We did it first: Trench coats

Katharine Wootton

Senior news writer, Tuesday, 27 September 2016

An elegant trench coat has long been a staple of our closets and a favourite of the stars. As it booms in popularity once more, we look back at the evolution of this timeless classic…

From a brooding Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, to a rain-soaked Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, the trench coat has long been synonymous with a touch
of Hollywood class.

Even today, its fan base includes such sophisticated ladies as Helen Mirren, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge – which proves the trench coat has remained glamorous and versatile – a year-round look we’ve turned to time and time again. Now the latest generation of fashion followers has embraced the trend, filling 2016’s catwalks and fashion rails often with subtle twists, as the suede trench, the denim trench, and even the sleeveless trench vest take off.

And while it’s great to see these more experimental creations, we’ll still always hold a soft spot for the traditional, chic double breasted trench coat we remember wearing and adoring first time around!

Battle of the trench coats

The classic trench coat may be cream in colour, but its history is far from vanilla. There is a long-standing feud over who created the trench coat. Fashion houses Burberry and Aquascutum both claim to have invented it in the later 1800s. But the trench coat – as you might guess from its name – went on to play a huge part in Britain’s war history, first used in the Boer War and later becoming a mainstay of soldiers’ uniforms in the trenches of the First World War.

The trench coat was a favourite of film noir stars like Humphrey Bogart

While the buttoned straps around the wrists stopped water gushing up soldiers’ sleeves when they were holding binoculars in the rain, the pleat at the back allowed for easy movement. Its material, gabardine, was perfect – it was water-repellent, lightweight, durable and breathable.

Hollywood love affair

After its birth in the military, the trench coat took an unusual new direction in the Twenties and Thirties, into the showbiz world. Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis were among its fashion pioneers. Then stars of the Fifties and Sixties, including Katharine Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren, cemented the trench coat in the Hollywood wardrobe of fame.

Yet it was possibly that moment in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961, when Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly ran into the arms of her lover Paul Varjak in the soaking rain, wearing – you guessed it – a trench coat that had us all flocking to the shops to find one and so boost our prospects of having our own soggy smooch with George Peppard!

Audrey Hepburn and Paul Varjak in Breakfast at Tiffany's secured our love for the humble trench coat

But it wasn’t just the stars who made the trench coat iconic. Radical Sixties’ intellectuals loved throwing one over their trademark turtleneck sweaters while some Mods wore trench coats as fashionable alternatives to a fishtail parker. Truly a coat for all seasons!

A style for all seasons

The trench coat looks classy at any time of year, but it’s especially perfect as we head into autumn and winter. What’s more with its tied belt at the waist, it can give anyone a lovely hourglass silhouette.

While Burberry may still be the go-to designer for a classic trench coat, beloved of Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham and the Duchess of Cambridge, you by no means have to pay Burberry prices to get the sleek and refined trench coat look. Marks & Spencer, H&M and La Redoute are among places you can grab a super trench coat for less than £50 this season.

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