If you have ever come across a list headlined something like “Top 10 Things Every Woman’s Wardrobe Must Have”, you most definitely would have seen a Trench Coat amongst those essentials, alongside jeans, leather jacket, crisp white shirt and a little black dress. It comes as no surprise considering how versatile this perennial classic is: it can be dressed up or down, looks great within a casual ensemble of jeans and sporty sneaker as well as with sharp tailoring and office pumps. And what’s even more important is the fact that the belted at waist style is incredibly flattering, creates an hourglass silhouette no matter the body shape.
The history of how the trench coat came to be such a wardrobe fundamental is very profound and rather detailed. Although I won’t go into an in-depth retelling of the trench coat journey from invention to today, there are a few facts that might be interesting. Firstly, of course the invention of the garment: the claim to fame is divided between two British brands: Aquascutum and, you might have guessed it already – Burberry. John Emary, gentlemen’s clothier and the founder of Aquascutum (from Latin: aqua – “water” and scutum – “shield”), develops and patents a water-repellent fabric in 1853 which he uses to produce coat designs – prototypes of trench coats. While in Hampshire Thomas Burberry develops and patents the fabric the trench coats are made of today – gabardine, this light breathable waterproof cloth is used to design a Tielocken in 1879, an original of the modern trench coat.
Although the trench coat wasn’t initially invented to be used as a uniform during the war, that’s exactly where it got it’s name from. The utilitarian style of the coat and the handy properties of the fabric and design made it a perfect garment for the military during World War I. As deep open trenches were dug all across Europe, the current heavy wool greatcoats weren’t fit for the combat. They restricted the movement, were too long, ill-fitted, soaked up mud and water making them even heavier and were teeming with lice. Thus the uniform required modernisation and the trench coat was the perfect solution for dealing with the conditions of living in trenches for days at a time.
The standard model was double-breasted with 5 rows of buttons, knee-length and tailored to the waist. It came in khaki colour (from Hindi “khaki” – “dust”). Before the uniforms used to be quite bright for ease of identifying on the battle field, however it made solders an easy target for the opposing forces. It was the Indian Rebellion of 1857, that taught the British military the lesson.
Every feature on the trench coat had it’s purpose: the pleat at the back is for ease of movement, the small cape crossing the shoulders would protect from rain, the gun flap at the shoulder would play dual role of ventilation and added padding to soften the riffle recoil. The belt had D-rings for hooking on accessories, large pockets to carry maps, the cuff straps could be tightened during the rain to avoid water running down the sleeve, when using binoculars. Shoulder straps were for epaulettes, while collar buttons would better insulate against the elements and protect during a poison gas attack – gas masks could be tucked in for improved airtightness.
Although today the trench coat is a fashion cover-up first and the rain coat second, the features of the military designs more or less remain intact. The trench is a classic recognisable model of a coat. However designers constantly re-work the style and update it in various ways: play with the size of lapels, lengths of sleeve, add volume to the silhouette etc. The traditional sand, khaki, tan and black gabardine coat has been updated in a variety of colours, prints, fabrics and materials: Vetements send a burgundy leather variant down the runway at the FW16 fashion week, while Burberry is updating their’s in cashmere, shearling and animal print, Raquel Allegra created a tye-dye velvet version. The variations don’t stop there, over the years we’ve seen lace trenches, silk, satin, suede, pony hair, exotic skins and corduroy to name a few, however if you are not swayed by the latest fashion movements, opt for a classic timeless design – it’s a lifetime investment you will never regret.
by Olga Permyakova
Photographer: Victoria Kolotova