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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.