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Bites and Bits of Fashion History – Trench coat

Who does not associate a trench coat with Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in the movie Casablanca, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Winston Churchill on a state visit, or Heidi Klum in Michael Kors’ leather trench coat? To have a Burberry or other high-end version of this durable wind and rain repellent double breasted coat with buckle belt is the dream of nearly every fashionista.

Two brands claim to its invention – Aquascutum and Burberry. During the Great War, Aquascutum provided officer coats with removable, buttoned-in linings. They had provided officers’ raincoats made from waterproof cotton since the 1850s. John Emary got the patent for this first water-repellent fabric in 1853. He was the founder of Aquascutum, which is the combination of the Latin words for water (aqua) and shield (scutum). Their coats have been worn during the Crimean war.

#trenchcoat woman wearing a trench coat
Trench coat and leather pants with leopard scarf and Pippa bag

Thomas Burberry got a patent on his gabardine, a tightly woven twill weave, in 1879. In 1901, he submitted the design of a double-breasted, weather-resistant coat to the British War Office. Later this light weight, but durable gabardine coat was modified with D-rings and shoulder straps to secure gas masks, maps or whistles. This kind of coat was part of the uniform of the British and French soldiers sitting in the trenches of the front line during the Great War, for which the coat got its name.

#streetstyle woman wearing a modern trench coat
Burberry golden trench coat with taupe linen pants, black short sleeve cashmere sweater, strings of pearls, taupe leather Jaeger tote, and Anne Klein pumps.

Many veterans kept their trench coats after the war because of their durability and great wind and rain protection. Like with the fashion history of the duffle coat, after the war, the surplus trench coats were sold to the civilian population. Hollywood movies made the trench coats fashionable by dressing gangsters, detectives, cops and lovers in trench coats in the 1930s and 1940s. Towards the end of WWII, the trench coat became part of the uniform kits in the military of many countries. In the 70s, the trench coat besides the fur coat was Helmut Newton’s choice for his iconic photos of high heeled otherwise nude models.

Perfect designs don’t change as you cannot make perfection better. Thus, the classic trench coat remained the same over the years with minor, negligible variations in details. This fact makes the trench coat a perfect investment on which to splurge. The key features of the originally khaki trench coat were double-breasted with ten buttons on the front plus buttons on the waist and wrist belts, wide lapels, a gun flap, raglan sleeves, and shoulder straps.

Grown up in Europe, I insist on that
one never ever buckles the belt of a trench coat. Click To Tweet
You either tie it or knot it in the back.

You can find the previous issues of the Fashion History series at the following links:

Do  you have a trench coat in your closet? How do you style it? Just curious.

Start to dress stylishly with my fashion recipe book “How to Dress for Success in Midlife”.  Buy it now.

Photos: G. Kramm

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