OPINION - The London Question: Why are people wearing Dryrobes so annoying?


Ever since the heady days of lockdown, I have noticed a troubling phenomenon creeping into everyday life: a spike in the number of people extravagantly sticking “wild” in front of the word swimming. Essentially, wild swimming is exactly the same thing as normal swimming, but much more smug, and with a greater risk of accidental sewage inhalation.

And, predictably, despite the fact that going for a quick dip in a nearby body of water is essentially a free activity, all of the associated wild swimming clobber continues to gain popularity, too. Most notorious of all? The changing robe: a vast hooded poncho with a towelled interior for wild swimmers and other fans of aquatic activities to don post-dunk.

The most popular changing robe of all, Dryrobe, has morphed from a niche hobbyist’s garment into a must-have item. Originally invented by North Devon surfer Gideon Bright, the tent-like cloak is based on a makeshift coat Bright’s mother made to keep him warm after surfing sessions as a child; the very first Dryrobe went on sale in 2010, and the brand is now booming.

In the decade since, Dryrobes have been worn by everyone from Harry Styles and Rita Ora, to Team GB, and the brand tells me it has increased its sales by a whopping 545 per cent between 2019 and 2023. No surprise given that wild swimming is also on the up: the Outdoor Swimmer estimates that, over the same period, participation is up by between 1.5 and three times.

I’ve noticed an emerging trend: the drier the place, the higher my chances of spotting a Dryrobe

For anybody who enjoys diving into water, it all makes perfect sense. What I cannot fathom, however, is the ever-rising numbers of Dryrobes being worn as casual coats around the capital, far, far away from the nearest shoreline.

It’s a bit like driving a hulking great 4x4 designed for traversing muddy bogs across the treacherous tarmac of Chelsea; expensive, pointless, and you look like a bit of a plank in the process.

Though Dryrobes are also a frequent fixture around seaside towns, wearers there should get a free pass; since everyone there lives within a stone’s throw away from the sea anyway, there’s little kudos to be gained from wearing a Dryrobe down to Tesco Express.

“By the seaside it’s expected for people to wear Dryrobes,” my colleague, who grew up in Cornwall, told me. “Whereas in London, it makes no sense for people to be strolling down Broadway Market wearing them. Where are you going surfing?”

While there was an increase in the practice during 2020 and lockdown, that made plenty of sense. But four years on, the trend is going nowhere.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been conducting a scientific experiment and keeping a look out for out of place Dryrobes in the capital. A trend has begun to emerge; the drier the place is, the higher my chances of spotting one. Waitrose, fancy parks with dedicated ice-cream stands that cater exclusively to spoiled cockapoos, and cafes serving cortados are emerging as the leading hotspots so far.

I don’t particularly begrudge these people and their incredibly vast coats; even if I think they have a tendency to make their owners look a bit like Willy Wonka’s Violet Beauregarde. But aside from signalling to everybody around you that you’ve been known to partake in a bit of outdoorsy exertion in your time, I also don’t really see the point in them.

El Hunt is an Evening Standard commissioning editor and writer