This is the first part of our Essentials series and today I will write about one of my favorite clothing items, something that every man should have in its closet. It’s the trench coat. Nothing is more British than the British weather, especially the rain so it’s no surprise that we can thank this nation for inventing one of the most iconic clothing items.
Trench coat originated as military outfit. Its history has different origins, depending whether you listen to Aquascutum’s or Burberry’s version of the story. Aquascutum’s story goes way back to the year 1853 when the company produced practical coats for officers fighting in the Crimean war, using its patented waterproof wool. Burberry’s trench coat history starts in 1901 when Thomas Burberry entered a design to the War Office for an officer’s raincoat made using his very own patented cotton Gabardine fabric, a tightly woven, water-repellent fabric weave.
History of the trench coat
The trench coat became an optional item of dress in the British Army, and was obtained by private purchase by officers and Warrant Officers Class under no obligation to own them. No other ranks were permitted to wear them, but precisely, the biggest influence on trench coat was from the Scottish scientist Charles Mackintosh and his rubberized fabric, which he patented in 1823.
Because of this invention Burberry and Aquascutum had to produce their own versions of this fabric. Mackintosh’s invention was so important to the history of trench coats, that today in Britain, they are often called ‘macs’ and a shorthand phrase for waterproof outerwear. The true story of the trench coat begins during the World War I since it was fought on the rainy fields of continental Europe.
British officers fighting during the war took their rain coats with them and as the war was going on, the design was modified for battlefield use. The first change was D-rings so that the officers can carry their map cases and swords. The second one was epaulettes for rank insignia display. During the war the name “trench coat” was assigned because the battles were fought in trenches.
After the World War II trench coats became fashionable items. Their original role as part of an officer’s uniform was soon replaced as a businessmen’s outfit. Popular culture and fictional heroes such as detectives Dick Tracy and Mike Hammer, Humprey Bogart’s Rick Blain from Casablanca and Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau kept the coat in the public eye where it stayed till today.
Form and style
Since trench coat is made for bad weather it should be made of a wool or waxed cotton fabric and should be water-resistant. Trench coat almost always has two rows of buttons, it has wide lapels and its pockets can be closed with buttons. The coat can be belted, and it can have straps around the wrists that can buckle up. Also it can have shoulder straps with button closing. Those shoulder straps were a functional feature in a military life.
The classic color of a trench coat is khaki or beige, although today it can be bought in various colors but it is not advisable to wear one in a color that stands out too much. For the more elegant style you should go with original khaki beige one. Black and dark blue colored trench coats are also great looking.
For me the trench coat should be in a traditional, double-breasted military style. With a belt, cuffed sleeves, epaulettes and a large turn down collar. The single breasted one will make you look taller and thinner and is suitable for shorter men, while the double-breasted one, since it’s less common, will make you stand out more.
Today you can find trench coats in several lengths. The shortest one will go several inches below your waist and is not suited for tall man since they can look disproportional in it. The medium length one is ending a few inches above knees and for me that’s the best option. The most elegant one. This length is most suitable for tall and lean man. There is also the long version, the ankle length trench. This look will make you look big cause massive amount of excess material around mid section looks cumbersome. Ankle long version is also not suitable for the shorter man.
Sleeves should be long enough to cover the shirt and suit sleeves, but not too long to cover the hands. Although today you can buy belt free version I always prefer the belted trench coat. Only if you have a larger mid section you should wear it without the belt. Belted version is best for tall man since it will visually break up your body and create illusion of proportion.
The trench coat is so versatile that it can be worn with anything; from jeans, sweaters, shirts, almost anything, both casual and formal looking.
Today any fashion company has its own version of trench coat in its portfolio, but for the real deal you should go with Aquascutum or Burberry. Both companies still manufacture in Britain, a proof of quality and tradition, and that’s what you should be looking for.
Today trench coat is one of the cornerstones of men’s style. It does not matter if you are a Wall Street businessman, creative person, model or just a random guy. Every man who cares about his appearance should own one. Choose it appropriately to suit your figure and you will not be passing across the street unnoticed.