“The test of time” is a tough one to pass, but trench coats are up there with the most enduring pieces to grace any wardrobe. Nearly two centuries on from when the classic coat was first designed (early styles can be traced back to the 1820s), the trusty trench has reached cult status.
Trench coats have long been associated with heritage British labels Aquascutum and Burberry – both manufactured designs that were worn by troops on the frontline in the First World War. Neither can claim its invention: the trench coat evolved from the waterproof coats first created by the Scottish chemist Charles Charles Macintosh and British inventor Thomas Hancock (founder of the British rubber industry) in the early 1820s. What was revolutionary, however, was Burberry’s “gabardine” fabric, invented in 1879, its most breathable weatherproofed textile. The blueprint of its famed outerwear collection has remained largely unchanged and to this day, the brand’s creative director Riccardo Tisci continues to present reworked versions of the signature item.
Myriad designers have followed suit, and have reimagined the trench coat in varying lengths, materials and colours. Some have innovated the template, tricking it out with designs flairs such as jazzed-up epaulettes, statement lapels, glamorous buttons and even graphic painterly details – take the artwork seen on a trench in the recent Coach x Jean-Michel Basquiat collection, for example.
Earthy tones seen on the original trench, beloved of explorers and adventurous outdoor types – namely beige or khaki – are still the hues of choice for celebrity wearers. In this, they hark back to the 1940s rehabilitation of the trench coat by Hollywood, specifically by Humphrey Bogart, whose Aquascutum Kingsway trench coat popped up in his 1941 film The Maltese Falcon, as well as in 1942’s Casablanca and 1946’s The Big Sleep. Gaining a reputation as a coat for a journalist, a gangster, or a detective, it was then worn to seductive effect by Audrey Hepburn, among others. Hepburn’s turn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Meryl Streep’s notorious performance as Joanna Kramer in Kramer vs Kramer – neither would have been quite the same without a trench coat.
In real life, too, plenty of stars continued to welcome the coat into their wardrobes. Back in the ’80s the late Diana, Princess of Wales sported several styles with statement storm flaps and cinched belt waists and, during the same decade, David Bowie adopted a classic trench into his everyday look.
Autumn signals prime time for the trench to come into its own, complemented by the falling leaves and cloudy skies. If you’re seeking inspiration, scroll on for 22 celebrities who have worn a trench coat with ease through the ages.