brand that has successfully reached critical mass-appeal. And besides, it looks twee.

Perhaps the inspiration behind YMC and the high street's protective wear came, less from highfalutin' designers, and more from hard-nosed technical brands such as Berghaus (favoured by BBC war correspondents), Patagonia and The North Face (whose every garment is tested up Everest). The type of functionwear built to withstand an avalanche, constructed so that it could be used by the master alpinist Conrad Anker, not the city-centric fashionista. And that is the absolute attraction: reality-check fashion. After all, even dads know their Gore-Tex from their Polartec these days.

No wonder the high street has been influenced by the all-weather clothing market. That's not to say that Warehouse's designs are ever going to be built with the same life-saving intentions as The North Face's, but it's the authentic styling that appeals. And it's not as though many of us need mountain-tested clobber anyway, to be at the very summit of style. I mean, who on Earth is going to be out and about in this weather if they can possibly help it, let alone up Everest?

Main picture, left: beige nylon skirt, pounds 33, by Benetton, branches nationwide; grey jumper, pounds 88, by CK Calvin Klein Jeans, 55 New Bond Street, London W1 (0171-259 6011); grey poncho, pounds 40, by French Connection, 249 Regent Street, London W1 (0171-399 7200)

This page, top: Grey skirt, pounds 90, by YMC Vs Andy Warhol, 6 Conduit Street, London W1 (0171-499 0825); cream coat, pounds 75, by Benetton

Above, left: Beige hooded dress, pounds 240, by YMC, 6 Conduit Street, London, W1 (0171-499 0825); grey padded

mac, pounds 70, by Warehouse, 19-

21 Argyll Street, London W1 (0800-841 3000)

Above, right: Black trousers, pounds 70, black sleeveless jacket, pounds 50, cream scarf, pounds 30, all by French Connection, as before; white coat, pounds 176.50, by CK Calvin Klein Jeans, as before;

Photographer: Anna Stevenson

Stylist: Holly Wood

Make-up: Kim Brown using Benefit at Rockit

Hair: Craig Mason at Toni & Guy

Model: Sarah Holland at Models One