By Eileen Nguyen
The long draped coat, known as the trench coat, has been seen in various occasions and events. One of the most iconic moments for trench coats was seen in “The Matrix” where the characters wore long black trench coats. What is now considered a fashionable piece and emerging into the fall fashion scene, how did this style of coat even come about?
The trench coat that we know and love today was not always designed the way we know it as. Dating back as early as 1823 these coats, made by inventor Charles Macintosh, used to be made out of rubberized cotton and were used as a weatherproof outerwear garment for both civilians and militia men. The garment was successful in keeping the rain away from the body but it was also good at keeping sweat in which created an unpleasant smell and even a higher risk of melting in the sun. Despite these hazards, these coats were highly used amongst the British military all the way through the 19th century.
These “macks”, named after Macintosh, were needed in the market but the fabric had too many shortcomings. This led to clothiers to develop a better and more breathable fabric. History was then made again in 1853 when Mayfair gentlemen’s clothier, John Emary developed a less potent and water-repellent fabric which later led him to rename his company to Aquascutum (from Latin term “aqua” meaning water and “scutum” meaning “shield”).
During this time, Burberry was a 21-year-old draper from Basingstoke, Hampshire, who had founded his own menswear business in 1856. Burberry soon became a fashion icon when he was inspired by the waterproof coat in 1879 and eventually invented “gabardine,” which is a breathable, yet waterproof, twill made by individual strands of cotton or wool fiber. What makes gabardine different is that it doesn’t use the whole fabric, unlike how it was made before.
Why is it called a “trench” coat?
As the name suggests, these coats were worn by militia men in the trenches. These coats were useful for officers at the time since it was waterproof, there was a gun or storm flap at the shoulder, and the pockets were large and deep enough to fit maps and other necessities. The buttons located at the collar near the neck were for protection from bad weather and poisonous gas. The collar feature allowed gas masks to be tucked into the collar to make them more air tight. These coats were more than just a garment to block rain and debris on the body, but actually had real military usage to protect oneself.
Entering The Main Fashion Scene
As films started to become popular, so did the trench coat. The long jacket started to become romanticized in Hollywood when it was worn by journalists, gangsters, detectives, spies, and seductive female characters. The trench coat can be seen on famous actors/actresses such as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Meryl Streep.
Today, the trench coat is exactly as we see it today. Mainly known for its khaki color, large buttons and flaps, this jacket is defined as a coat that is mainly associated with journalists and businessmen/women, similar to that of how Hollywood romanticized them. Nowadays, various designers, including Burberry, create the classic trench into something more modern that anyone can wear for an everyday chic look. Some may even say that incorporating the trench coat look into an outfit gives off a similar vibe to a French kind of chic.
The modern day trench comes in various styles and textures. What’s more inclusive is that many styles of trench coats have been created to fit a women’s silhouette with the smaller structure around the waist. Before, all trench coats had buttons and a wrapped belt but now some coats don’t even have one or the other. Despite all the different features, it is still easy to distinguish which coat is a trench coat and which one is not because of the long stature of the garment and of course, if you get the classic khaki color.
This long outerwear piece has become an essential piece in many fashionistas lives. What once started as a piece for protection, has become a piece made for fashion.