The Iconic Trench Coat

The famous last scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is loved by Tashionistas’ because Audrey Hepburn looked so attractive in her trench coat. This iconic garment, often worn by movie stars, has an interesting history.

The famous British companies of Aqua scutum and Burberry both claim the original design of the trench coat, which was first used as an alternative to heavy duty serge greatcoats in World War One. The War Office was impressed with the coat designs of the two companies because the coats were lightweight, waterproof, and warm.  They were extremely useful in the cold and wet trenches of the Great War. Burberry made the coats with his own invention of gabardine, a lightweight material which he had chemically treated to make it waterproof.

The original trench coats were regarded highly by officers They were double-breasted with deep pockets, which officers found handy for storing needed items. Most of the coats also had buckled belts and were lined with wool. This wool lining made them extremely snug. During the war, other useful features were added to the original trench coat design. These included shoulder straps and L>rings. Shoulder straps denoted rank.  Items could be attached to the belt of the trench coat by the D-rings.

Only the higher ranks of the Army were allowed to wear the trench coats.  They were an optional extra. Perhaps this is why the garments became associated with the upper classes and the wealthy.  Aqua scutum and Burberry are still exclusive, luxurious brands.

Women soon became attracted to the trench coat. Women’s trench coats were also first worn as war garments. An advertisement in the American fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar in 1918 recommended the trench coat as a gift for women serving in the auxiliary units. The advertised trench coat was made of tan serge and interlined with flannel. The advertisement called the trench coat or top-coat’, ‘the most convincing badge of service’.

Soon civilians realised that the trench coat could be a fashionable garment in its own right. Movie-stars, such as Greta Garbo, began wearing them. Other famous movie-stars, such as Catherine Deneuve also looked glamorous in the tightly belted  garments. Fashion critics and movie buffs both thought that the coat made the female stars look sexy and independent. Naturally stylish women copied the garments of their favourite movie stars.

Male movie stars, such as Humphrey Bogart, also wore them. They are especially associated with the role of the tough, hard-drinking detective who had a soft heart underneath. Men wanted to look rugged like these stars so the trench coat was an extremely popular garment for men.


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