The season for coats is almost upon us, and the trench coat is your friend out here in the badlands.
There’s something about a trench coat. Sure, we associate them with flashers, streakers, and Deep Throat-like intrigue but trench coats just might be one of the most versatile items you can add to your wardrobe. Inherently lightweight yet great for fending off the elements, the trench coat can be worn with formalwear, officewear, and casual nights out with the lads. It hangs easily, takes up little space, rarely requires dry cleaning, and can make or break a night out in the winds and the wilds.
So you might want to know where the trench coat traces its origins from. Essentially, it’s an adaption from (unofficial) military use, much like the greatcoat. In fact, this is where Burberry, arguably the best-known trench coat brand, had its start, with Thomas Burberry designing coats crafted from a water-repelling wool blend that was unofficially adopted by British officers during the Boer War (although fellow British brand Aquascutum, which created water-resistant wool for British soldiers fighting in the Crimean War, also claims credit for the coat’s creation).
“Like all young reporters – brilliant or hopelessly incompetent – I dreamed of the glamorous life of the foreign correspondent: prowling Vienna in a Burberry trench coat, speaking a dozen languages to dangerous women, narrowly escaping Sardinian bandits – the usual stuff that newspaper dreams are made of.”Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Russell Baker
By WWI, trench coats became part of the British officer’s official uniform and were quickly adopted by other European militaries as durable, functional items in the…you guessed it, trenches. Hence the name.
After the wars that wrecked Europe, many men appropriated trench coats as they entered civilian life, on both sides of the Atlantic, and the trench coat took on a new lease, appearing as a regular in films with the likes of Humphrey Bogart. Early trench coats were awash with buttons and belts – original versions were almost always double-breasted – but with time they took on a simpler format.
By the 1960s trench coats were stock standard among white-collar workers and came in a range of dark, formal hues. Now the coat is enjoying a renaissance as gentlemen look for a durable semi-formal item for the cooler months.
Trench coats come in a range of fabrics but what they have in common is being lightweight and weather resistant. You’ll find trench coats made from wool gabardine with silk lining right through to cotton that’s treated with water-resisting chemicals and waxes, and even leather (though that’s quite a particular look unless you’re in the French resistance).
While there’s still a call for a double-breasted trench coat, especially when you’re living in the colder corners of Asia or if you’re a slimmer lad, a lot of guys tend towards single-breasted coats these days. They create a clean vertical line and are often unadorned with loops, flap buttons, belts (ever heard of “The Executive”?), epaulets, and the like. A good rule of thumb is the larger you are in either direction the less adornment your coat should have.
“Never trust a man in a blue trench coat, never drive a car when you’re dead”American musican Tom Waits
In addition, most trench coats have a single vent at the back but that’s not a firm and fixed rule and you should lean towards your tailor’s thoughts. The same goes for Raglan sleeves, which are designed to make the coat more comfortable when worn over multiple layers, not something you’ll probably have to worry about in most parts of Asia.
This is another important consideration so you’ll need to have a serious think about how you plan to use your trench coat. If you’re really worried about the cold, you might want to go with an overcoat instead of a trench coat (but that’s a story for another day). Generally speaking, you’ll want your trench coat to reach two inches past your suit sleeve (which itself is designed to be shorter than your shirt cuff) to ensure good coverage in the elements. The same goes for the shoulders – ensure you can get a suit jacket in between you and the coat without it bunching.
In addition, you’ll need to think about what you’ll likely be wearing under the coat. In most parts of Asia, this will be a shirt and possibly a light cardigan but little more. However, if you’re in a colder city, you might want to give yourself a little more wiggle room as there’s nothing worse than a trench coat that bunches and grips your silhouette. A good rule of thumb is that you’re supposed to be able to place a clenched fist between chest and coat.
Length is another contentious issue. The spectrum runs from a style that runs to the top of the leg (but runs the risk of looking like some weird Roman-esque tunic) and Matrix-length, which is to the ankle (better worn by members of the French resistance than modern lads). A good rule of thumb is just above the knee – this is long enough to offer you good protection from the weather without the coat dragging you down. Of course, the taller and bigger you are, the longer your coat should be, while shorter guys should go with shorter cuts that are form-hugging.
Overall, the coat should fall naturally rather than ride up. Take Charlie Hunnam’s blue trench coat from The Gentlemen for example. It rides to somewhere between knee and hip and looks great worn open but still manages to conceal his MP5K machine gun. Brilliant.
When it comes to buying a trench coat you can either get one from the many brands presently offering great looking coats, which includes Burberry, whose range runs the gamut from the Short Wimbledon Trench Coat through to the longer, single-breasted Pimlico Heritage Car Coat. A.P.C. offers a very minimalist, streamlined Cotton-Twill Trench Coat in camel while Mackintosh has an elegant Oxford Bonded Cotton Trench Coat in dark blue that will always turn heads.
“The man who, as is often said, can get away with wearing a trench coat over his dinner jacket, or an old school tie for a belt, is the one who in fact understands best the rules of proper dress and can bend them to suit his own personality and requirements.”Journalist and Fashion Editor G. Bruch Boyer
Alternatively, for the perfect cut, length, and style you can’t go past taking a little inspiration from the brands above and heading to your tailor. You can choose an eye-catching lining, a few bespoke additions, your favourite water-resisting material, and ensure you end up with a coat that will last the distance and look good in the process.
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