"Every once in a while I think about gettin a new coat, but there's no
rush on that. There's still plenty of wear in this fella!" Candidate For Crime
Columbo is almost inseparable from his raincoat.
We think of the raincoat as a part of Columbo himself. The
raincoat almost seems to lend Columbo a sort of mystical power.
When he is forced to replace it in Now You See Him Columbo finds, to his great
frustration, that without his old raincoat, he cannot even think. Without that coat,
he is like Samson with a bad haircut.
In our mind's eye, the immediate image is that the coat is tattered, wrinkled and
stained, scarred with the long years of battle and too many bowls of chili.
What we tend to forget, is that when we first meet Columbo, the coat is quite
new (...cheesy-looking, but new). And that we have watched this remarkable garment
evolve over the years. And so over the decades of episodes, we watch
Peter Falk grow more comfortable and familiar in the role of Columbo, just as we watch
Columbo himself grow more comfortable and familiar in the battered old raincoat.
Columbo's raincoat is more than clothing. It is more than a symbol of his humble,
Columbo's raincoat is an old friend.
Columbo's raincoat was designed and manufactured
in Spain, by a company called Cortefiel. (Translated into English,
"cortefiel" means "good tailoring".)
Cortefiel has a long-established reputation as a
maker of fine garments, and owns a chain of specialty stores in 10
countries, based in Madrid, Spain. Cortefiel scaled back its
marketing after the 1970s, and essentially is no longer distributing its
designer clothing outside of Europe.
(Thanks to Joaquin Gallardo for this information,
which many fans have asked about. Joaquin discovered this bit of history
in a Spanish newspaper, then visited a Cortefiel office and obtained
written confirmation that Cortefiel indeed was the maker of Columbo's
So, although Columbo's raincoat now strikes us as
frumpy and outdated, in fact it originated from a stylish European
According to the official legend, Peter Falk bought the raincoat in New York City,
around the time that he was cast for Prescription: Murder.
In an interview with "TeleStar" magazine in February 1998, Falk tells the story:
"In 1966..., I was walking on 57th Street in New York when it started to rain.
I entered a shop and bought a raincoat. When I had to find one for Columbo, I simply
took this one."
To this day, Peter Falk swears that the television script for Prescription: Murder
specified a raincoat for the character. Columbo's creators, Levinson and Link,
always maintained that Falk was mistaken, that in fact the script called for Columbo to
wear an overcoat.
The truth is forever lost in mythology.
Falk wore the same raincoat throughout the NBC run of "Columbo," but there were
two or three "stand-in" coats. In March, 1974, one of these was auctioned
off for one thousand dollars at an Easter Seal dinner in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
(Falk was the Easter Seal national chairman in 1975.)
"Columbo" ended its NBC run in 1978, and Peter Falk lovingly stored the
famous garment in a closet of his Beverly Hills home.
When "Columbo" was revived on ABC in 1989, "TV Guide" magazine ran an
article describing how a new raincoat was made, recreating the pattern of the legendary
original coat in meticulous detail. According to the article, expert tailors
rapidly aged the new raincoat by staining it with tea and repeatedly running over the coat
with an automobile in the parking lot at Universal.
But the original raincoat still remains enshrined in Peter Falk's home.
"I have a great deal of affection
for it," Falk said in 1988. "I take great care of it.
I've been known to say I put out a saucer of milk for it every night."
The name of the exact model of Columbo's raincoat
remains a mystery, and of course Cortefiel no longer makes it.
But the details are quite distinctive and unique.
The raincoat is first distinguished by the fact that it is rather too short to afford any
real protection in the rain, ending at or above the knees so that Columbo's pants would
get pretty well soaked if he ever wore the coat in an actual rain storm.
This causes the coat to flap comically in the wind, so that whenever he runs after
somebody for that one last question ("Oh, Sir! Oh, Sir!..."), Columbo
holds the coat down to his thigh with one hand while the runs -- like a woman afraid that
her skirt will fly up.
The coat is single-breasted and has four buttons, not including one which generally
remains hidden at the very top.
The left lapel has two small loops dangling from the notch.
The sleeves are turned up, and and each is held in place by two large buttons, separated
by a slit.
And there are two hip-pockets, each guarded by a flap with a button.
These buttons never seem to be used, so the pocket-flaps are usually either bent-up or
stuck halfway into the coat in some haphazard manner by Columbo's habit of constantly
reaching into all of his pockets while searching for something. The untidy
pocket-flaps add to Columbo's overall disheveled appearance.
The Case Of The Disappearing Loops
While we don't wish to challenge Mr. Falk's version of history, there is evidence that the
raincoat worn in Prescription:
Murder is not the same as the coat that became legend over the run of the
First, the raincoat worn in the 1967 movie appears distinctly longer than Columbo's
long-running "classic" coat: it hangs below Falk's knees, and has five visible
buttons instead of four.
Perhaps it was shortened later, to lend that comical flapping-in-the-wind effect?
But what about the lapels? The raincoat collar looks different, with longer points.
And take a close look at the left lapel: no silly little loops.
Although the raincoat has become so familiar that it seems like a uniform, in fact Columbo
finds new and innovative ways to wear his signature garment with variety, flair and
In A Case Of
Immunity Columbo pioneers the "Raincoat and Tuxedo Look," which is
displayed again through much of No Time To Die. Dashing.
Confronting Col. Rumford (Patrick McGoohan) in By Dawn's Early Light, Columbo wears the coat
in a casual, almost "off the shoulder" fashion, revealing his sleeveless white
undershirt beneath to complete the ensemble. Stunning.
A bit earlier in the episode, Columbo wears the raincoat into the bathroom to perform his
morning ablutions -- essentially using the raincoat as a bathrobe. Stylish and
When Columbo responds to a murder scene late at night, he sometimes throws on the raincoat
in lieu of a shirt, over his bare chest or pajama tops.
Perhaps this display of Columbo's white chest-hair is what drives Faye Dunaway to such a
frenzy of seduction.
On the cover of this antique paperback, we see the coat fully buttoned-up. Rarely seen.
What's In The Raincoat?
In one of his "Columbo" novels, author William Harrington has Columbo explaining
that he always wears the raincoat because it acts as a sort of portable desk or filing
system, allowing Columbo to carry around his daily accumulation of clues and
paraphernalia, without having to switch everything from the pockets of one garment to
If this is the case, Columbo's filing system is seriously flawed, for he continually
manages to lose things in the coat's various folds and crevices, especially his
Here are just a few of the things that
Columbo carries in the raincoat
Columbo sometimes eats on-the-run, pulling snacks out of his pockets, using the raincoat
as a wearable portable pantry
Hard boiled egg -- sometimes carried with a salt-shaker
Columbo wears the raincoat with such persistence, that it has invited comment from a
number of curious onlookers over the years.
He wears the raincoat everywhere, indoors and in sunny weather, and even onto a cruise
ship to Mexico, where everyone else is in tropical gear.
The ship's captain (Patrick MacNee) is struck by Columbo's odd wardrobe, and he tries to
ask Columbo about it -- but Columbo is oblivious to the point of the question:
"Tell me, Lef'tenant,... do you expect inclement weather in the Mexican waters?"
"Naw, they tell me the weather's great this time o' year!"
On the other hand, in the one situation where the raincoat would make perfect sense,
Columbo perversely fails to wear it.
In The Bye Bye
Sky-High I.Q. Murder Case we see Columbo in one of his few appearances without
the raincoat -- and he gets caught in a torrential rainstorm. Soaked, he says that
his wife is using the coat to try out a new spot remover.
Maybe Columbo is lucky that his wife only abuses the raincoat by using it to experiment
with cleaning fluids. Columbo says she keeps threatening to "have it cleaned
In Negative Reaction,
Columbo visits a soup kitchen to interview a witness.
The kindly Sister of Mercy (Joyce Van Patten) takes one look at Columbo's shabby raincoat
and she instantly melts with pity, mistaking Columbo for a pathetic vagrant.
"Oh, that coat, tsk-tsk, that-coat-that-coat-that-coat..."
The nun insists on finding him a better coat from the shelter's used clothing
Sister: "I found exactly the right thing, look, it's warm, and it's hardly been used
at all. Stand up, we'll try it on.."
Columbo: "Y'know, I appreciate what you're doin, I really do, but..., I've had this
coat for seven years --"
Sister: "Oh, you poor man!!!"
Dolan: "Don't be ashamed..."
Columbo: "No, I'm very fond of it!"
Columbo explains that he's a policeman, so the Sister compliments him on his wonderful
undercover disguise as a homeless person: "You fooled even me!"
In Death Hits
The Jackpot the raincoat creates a similar misunderstanding when Columbo wears
it to a Halloween costume party.
Columbo is again mistaken as a costumed character, drawing great admiration and applause
for his brilliant disguise as "an eccentric millionaire."
Possibly the raincoat's lowest moment of indignity comes in Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo
A woman walks into a murder scene and Columbo instinctively spreads his raincoat
over the dead body, in gallant Sir Walter Raleigh fashion, to protect the sensitivities of
This is hardly good protocol for preservation of forensic trace-evidence -- and it was
hardly necessary, considering the lady had already seen the corpse when she committed the
murder. But the gesture shows Columbo's natural chivalry.
Can Be Hazardous To Your Health features a scene with two
different jokes implying that Columbo's raincoat makes him look like a sex pervert.
First, Columbo is strolling to a porno shop through a sleazy neighborhood, past
bikers and hookers, and a bimbo propositions him: "Hey cutie, wanna tell me what's
under the raincoat?".
Then when Columbo is in the porn shop, looking at merchandise, he is approached by another
customer. The guy has a weird gleam in his eyes and is wearing THE EXACT SAME
RAINCOAT -- in fact, the guy is dressed almost exactly like Columbo.
The guy looks at Columbo's outfit then gives him a sly grin and says to Columbo,
in a conspiratorial whisper: "Hope we both have fun tonight, pal!". The guy
to walk away smiling, then turns around and gives Columbo a big wink.
This scene cannot be found in the "Family Channel" version.
Special thanks to David Sherman
for the pictures.
And finally, no discussion of Columbo's raincoat would be complete without mention of Mrs.
Columbo's doomed attempt to replace the raincoat.
She selects a chocolate-brown monstrosity with wide lapels, which Columbo repeatedly tries
to lose or get stolen.
Finally Columbo shows up in the familiar classic raincoat, claiming that the wife took the
new one back because it didn't fit.
Columbo is back in his familiar, beloved raincoat, and all is right in the world.