Outerwear is a subject that feels a little under appreciated especially when you think of its stated purpose as a protector of garments against the natural elements. There is so much written about accessories, suits even blazers yet the overcoat gets lost in the fray and the Trenchcoat…well unless its raining, remains an afterthought.
Let’s stop for a moment to appreciate its significance. All great inventions are a result of something not working. In the case of the trench coat, the military were the guinea pig for much of the textile innovation that has evolved today.
In the early 1800s, officers and soldiers wore rubberized cotton as an outerwear in inclement weather, while it kept their clothes from getting wet, the fabric didn’t breath enough to let the sweat out. This led to unpleasant odors and instability in heat. This encourage clothiers and around the turn of the century John Emery had a new fabric that were breathable and water-repellent, keeping your clothes dry and didn’t make you look like a human tarmac. Of course, it was Thomas Burberry, the Thomas Edison of the trench coat , who took what is now an iconic part of any wardrobe to the next level. Burberry’s invention of gabardine – inspired by what Scottish shephards wore, heralded a new era as the first man to explore Antarctica, Sir Ernest Shackleton, wore a Burberry on his expedition.
While the military were the main target audience, initially, mostly due to world events happening at the time, designers like Thomas Burberry and John Emery understood that men are more than just what they do. Yes they may be commanding officers or even in the trenches but these coats were build for sport – hunting, fishing and riding. The countryside elements that kept men looking elegant and composed despite the terror mother nature might impose on them.
In 2017, we need our trench coats more than ever. The weather is often unpredictable and a good suit, or les vetements, deserves to be protected. If nothing else, we should look at how technological innovation of textile since the 19th century has enable men to embrace sartorial splendor with pragmatic vigor.