While today’s top designers are often less concerned with efficiency and practicality, many of the most iconic fashion pieces we’ve come to love were born out of necessity and have origins in the World Wars. When fumbling with pocket watches during battle proved inefficient and dangerous, World War I soldiers attached clocks to their wrists, and thus the wristwatch was born. When resources were under restriction during World War II, Gucci replaced their metal hardware with bamboo cane — a brand signature that remains an integral part of its repertoire today. And when their mobility was hindered by thick and cumbersome wool coats, British soldiers found relief in the now iconic trench coat.
These days the coat is thought of as a building block of a chic capsule wardrobe: a classic, utilitarian piece of outerwear that’s easily tossed over nearly any look. From Marlene Dietrich’s androgynous glamour to Françoise Hardy’s ultra mod look, the timeless coat has seen numerous style interpretations on the screen, on the street and on the runway, but in reality, the trench coat was designed for spending hours and sometimes days in a giant hole in the ground. While many of us would never dream of rolling around in mud pit, sweaty and unshowered, while sporting our Burberry trench, these coats were tailor-made for the World War I soldier who was doing just that. Every feature of the coat was specifically designed to make life in the trenches more comfortable and more efficient, and though our modern lives are significantly less trying, the same details still serve a multitude of purposes today.
There’s much debate over who first designed the trench, but as the inventor of gabardine and the Tielocken coat, Burberry makes the strongest case and remains the brand most closely associated with the style. With campaigns featuring It Brits like Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne, the Burberry trench coat has maintained its status as a quintessential heritage piece while simultaneously affirming its fashion cred (and inevitably attracting a multitude of copycats along the way).
Over the years, Burberry’s Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey has upheld the label’s house codes while bringing the brand into the 21st century with instantly available runway collections, tech-savvy retail outposts and of course, new and interesting takes on the signature trench. From fall 2009’s louche suede styles to 2014’s dreamy, hand-painted works of art, Bailey reimagines the trench coat season after season to keep it feeling fresh and relevant over 100 years later.
The coat’s widespread popularity and staying power are due in large part to its versatility — it’s just as at home in the closet of a conservative businessman as it is in the wardrobe of a chic gamine. It’s like the tofu of fashion: it takes on whatever flavor you put into it. From incognito spy to stylish jetsetter to Hyannis Port royalty, throw on a trench coat and you can be anything.
Ready to complete your wardrobe with a piece of history? Shop our curated selection of trench coats here.