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The History of the Trench Coat

Form, function and aesthetic prowess, the trench coat is a modern wardrobe staple. Favoured by everyone from Jessica Fletcher to Alexa Chung, the style transcends trends, making it a true investment.

There is much debate surrounding the ‘inventor’ of the trench coat. Common sense says that two men, realising the want for a waterproof outerwear piece, began working on a water-repellant material around the same time.

In 1853, John Emary developed and patented a fabric similar to the rubberised cotton used on military coats, but without the musty, damp odour. A more breathable fabric, the invention allowed for less cumbersome styles that were more breathable. Emary names his company Aquascutum, “aqua” which translates to “water” and “scutum”, meaning “shield.”

Just three years later, Thomas Burberry founded his business and, by 1879, was introducing customers to a new breathable and weatherproof twill called gabardine. Coated tightly woven yarns of cotton or wool protect the wearer against rain, preventing water from permeating the fabric.

Prior to Emary and Burberry, men’s outerwear was bulky and hot. Military garments inspired civilian wardrobes and coats were thick, heavy and woollen and the only waterproofs were rubberized “macks” which were heavy, and not at all glamorous.

Both Aquascutum and Burberry offered outerwear that was light, breathable, comfortable, yet could withstand the elements and protect against the weather. They not only revolutionised military uniform, they changed the face of civilian wardrobes, and fashion as we know it, forever.

Comfier, lighter and better camouflaged, the trench coat was a must for military personnel in the first World War. Handy features such as belts with hook on accessories, back capes that removed water and removable inner linings that could double as bedding or pillows if necessary, the coat was equally as functional as it was stylish.

After the war, timeless Hollywood characters immortalised the trend into on screen pop-culture with Noir stars like Humphrey Bogart in films like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. The trench grew to become the uniform of the private eye, the undercover sleuth of 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s America. From 1971 Columbo to the 90s Law and Order’s Lennie Briscoe, the trench is the symbol of the hard-hitting detective.

Today Trench Fever still exists. Each season the brand favourites release their own take on the wardrobe staple, from classic A-Line silhouettes to more contemporary buckled styles. Discover the Coggles edit here. 

Georgia Leitch
Georgia Leitch Writer and expert
A fan of maximalist fashion and all things fluffy, you can find me layering prints or looking for new earrings. A disco queen at heart, if I'm not dancing around the house to 70s soul, I'm counting my flares.

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