History of the trench coat

How the iconic coat was created

A military uniform appropriated for unisex civilian dress, the trench coat clothed the British army during the trench warfare (hence its name) of World War I. The garment is rooted in Charles Macintosh’s early-19th-century invention of rubberized cotton, used to make the uniforms of the aristocratic gentlemen serving as British army officers and for their sports- and rainwear.

In 1916, British fashion house Burberry advertised their weatherproof military coat as “Trench-Warm.” Heavy-duty and utilitarian, it featured a double-breasted closure, belted waist, and knee-length flared skirt. Every part of its design was suited to trench warfare. For example, its truncated cape directed water away from the body and its khaki color provided camouflage. Male and female civilians adopted modified versions of the garment, expressing patriotism and affinity with those on the front.

After World War I, the trench coat was primarily used as rainwear. In the 1930s and 1940s, it gained popularity in women’s fashion, partly due to the return to showing the waistline after a period of loosely cut flapper dresses. Movies further shaped its popularity as femme fatales, gangsters, and detectives endowed it with intrigue. Humphrey Bogart, in particular, imparted to it the aloofness and attractiveness of his characters in Casablanca(1942) and The Big Sleep (1946). Though Burberry has become synonymous with classic trench coats, since the mid-1960s, designers have re-imagined it in countless ways.

Characteristics of the trench coat:

1. The shoulder straps were added to the coat in World War I so that soldiers could attach items such as their epaulettes and their rank insignia.

2. D rings were added for the purpose of holding equipment such as map cases and swords.

3. The large pockets were an essential, as they were used to hold military gear.

4. Ventilation flaps were added for expelling any unpleasant odours, as well as helping keep the coats breathable.

5. The length of the trench coat was well thought out too. There were made to be short enough so that they wouldn’t trail too much in the mud and mire. They were also slightly flared at the waist, to allow maximum movement.

6. Originally, the trench coats came with a removable warm lining. This could be used as a blanket.

7. The collar buttons at the neck were designed so that gas masks could be tucked tightly in to make them as efficient as possible.

8. The cuff straps allowed binoculars to be secured when in use.