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’ iconic 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. Here I will dig into what made the original trench coat a style icon.
- Who invented the trench coat?
- How did the trench coat become popular?
- Key features of the original trench coat
- How to wear a trench coat right?
- Example of a mockup, non-classic piece
- Where to Find Affordable, Durable, Waterproof Trench Coats?
- Other clothing icons
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post.
Who invented the trench coat?
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.
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.
How did the trench coat become popular?
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 1970s, the trench coat besides the fur coat was Helmut Newton’s choice for his iconic photos of high heeled otherwise nude models.
Key features of the original trench coat
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 garbadine 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. The belt has a double D at one end.
How to wear a trench coat right?
Grown up in Europe, I insist on thatone never ever buckles the belt of a trench coat. Click To Tweet
You either tie it or knot it in the back.
Example of a Mockup, non-classic piece
The following photo portraits what not to buy, when you want a classic orginal style trench coat, i.e. an investment piece that you can wear for years. When you like, take look first and test whether you recognize why it is not a Real Style Icon before you read on.
Instead of the usual buttons, it has cheap pressed metal buttons. It lacks a belt buckle and the belted arm buckles. The length of the belt are so long that one can tie a one sided bow like one does to close a kimono. It also lacks all the military related trench coat details. The fabric is not the traditional rain-repellent garbadine. Instead, it flows and shows every lump and bump. This means when you wear an outfit underneath, you won’t get a sleek look! In other words, this mockup is unsuitable as outerwear. You don’t want to buy it when you want to build a working coat wardrobe! This coat also has no lining.
It’s actually a trendy mix of both a kimono and trench aka a trendy cheap fashion item. This trendy piece was nice to wear as a tunic or instead of a blouse on the weekend, but not as business casual outerwear to the office on a rainy windy day. More on the key elements of a traditional kimono at the link.
Did you identify the “wrong” features? If so, great!
Where to Find Affordable, Durable, Waterproof Trench Coats?
I bought all my high-end trench coats second hand on eBay. Typically, bridge brands have very good quality pieces with a twist. Wantdo an active performance wear brand has an affordable waterproof double-breasted trench coat in a variety of colors in their collection. See the post at the link for a review.
Other clothing icons
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.
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Foulkes, Nick, 2007. The Trench Book (Anthologie), Assouline Publishing.
Rodriguez McRobbie, Linda, 2015. The Classy Rise of the Trench Coat, Smithonian Magazine.
Photos: G. Kramm
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