History of the Trend: Trench Coats

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Trench coat

If there’s one thing I know about Indiana weather, it’s to expect the unexpected. One day it’s sunny and 80 degrees, the next it’s 65 and raining…anyone else with me? The constant weather shifts can make dressing for class a challenge, but after going to school here for three years, I’ve got a secret weapon that I’m willing to share with you…

The trench coat is stylish, functional, and the perfect layering piece for transitional weather. To learn the history behind this quintessentially stylish piece, read on!

History of Trench Coats

Modcloth Trench Coat

A pleated trench from Modcloth

  • Thomas Burberry is credited with creating a fabric which he called gabardine in the 1870s. This unique wool material repelled water, was durable, virtually crease-proof, and resistant to the elements, while remaining porous and well-ventilated enough to be comfortable and cool for the wearer. This material would go on to be used for their popular trench coats.
  • There is a debate surrounding the invention of the trench coat design: Both Burberry and Aquascutum claim to have invented the garment, Burberry citing a design Thomas Burberry submitted in 1901 for an army officer’s raincoat, and Aquascutum claiming to have created it in the 1850s for officers in the Crimean war.
  • Regardless of who the true inventor was, both Burberry and Aquascutum manufactured trench coats for military use in WWI and WWII, as these garments were ideal for harsh weather conditions. They kept soldiers warm and dry, plus the spacious pockets were ideal for small essentials. Thanks in part to their ingenious design, these coats refused to stay, well, in the trenches. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
  • According to a New York Times article from 1917, trench coat demand was high not just for local militaries, but for civilians as well. Its smart look was ideal for businessmen and women alike, increasing its appeal.
  • In her book The Classic Ten: The True Story of the Little Black Dress and Nine Other Fashion Favorites, author Nancy MacDonell Smith looks at cultural examples to explain the magnetism of this trend. “You’re never at risk of looking trite in a trench coat. It’s a garment that means business,” she says. She goes on to say that it is that precise nature of the trench that makes it so compelling. “You may look all buttoned-up when you’re wearing one, but underneath you could be any number of things.”
  • The trench is truly timeless. Each era seems to have put their own spin on the staple, changing fabrics and styling to keep with the times without altering its structural integrity. Check out these images of the modern trench coat. Bright colors and extras aside, the coat still maintains its historic roots.
  • The trench coat is as fashionable today as it was in the early 1900s. Burberry has even launched a separate website for its iconic trench! Fans can submit original photos of how they wear their trench coats, comment, and share with others. Collaborations are also featured on the site, including material from The Sartorialist, Scott Schuman.

Why We Still Love This Trend

Trench Coat Collage

Photo Credits: 1, 2

The trench coat has stood the test of time. Its classic silhouette is unmatched and it quickly makes any ensemble look polished and put-together. Here are three reasons to clear some space for a trench in your closet:

  • Whatever the weather, you’re covered. The great thing about the trench coat? Its multi-seasonal fabrics and colors make it appropriate for all occasions. For the fall weather we’re experiencing, a classic trench with feminine detailing is ideal for running to class while staying comfortable and fashionable.
  • It’s a wardrobe classic. A classic trench coat is definitely worth the splurge. It’s a timeless piece that you’ll love for seasons to come, even as more trendy styles come into vogue.
  • It’s iconic. Countless public figures and celebrities have made their mark wearing the trench coat, including Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan, Jackie O, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Blake Lively. Pick your muse and style this enduring trend to your heart’s content!

Let’s Chat!

What do you think of the trench coat? Is it part of your wardrobe? How do you style it day-to-day? Any other trends you’d like to see discussed here? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it!

17 thoughts on “History of the Trend: Trench Coats”

  1. Trench coats are so classic. I wish I owned just one. Then I could play around with it like having my dress, which will be slightly longer, peep from underneath. I’d also like to wear a trench coat with shorts in the winter even thought it seems counter productive…

  2. I bought a trench coat last Spring from Zara, and I don;t think it looks so well. First, it’s a bit tight (they had extra small!). Second, the color may not match my pale-ish, reddish skin? I really want the trench coat to work. Help?!

  3. Ironic this is posted. I just purchased a trench this past saturday! Target $50. They had a black and grey plaid one but I opted for the classic color. I’ve also spotted them in Old Navy in previous years for $50 as well.

  4. I just bought a dark grey wool pea coat that is about as long as a trench coat…would that be called a trench coat then, as well? Ah well. I really wanted a lighter, more autumnal beige one, but of the ones that I tried on, all made me look either too stumpy (I’m 5’2) or like a flasher. I dunno…I’ll probably have to keep looking. I just also find that they look too old on me…I look pretty young (some people think that I’m still 15), but I’m almost twenty, so I consider myself an adult and I wear other adult things (I don’t wear very many trendy items), so I don’t know why a simple, classic trench would look like I’m trying to be an age that I’m not. It just…doesn’t look right for some reason. Hm. At least I have my pea coats.

  5. Sue, you stand out because you look amazing and deep down many admire you for having such a forward and mature sense of fashion. I know a few people who dress nothing like the others around them and always look put together and they end up with a lot of respect and admiration from others. There will always be haters, but the good outweighs the bad, I think.

  6. Hi Sue!
    Here’s my take on this one. It’s all about how it makes YOU feel. You could try to remember what you felt like in Europe and channel that confidence to wearing your trench at home. If you’re still feeling strange, you could try updating the buttons, or if it’s a long trench, taking it to a tailor and hemming it to a length you’re more comfortable with. Personally, I think trench coats are perfect for college students because they’re versatile and polished, but that is my opinion. I hope this helps!

  7. I actually have a dilemma: So I bought a very classy trench coat when I was in Europe, lots of women were wearing it there, but now that I’m wearing it in Michigan, I feel like it looks really pretentious or makes me look old. . . So I guess the question is, are trench coats really for college students?

  8. Charlotte- You’re absolutely right, trench coats are classic and will always be in style! I included them in this series because I think it’s interesting how classics continue to be updated to reflect current trends.
    I’d love to hear your thoughts on what to cover next!

  9. I’m in the process of looking for a trench coat, and I feel it’s always better to go with a more classic style when it comes to something like this. Lots of the “modern” trench coats end up looking dated within a few years, which is sad considering this is one of those pieces where you should be able to wear it for years to come. I don’t know about y’all, but I’d rather splurge and buy a nice one I know I can keep for 10 years than buy an of-the-moment one at half the price, then have to replace it.

  10. I bought a dark purple ralph lauren trench coat last season that I’m just now getting to wear- something akin to this..
    My mom has a burberry trench that she has had for years and years… and has no intention of giving up quite yet. It is the perfect piece to feel pulled together

  11. This is too funny and coincidental–I just bought a trench coat this weekend! I love and can’t wait for cooler weather to wear.

  12. Shmee- I don’t know if this is what you’re looking for (or if it’s in your price range) but this classic trench from London Fog is on sale! http://www.londonfog.com/Womens-Raincoats/London-Fog-Olivia-Classic-Double-Breasted-Faux-Silk-Trenchcoat-With-Signature-Plaid-Zip-Out-Liner.asp

    Mina- Definitely!

  13. I adore trench coats, the only problem is finding a classic one (within a reasonable price) that isn’t cropped. I like a knee or even calf-length flared number that just looks more substantial than a mid-thigh coat. I like a more deliberately retro style without the attempt to be modern.
    I saw a gorgeous one at J.Crew, but of course it was close to $400. Yikes.

    If you could make a post with all different styles of trench coats at more reasonable prices, that would be wonderful!


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