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A balmacaan is a loose single-breasted overcoat designed to be worn over layers of clothing as protective gear. A variety of textiles are used to make balmacaans, but as a general rule the overcoat is designed to be functional, rather than dazzlingly attractive.
Some fashion companies have adapted and updated the balmacaan design to create stylish overcoats for the image-conscious, but they are still usually checked at the door. Like all overcoats, the design of a balmacaan is intentionally very loose, so that it can be worn over an assortment of layers which may include thick sweaters and trousers.
The balmacaan is named after a famous Scottish estate near Inverness. In the frequently inclement weather of Scotland, a protective overcoat is a vital piece of wear. Some people are more familiar with the nickname for the coat, and prefer to call it a “bal.” Both men and women sport balmacaans, although women's designs are usually cut with darts to hint at the shapely figure which may lie beneath.
The loose fit of the torso of a balmacaan allows it to be slipped on over multiple layers of clothing. The sleeves are made using a raglan design, which means that the sleeve travels all the way up to the neckline from the wrist, making one smooth piece of fabric. This reduces the risk of water flowing through seams on the upper part of the balmacaan, and creates a distinctive look. A balmacaan may also have a high collar or detachable hood, along with an assortment of pockets inside and out, and a belt to secure it.
Originally, rough wool cloth was used to make balmacaans. Wool is insulating and water resistant, which makes it a good choice for outerwear. With the invention of waterproof synthetics, more lightweight waterproof coats were designed. Fashion coats may be made from any number of textiles, including tweed, crepe, silk, velvet, and other similar materials which would be impractical for unfavorable weather, although they look attractive.
In Scotland, several companies make traditionally styled balmacaans which are available for export and sale. They are well suited to visits to Scotland, Wales, and other traditionally chilly, damp places. More fashionable balmacaans are made by an assortment of manufacturers, depending on the season and the dominant styles, and they are made available in boutiques and department stores. The raglan long sleeve design and calf length are retained in both the fashion and practical balmacaan.