The trench coat is the most versatile item a man can have in his transitional wardrobe. But where did it come from? From battlefields to catwalks, here’s the story behind Britain’s favourite coat.
On the battlefields of World War I, long before the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn wore the iconic garment, the trench coat was born; its name, of course, derived from the trenches that were the fixtures of that dreadful war. Or so the story goes.
In reality, the true origins of the trench coat can be traced to almost a century before World War I, with another icon of outerwear: the Mackintosh. Created by its namesake, Scottish chemist Charles Mackintosh, and British inventor Thomas Hancock, the “mac” was made from rubberised cotton—the first type of truly waterproof fabric ever created. Mackintoshes were designed for dapper gents and their leisure activities such as riding, fishing, and shooting, but they were also used by British military officers and soldiers throughout the nineteenth century.
Inspired by the mac and its revolutionary technology, John Emary, a tailor in Mayfair, developed the raincoat with his company Aquascutum, closely followed in suit by Thomas Burberry, which reimagined the trench in gabardine, a new breathable fabric, in 1879. In fact, on his expedition to Antarctica in 1907, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew wore Burberry gabardine trench coats.
Its history gives the trench weight and importance in our wardrobes, but one of the reasons we keep coming back is due to its sheer versatility. As one of the most vital trans-seasonal items we own, it has been reimagined over the years in single- and double-breasted iterations, with and without belts and pockets, and in a range of fabrics and colours, but overall, the essence remains the same—and we love it.
Romanticised throughout the decades by Bowie, Twiggy, and Kate Moss, among others, the trench coat is an icon of British style, an enduring statement of heritage that is still being reimagined today. The cooler weather creeping in is just one excuse for pulling it on before you head out the door—it's practical, stylish, and can add a touch of finesse to many an ensemble. What’s not to love?