Lady Talks | Trench Coat Guide

Fashion, Fashion History, How to Wear

The trench coat has evolved so much from its utilitarian and functional beginnings. In this post, I’ll shed some light into the history of this timelessly elegant garment, how to style it, and what to look for when shopping for one.

It’s purposes are clear in the coat’s styling – waterproof fabrics (most typically cotton gabardine), storm flaps, straps and buckles make up the wardrobe staple. Traditionally, it is double-breasted and khaki coloured, with lengths varying from above the ankles, to just over the hips.

History

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U.S. Army Officers wearing trench coats during World War II

Developed for use in trench warfare, the trench coat was made to endure its muddy, flooded and squalid environment. It was designed as a response to the need for a lighter, shorter and more flexible coat than the greatcoats worn in wars past, which were made of a thick woolen fabric and were as heavy as they were cumbersome.

The coat was invented to be practical, useful and to allow ease of movement whilst still being warm and weatherproof. The camel hue, which has since become its most traditional colour, arose as a form of camouflage (khaki means “soil” or “soil-coloured” in Hindi). It’s creation is disputed by Aquascutum and Burberry, and though it’s not clear to whom it can be attributed, Burberry has since become almost analogous to trench coats.

The garment’s military influence can be seen in elements of its styling, such as:

  • shoulder straps, to bear epaulettes or other rank indicators
  • strap, hook and eye or buttons on the collar, to offer extra weather protection and, in the event of a poison gas attack, to help keep gas masks airtight
  • straps around both sleeve cuffs, for weather protection
  • storm flap (the small cape covering the top rear of the jacket), allows water to drip off away from the body
  • large and deep pockets, to keep items from falling out

Many veterans kept their trench coats after the war, as it had become a fashionable item for both men and women. This popularity has endured the test of time, sustained by iconic characters of the silver screen, such as Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine from Casablanca and Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Trenchcoats

How to choose the perfect trench coat

The trench coat is not a difficult garment to style – picking a style that flatters your body type and properly fits you will ensure an elegant look. The classic and traditional medium length is nearly universally flattering, being ideal for petite or curvy women. Here are some tips on what to look out for if you are:

  • Short: Coats that fall above the knee will suit you best, as they help balance and elongate the silhouette. Avoid longer coats, as they can make you look shorter. Pairing it with some heels (especially pointy nude heels!) will also help in adding some height, as will wearing vertical stripes and a long necklace.
  • Tall: Though most lengths will probably look flattering, shorter coats might create an unbalanced silhouette. Wearing different colours at the top and bottom also helps break up the height.
  • Slender: Wearing structured clothes helps to highlight the waist, so a coat with a tapered waist and a bottom that widens is a favorable choice. Wider lapels and layered outfits will help in creating even more shape.
  • Curvy: Avoid wearing coats that end just around the hips – this might overly exaggerate your curves. A medium length will work better if you are petite, and a longer coat will work better if you’re taller.
  • Plus-size: Wearing a monochrome outfit will help the coat frame and flatter the body, as will wearing it unbuttoned.

How to Wear & Styling Tips

Blue jeans work beautifully with a classic camel trench coat – incorporate it into a monochromatic outfit with pointed nude heels and a long necklace to create an elongated silhouette. Paired with a shorter trenchcoat, this ensemble is ideal for petite women.

Trenchcoat #1

A trench coat can do wonders to dress up a basic and comfy outfit – it adds some effortless style and elegance to it, whilst retaining comfort. Horizontal stripes and different colours on the top & bottom break up the height, making this outfit ideal for taller women.

Trenchcoat #2

Though ideal for weather that’s not terribly cold, the trench coat can be worn comfortably in colder climates when layered over a sweater, cardigan, blazer or even a denim jacket. For layering, a knee-length coat works best. The tapered waist and layers will help create shape and volume.

Trenchcoat #3

The all-black outfit, helped by the V-neck, pointed heels and necklace; creates a longer and slimmer silhouette. To make this outfit even more flattering, wear the coat open – this will allow it to frame the body.

Trenchcoat #4
The trench coat provides great protection against the elements, as well as a touch of sophistication and style to any look. How do you like to style this staple?

Lady Talks | What is Haute Couture?

Fashion, Fashion History

“Fashion is made to become unfashionable.” – Coco Chanel

The world of fashion is dictated by constant change. Cultural icons from all around the world, including actors, musicians, designers and even royalty; are constantly influencing what people want to wear and look like. Though clothes are primarily meant to cover and protect our bodies, they can be very revealing; as style is a powerful means of self-expression, and a way of telling people a wordless story about ourselves. Despite the ever-changing nature of fashion, one of its ramifications has managed to stake itself as inherently prestigious and exclusive: haute couture.

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Pierre Balmain, French designer extraordinaire, with actress Ruth Ford, in 1947

Haute couture (french for high sewing, or high dressmaking) originated in nineteenth-century Paris by the English Charles Frederick Worth, and remains to this day a paragon of craftsmanship and high fashion. Haute couture garments are hand crafted meticulously from start to finish by the most capable sewers, with high quality and expensive materials. They are also most often tailored specifically for the client’s taste and measurements, making every garment one of a kind. Since these garments require enormous amounts of time, skill and money to complete, its market is small, with an estimated 4000 clients worldwide. In the world of haute couture, budget is no limit.

The term haute couture is protected by law in France, and regulated by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture; which is charged with determining which fashion houses are eligible to be true haute couture houses. No brand, no matter how large or prestigious, can sidestep these rigorous rules established in 1945:

  • offer private clients personal fittings, for made-to-order designs
  • have an atelier in Paris that employs at least fifteen staff members full-time
  • have at least twenty full-time technical people, in at least one atelier
  • present a collection of at least fifty original designs to the public every fashion season (each January and July), consisting of both daytime and evening wear
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John Galliano designs for Christian Dior Haute Couture

A common misconception about haute couture is that it only produces evening wear, though fashion houses are required to present daytime garments as well. While most haute couture houses are French, the idea that they exist only in France is another frequent misconception. Foreign houses can be eligible to qualify as correspondent, guest, and even official members – these include Valentino, Guo Pei, Armani, Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad and Yiqing Yin.

The prestige and quality of haute couture garments might not enough to help it survive through the 21st century. Despite there being a minority able and willing to pay for such garments, the more relaxed dressing of modern times presents a smaller viability for haute couture, which survives almost as a marketing tool and beacon of exclusivity. It is unable to provide the main income for a fashion house – instead, they rely on more reasonably priced prêt-à-porter (french for ready to wear), luxury accessories and perfumes as their main source of profit.

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Guo Pei’s gown took 100 workers 5 months to embroider. Photo by Lydia Liu

Though reading about the history of haute couture is incredibly educational, it is only a part of the exquisite beauty and handiwork that is put into the garments. All minutiae are thought through and executed aiming perfection, with no expenses spared – be it time or money. The following videos, showing how haute couture garments are made by Chanel, Georges Hobeika and Elie Saab, have helped me glimpse into this incredibly exclusive market and better understand its extravagant price tags.

Needless to say, haute couture is a pearl of craftsmanship with so much to offer the worlds of art and fashion. Discovering the costumes it has produced is as mesmerizing as observing their development – I can only imagine donning such a work of art.