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The History of the Trench Coat

The earliest version of the trench coat was worn by upper-class British men in the 1800s and early 1900s as an adventurer’s sport coat (think Sir Ernest Shackleton). The company Aquascutum patented a water-repellent coat in the 1850s, and later, Thomas Burberry patented a coat called the Tielocken in 1912 that utilized gabardine, the tough, water-resistant twill he patented in 1879. An early version of the trench coat first saw battle in 1895 during the Boer War, but it is more strongly associated with World War I, when officers adopted the lighter style after their thick woolen coats became too heavy to wear in the trenches (hence the name “trench coat”). The coat’s design was quickly adapted for military use, and civilians in America and Britain also adopted the new coat to show patriotism and solidarity. Trench coats were used again during World War II. During that time, both male and female movie stars adopted the look to show patriotism and solidarity, including Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, and Humphrey Bogart. The films of the 1940s and 1950s continued to feature trench coats and this helped foster their appeal among the public. In the 1960s and 1970s, public figures like First Lady Jackie Kennedy (later Kennedy Onassis) and celebrities like Jane Birkin demonstrated the endless versatility of the outerwear by “dressing it up” or wearing it more casually, further cementing the coat’s stylish appeal. Today, the trench coat remains a classic wardrobe staple for many and is known as a true fashion icon that is still widely worn in modern times. Notably, it is now available in a wider variety of colors, patterns, and materials than ever before.

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