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A Brief History Of The Iconic Trench Coat

In the world of jackets, the trench coat is the equivalent of the little black dress. Here, we discuss the history of the iconic piece and pick our favorite styles of the season.

As the autumnal air begins to cool, jacket season is once again upon us. Favorites like denim and leather jackets are transition go-tos, but this season more than ever, we love the cool elegance of a classic trench coat. The staple originated as a military essential and was popularized during World War I when it was worn in the trenches—hence its name. Many of its features served officers for a specific purpose: The D-rings on the belt could hold accessories like handheld guns and flaps on the shoulders allowed ventilation (and could hide a gun), and the small cape in the back allowed water to easily come off. Because the coat was worn by officers who dressed themselves at fine tailors, it also was a status symbol of high rank, both socially and economically. Civilians didn’t sport the coat until after the war.

It’s still uncertain who is responsible for evolving the trench coat as we know it today, but two key figures were Thomas Burberry and John Emary of Aquascutum. In 1879, Burberry developed the material gabardine, a water-repellant twill-woven cloth from a unique chemical process. The material and functionality of the trench coat made it perfect for rainy days and other sports activity, as it’s light enough to minimize sweat but warm enough to protect in cooler temperatures. By the time World War II started, the trench coat had become a fashion statement thanks to Hollywood actors, like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The coat has continued to make iconic appearances in film and even children’s television, ranging from Inspector Gadget to Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

Lately we’ve seen an uptick in variations of this silhouette, as seen on celebrities and on the streets. Burberry added chain embellishments for an edgier take on the staple, and Bottega Veneta’s laser-cut leather coat stands out with its distinguished texture. From bright hues, various patterns, and textures, one does not only need a khaki trench (but we highly recommend owning at least one!). Here, we’ve curated our favorite statement coats, along with some classic interpretations.

Try a leather trench coat in classic black, or go bolder with a python-stamped leather print.
Opt for a classic check-weave pattern, or stand out in a pink floral motif.
You can't go wrong with a gabardine Burberry trench.
The trench silhouette goes full luxe in leather and faux-shearling.
Rather than khaki, experiment with other browns like a rusty orange tone or dark brown.
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