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Entrenched: a tribute to the most classic of coats

Fashion journalist Kim Parker explores how the trench coat rose from military must-have to become a 21st-century style staple

Burberry long heritage ‘Chelsea’ trench coat

When it comes to iconic items of clothing, there’s very little to challenge the trench coat. No other wardrobe essential connects the battlefield with the silver screen, or the suaveness of James Bond with the feistiness of Carrie Bradshaw.

Its earliest iteration was as a waterproof “mack” – a rubberised cotton coat devised in the early 1820s by the Scottish chemist Charles Mackintosh, for whom it was named, and the English inventor Thomas Hancock, founder of the British rubber industry. Theirs was waterproof outerwear designed for officers of the military (who could afford to outfit themselves), and well-dressed gentlemen who lived an outdoorsy lifestyle of sporting pursuits.

As technology improved, so did the breathability and comfort of the coat. In 1853, a Mayfair tailor named John Emary developed an improved raincoat, which he sold under his label Aquascutum (derived from the Latin for ‘water’ and ‘shield’). Twenty-six years later, a young draper from Basingstoke named Thomas Burberry invented “gabardine”, a twill fabric made by coating individual strands of cotton or wool with waterproofing, rather than the entire cloth, that was inspired by the lanolin-coated coveralls worn by Hampshire shepherds. Burberry’s innovation resulted in the most breathable version of the jacket yet.

This modernised “trench coat” (as it was dubbed by a tailoring journal in 1916, due to its use by officers during the Great War) was soon adopted by upper-class explorers (including Ernest Shackleton), aviators and military men alike, imbuing it with an intrepid and debonair quality that eventually led Hollywood to come calling.

From the 1920s onwards, the double-breasted, deep-pocketed trench coat became synonymous with the most adventurous and spirited characters in film. Everyone from Greta Garbo in A Woman of Affairs (1928), and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (1942), to Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961) wore one.

James Bond had one. So did Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Bride’ in Kill Bill. Even Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City’s most ardent admirer of the faux-fur jacket, was savvy enough to have a trench coat in her fashion arsenal. It has enrobed the likes of Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana and is still regularly spotted on modern-day style leaders such as Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and the Duchess of Cambridge.

Here, our edit of AW21’s most covetable women’s trench coats, available right now from Sloane Street’s boutiques:

Burberry

From the originator of the modern trench coat comes this sleek midi-length version, complete with many of the original features of its historic forebears: a caped back that allows rain to slide off; D-rings for attaching accessories such as binoculars, and straps at the cuffs to allow them to be tightened against inclement weather. It’s as beautifully constructed now as it was over a century ago, which is why it remains a covetable classic.

Burberry, 1 Sloane Street, London, SW1X 9LA

Emporio Armani

Minimalists will adore Emporio Armani’s technical take on the trench, created with clean lines, a waist-cinching belt and detachable sleeves which allow for all-weather wear.

Giorgio Armani, 40-42 Sloane Street, London, SW1X 9LP

Fendi

Created with super-soft camel hair and lined in Fendi’s recognisable ‘Karligraphy’ motif, this ultra-luxurious trench will keep you cosy in the very chilliest of breezes, without the need for dozens of bulky layers. A true investment buy that will look stylish for years to come.

Fendi, 26-27 Sloane Street, London, SW1X 9NE

Dior

Add a dash of French flair, à la Brigitte Bardot in 1959’s Babette Goes to War or Catherine Deneuve in 1964’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Dior’s chic cotton trench coat. A slightly flared outline flatters the silhouette, while adjustable side straps create a waspish-looking waist. Très jolie.

Dior, 31 Sloane Street, London, SW1X 9NR

Saint Laurent

Saint Laurent’s latest interpretation of the trench blends all the style details of the classic – a double-breasted front, storm flaps, buttoned epaulets, and adjustable cuffs – with a slick patent finish, creating the perfect modern cover-up. Worn with denim, it instantly dresses up any daytime look, or use it to give smart evening wear a rock-n-roll edge.

Saint Laurent, 171-172 Sloane Street, London, SW1X 9QG

With the arrival of cooler weather, the trench coat is a must-have for urban warriors; one that keeps the mercurial weather at bay, while remaining effortlessly elegant. You couldn’t say that for every coat style, could you?

Kim Parker is a London-based journalist specialising in luxury fashion, jewellery, and beauty.

 

 

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