The trench-coat was born during the First World War, as it was used by the British officers in the trenches. Thomas Burberry, from the famous British luxury house, was contacted by the British War Office to design a coat that could replace the militaries current heavy coats. Burberry was already well-known thanks to his revolutionary discovery of gabardine. Thus, he created the trech-coats with this completely breathable and waterproof fabric. After war, civilians choose to wear these coats too, since they are perfect for outdoor activities.
The waterproof, double-breasted coats were characterized by ten buttons on the front, generously sized pockets that fastened with a button, wide lapels and collars, a gun flap over the right breast, a belt at both the waist and the wrists, and raglan sleeves to leave some space to put a sweater underneath. The signature shoulder straps were added so the person could attach epaulets that indicated rank, or hold the strap of a bag. The belt around the wrists was meant to keep water from running down the forearm when using binoculars in the rain. There is a legend that the metal D-rings on the belt were designed to carry grenades, but they were apparently designed to fasten map cases and other field gear to the belt.
The trench coat was typically worn as a windbreaker or as a rain jacket, and not for protection from the cold in winter or snowy conditions (although many come with removable wool liners for additional warmth, they are usually not as warm as an overcoat). It was sized to wear over the British Warm, to offer water protection when the temperature was cold enough to require the heavier coat, which explains the traditionally generous sizing of trench coats.
The traditional color of a trench coat is khaki so as to camouflage easily, although newer versions come in many colors.
The iconic Burberry check pattern was used as a lining for their trench coats since at least the 1920s.
It was during the 1960s that the trench coat’s most iconic features, the D-ring, storm flap and epaulettes, were propelled beyond function to become statements of fashion.
(Read the article “Why is the 60’s and 70’s style so iconic?”)
The trench was worn by Marilyn Monroe in her 1960 film Let’s Make Love and Brigitte Bardot in Roger Vadim’s Love on a Pillow from 1962.
The film Breakfast at Tiffany’s has arguably one of the most famous final scenes in cinematic history: Audrey Hepburn, rushes out of a taxi to find her lost cat in the middle of a downpour, while wearing none other than a trench coat.
Between the 1960s and 1970s, Yves Saint Laurent made the trench-coat a recurring element of his ready-to-wear collections. He repurposed the coat for Catherine Deneuve in 1967’s Belle de Jour, designing a slick, black patent version that instantly tied it to a new level of sex appeal.
The trench-coat became the perfect coat for everybody and every occassion. It could be worn in an elegant way, as Jackie Kennedy, who paired it with an evening gown; or in a casual way, as Jane Birkin, who wore it with a straw handbag and ballet flats.
Throughout its life, the trench coat has seen everything from battles to runways. It has been worn by officers, princes and artists, morphing from its signature gabardine to fabrics like suede and leather among others. Although our style continues to evolve, the trench-coat will always remain a classic and essential key of our wardrobe.