One look at a trench coat and the unique details instantly reveals its military origins that date back to the first World War. The coats were created for officers in the British army and then modified to active combat use in the trenches. As to the original inventor of the trench, this is an ongoing debate, as both Aquascutum and Burberry claim this title.
Thomas Burberry invented the gabardine cloth and so trench coats are traditionally constructed out of this tough cotton weave. They typically feature many notable details including the double-breasted closure, a belt, wrist straps, oversized notch lapels, raglan sleeves, shoulder straps, and many more. These of course originally served a functional military purpose, and a little internet research will reveal some surprising facts about the details.
The trench has endured changing fashions over a hundred years and have been written in fashion history by several iconic renditions:
And despite countless shifting fashion trends in the last century, the stately uniform appearance has been preserved thanks to the combination of its distinguishing elements, save for a few modern updates in the cut and material. Modern trench coats boast a sleeker silhouette with a slimmer cut and shorter jacket length. Other materials are introduced such as silk, cashmere, leather and suede, along with different colours and patterns.
Most men today wear a trench as a rain resistant overcoat to go over top of their work clothes. In doing so, they size up in order to accommodate a suit jacket underneath. While this is perfectly fine, the problem is many of them go unnecessarily big thinking they need more excess space and end up with the Kramer-circa-1994-look – remember the raincoats episode? If you plan on wearing it mostly without a jacket under, then a good guideline is to make sure that the coat fits close to the body with just a shirt underneath, and quite snug with a suit jacket – almost tight. As a trench is unstructured, it has the ability to wrap around a suit jacket and maintain its look even if its stressed a bit.
As a lighter garment suited for spring and autumn, I prefer to wear them dressed down in a bit of a minimalistic way with a simple wool or cashmere jumper or button up shirt (perhaps in denim as shown) with jeans or chinos. If the weather gets a bit colder, you could wear it with a heavier sweater and even layer with a quilted gilet or vest ontop. Another option is to purchase a wool-cashmere inlaid that can be buttoned inside as thicker lining (I have this for my trench coat so I can maximize its use into colder weather. You can also buy some trench coats with the inlaid already attached). The beauty of a minimized ensemble is that it doesn’t detract from all of the interesting features of the coat. You can play around with all the adjustable buttons and straps to add a little flair. Here are a few tricks to try:
1. Tighten the strap on the back of the neck behind the collar so the collar is flipped up and stays in place. Tighten the straps on the sleeves too so the arm opening is more fitted; this also allows you to push up the sleeves a couple inches and they'll stay in place.
2. To wear it open (which is typically ill-advised with any double breasted jacket but is acceptable with a trench coat), all you need to do is fold the lapel flaps back on themselves and button the middle one down. To enhance the effect, use the undone waist belt to tie in the back in order to taper in the waist.
3. With the jacket buttoned, the waist belt may be fastened as intended, or alternatively by tying the straps in a knot for a more on-the-run attitude. You can tie it in the middle but tie it off-center, it follows the line of the double-breast.
4. Too cool for sleeves? Simply drape over your shoulders like a cape with your arms out of the sleeves if you want to do the "peacocks of Pitti" thing. Do approach with caution and prepare to drum up some serious hate. To be honest, it isn’t a practical way to wear a coat – just try tending to an itch on your face – but it does look cool in photographs.
As a buying tip, here are a few details to look for:
What's your favorite trench style? Share them in the comments below.