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Cult item: trench coat

By Matt Glazebrook, 12 October 2014

Like many style staples, the trench coat has its roots firmly in the functional requirements of military apparel. As the name suggests, the coat came to prominence in the trenches of WWI, where it was permitted as a lightweight, waterproof alternative to the traditional officer's greatcoat. Many of its basic components stem from these days: the shoulder straps that were originally used to attach epaulettes, the deep pockets for carrying maps, the rings for holding swords or other equipment and, of course, the classic khaki colour scheme.




Two manufacturers claim to have invented the trench coat and introduced it to the army and both remain indelibly linked with the item today. Thomas Burberry of Hampshire pointed to his 1879 invention of water-repellent 'gabardine' cloth, while London's Aquascutum offered an even earlier claim: a waterproof coat they made for Crimean War officers way back in the 1850s. 


Picture: Rex


By the mid-1900s, the trench had shed its military associations, but not its aura of violence. It became the outerwear option of choice for movie gangsters and private eyes, hiding the sins of everyone from Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade in the 40s (above) to Michael Caine's Jack Carter in 70s. The undisputed king of cinematic khaki, however, is Alain Delon's Jef Costello (below) – super-cool protagonist of existential French hitman flick Le Samouraï (1967).


Picture: All Star


Most women's mags will tell you that a trench is a wardrobe staple and it's true that it's had more than its fair share of iconic womenswear fashion moments over the years. But there's no reason to think it isn't also a timeless menswear classic that will enhance any basic dude closet. For one thing, it's the perfect autumnal coat: lightweight enough to layer up under, yet surprisingly toasty once you've buttoned up against the breeze. It'll also withstand a heavy rain shower (essential) and is versatile enough – with the judicious addition of either a lightweight tee or a chunky jumper – to work for all but the very hottest and coldest days of the year.


Picture: Camera Press


Styling-wise, you've got a couple of killer options with the trench. Slipping one over a suit (a là Tom Hardy – top) will not only keep that two-piece looking crisp and the whole vibe traditional, it'll evoke the masculine trench coat golden age of Bogey, Delon et al. Keep the lower layers casual and pared down, however – with, say, some black skinny jeans, a monochrome oversized tee, and a simple scarf – and you've got yourself a drapey, cool art-school-cum-rocker get-up (like your man Douglas Booth above).