Classic yet constantly reinvented to provide super-stylish, effortlessly elegant outerwear for all shapes and sizes (and both sexes). Stephanie Smith celebrates the trench coat.
There can be few items of clothing more versatile than the trench.
It’s loved and worn equally by men and women, and comes in a variety of lengths for both sexes too, from short (just past the hips) to mid-shin length. It can be worn open with the belt tied behind or it can be belted a number of ways. It can be pared back with very few styling details, or it can have all the epaulettes, buckles, straps and buttons that even the most gadget-loving of wearers anyone could ever want. Whatever, however, the trench coat is always a classic – especially when it comes in a beautifully creamy-buff colour.
Its origins are military, of course, and it became popular during and after World War I, recognised for its effortlessly stylish functionality combined with lightweight feel and ease of movement. The cloth dates from the 1870s, when Thomas Burberry developed a material – which he called gaberdine – that was untearable, almost crease-proof and resistant to the elements, while remaining porous and well-ventilated enough to be cool and comfortable. It revolutionised both military and civilian outerwear and Yorkshire is proud to boast that Burberry trench coats are still made in Castleford.
It is estimated that half a million Burberry trench coats were worn by combat officers between 1914 and 1918, while Aquascutum also made trench coats for the British military.
The classic early trench coat was double-breasted with four buttons, reinforced shoulder or gun flaps, straps on the cuffs, a buckle belt with distinctive brass “D” rings designed to hold water bottles, hand grenades or other military equipment, slotted pockets and an adaptable collar.
No matter how it has been refined and redesigned over the decades to suit the times and trends, the trench coat has remained, remarkably, at the forefront of fashion ever since its early days. Most wardrobes contain one, and some, like mine, contain at least three really quite similar designs – for shame, I know, but it’s really very difficult to get rid of a trench coat, what with each and every one of them being being such a classic – even a long unstructured style like the Macleod trench coat worn by Christopher Lambert in Highlander (1986) comes in an out of fashion (arguably more out than in, but still).
Oh yes, it’s far easier to buy a trench coat than it is to get rid, especially this season when there is such a wide variety of styles to choose from.
For a neat and easy on-trend look, go for one that sits just above the knee and is not too full-skirted, but still gives that flattering shape (belted or not, the trench accentuates the waist and is very flattering to all shapes and sizes, thanks again to that lightweight cloth combined with the focus on shoulder and neck).
Think proportion with your trench – a long one looks fabulous over a short skirt, or try a short one open over crop trousers or culottes.