STYLE AND CULTURE
CULT ITEM: TRENCH COAT
By Matt Glazebrook, October 21, 2018
Like many style staples, the trench coat has its roots firmly in the functional requirements of military apparel. As the name gives away, 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 color 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.
By the mid 20th century, 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 Harry Smith in 1951's Sirocco (above) to Michael Caine's Jack Carter in 1971's Get Carter. 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).
The trench is now having another moment thanks to longline and oversized styles seen on the runways of Burberry, Balenciaga and Maison Margiela. And there's so much to love about the trenches of today. For one thing, it's the perfect fall 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 casual T-shirt or a turtleneck sweater — to work for all but the very hottest and coldest days of the year.
In terms of styling, you've got a couple of steezy options with the trench. Slipping one over a suit will not only keep that two-piece looking crisp and the whole vibe traditional, it'll also evoke the trench coat golden age of Bogey, Delon, et al. Alternatively, keep it casual and go for a laid-back, open-collar shirt, pants and minimal white kicks à la this street-styler.