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What is a Trench Coat?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
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The trench coat was born of practical necessity, but has long been associated with fashion. It is currently one of fashion maven Tim Gunn’s ten required things that every woman must own. However, these coats are worn by both genders and were initially adapted for use by men during World War I, hence the name trench, which refers to the trenches used for military engagement during the war.

The typical trench coat, as first designed by Thomas Burberry, used gabardine fabric, and was water resistant. It was usually at least knee length and was only available to certain officers in the British and French armies, as optional wear. The coat was usually belted and many were lined with warm material like wool. They were a good alternative to wool serge coats, and could be slightly lighter in weight while still providing some protection against cold and/or rainy conditions.

Popularity of the coats grew when soldiers brought them home from the war and some armies used them again during World War II. As WWII came to a close the coats were extremely fashionable and became an alternative to long wool coats. Coat styles were manufactured for men and women, with Burberry’s designs initially being the most popular. Today Burberry still is known for their trench coat styles and many people will pay the high prices the company charges to get an authentic Burberry.

Numerous designers have created varied trench coat styles, and in general these coats are best suited for moderate temperatures and rainy weather. They don’t provide as much protection against cold, though zip in linings made of wool or other materials can help. Typically trench coats are best for rainy weather because their materials are often highly water resistant. Though gabardine coats are still popular, there are now numerous fabrics that may be used for these coats.

Another change has been length of the coat and presence of absence or belts. Many coats don’t feature belts, and a number of trench coat styles for women are shorter, coming to mid-thigh instead of to or below the knee. Coat length really depends on preference though, and those looking for a trench coat can find a variety to choose from.

People may notice various straps on coats and these had a practical purpose initially, though now they’re mainly for show. When the coats were designed, Burberry began to improve on his design by adding shoulder straps to which officers could attach pins signifying rank. D- Rings, metal rings shaped like Ds, were also affixed to the coats and could be used to attach equipment like hand grenades.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon943701 — On Apr 03, 2014

I have a question: is a trench coat all right for spring or summer? Or is it just for rain? What would a casual summer blazer /jacket/coat be?

By anon330077 — On Apr 14, 2013

The first trench coat was made by Aquascutum (and it was called Aqua-Scutum) in 1851, and they also supplied the Aquascutum to the British military in 1853 in larger quantities. Thomas Burberry came into business in 1856 and wasn't acknowledged widely until 1870. His design, however, used cotton (unlike Aquascutum's rubberised material) woven in Egypt which he named Gabardine.

By anon191226 — On Jun 28, 2011

Well-written and very interesting article. I've always thought trench coats were romantic (must be that hint of intrigue the wearer has).

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia...
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