The Trench Coat in a Story

Although seen in a fashionable context, the trench coat wasn’t the wardrobe staple that it is today.
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Although seen in a fashionable context, the trench coat wasn’t the wardrobe staple that it is today. In fact, its story goes way beyond the runway, back to the 19th-century Scotland and World War I. First created by Scottish chemist and inventor Charles Macintosh and British inventor Thomas Hancock in the 1820s, it stood out with its rugged appeal and its water-repelling fabric.

Designed to be the go-to outerwear for upper class men whose outdoor activities involved riding, shooting, fishing and military service, it was first made of rubberized cotton. And thanks to the evolution of technology, the rubber-coated fabric became more breathable, less sweaty and more efficient at repelling rain. 1853 witnessed the introduction of an improved version of this raincoat by a Mayfair tailor for the well-dressed man called John Emary. The latter released it under the name of his company Aquascutum, which means in Latin “water shield”. Thomas Burberry followed his footsteps in 1856, and under his eponymous label, waterproofed the individual strands of cotton and wool fiber instead of rubberizing the finished fabric – leading to the invention of Burberry’s “Gabardine” in 1879, therefore creating a revolution in the history of this piece thanks to the textile’s unprecedented level of breathability and making it popular among explorers, aviators and other gentlemen with a knack for adventure.

In terms of style, the original trench is double-breasted, tailored at the waist, and flared to a below-the-knee length. Its belt featured D-rings to which accessories were hooked, while the caped back helped water to drip off. Ventilation was provided by the storm flap at the shoulder, and protection from poison gas by the buttons at the neck. And while all trench coats were supplied with deep pockets and cuffs that could be tightened, some came with a removable liner to provide warmth.

This design started becoming a wardrobe staple when it landed in Hollywood, leaving its military history to make unforgettable appearances in movies, worn by stars such as Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and Meryl Streep in ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’.  With the beginning of this new era in its timeline, the trench’s color went far beyond its signature Khaki color and started being reinterpreted by designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Martin Margiela – to name a few, presenting new styles, color combinations, prints, various lengths and details.

Article Written by Mirella Haddad