The History of The Trench Coat: A New Sewing Project

trench coat history

I've always wanted to do a project to sew my own trench coat.  I've loved trench coats since I was a teen and with autumn just around the corner, I think it would be a fun project the would result in a practical garment for the cool, wet weather that is on the way.  (Remember, I live in Chile in the southern hemisphere so the seasons are reversed. Even so, this makes a good project for spring if you're in the northern climes.)

As I often do before a project, I wanted to research the trench coat history so I could better understand how and why they were made.  Below is what I learned.  If you're interested in a pattern and project to sew your own trench coat, please let me know in the comments at the end of the article.  If a lot of readers are interested, I'll get started on the pattern.

Trench Coat History

The iconic standard dress of detectives, spies, central park flashers, explorers and human-race-saving action heroes. Inspector Clouseau, Neo and Trinity, Sir Ernest Shackleton and the weirdo on the park bench all have one thing in common…the trench coat.

This staple of Western fashion culture is a favorite of men and women, young and old. A practical, waterproof item that can be pulled on over anything, whether it be sexy lingerie, a concealed magnum or Katana or a superhero leotard and stockings. The trench coat is here to stay, forever being revived and revitalized on runways and in the movies. Let’s take a closer look at the origins and characteristics of the humble (or is it not-so-humble?) trench coat.

trench coat history

Characteristics:

Typically seen with ten large (plastic or wooden) buttons, the double breasted trench coat is traditionally worn in camouflage military colors like Khaki, tan, beige and black but over the years it’s been manufactured and featured on runways in just about every color and print known to man.

The shoulder straps of the trench coat were added during WWI so that soldiers could attach their rank insignia and epaulets. D rings were also added so that map cases, swords, and other equipment could be attached. Coats also included huge pockets for storing gear and ventilation flaps for expelling dodgy wartime odors. The name ‘trench-coat’ was originated during the war, by front line soldiers who saw the officers wearing the coats on a daily basis in the trenches.

Trench coats were designed to be short enough not to trail in the mud and flaring out wide enough from the waist to allow freedom of movement. Small cape crosses at the back allow water to slough off efficiently. The original coats came with a removable liner that could double as a blanket when needed. Collar buttons at the neck would allow gas masks to be tucked under the collar so that they would be more airtight.

Trench coats usually have raglan sleeves, extending from the cuff all the way to the collar, so the seam runs from collarbone to underarm, but designs do vary. They also have cuff straps, to be fastened when spying with binoculars, so that water won’t run down the arm. They are meant to protect from wind and rain, not so much snow and cold. They are usually made from a thinner material than an overcoat or warmcoat, but their loose fit means that extra layers can be worn underneath. They were sized large so that British Officers could easily wear their warm coats underneath.

trench coat history

Origins:

Thomas Burberry came up with the idea for the trench coat after inventing a waterproof fabric named gabardine in 1879, the trench coat was designed by him as an Army officer’s raincoat or windbreaker, he delivered the plans to the United Kingdom War Office in 1901 and they accepted.

However, the UK based company, Aquascutum (inventors of a waterproof fabric by the same name), also lays claim to the invention, much earlier: in 1851, for officers serving in the Crimean War. Even before this, a similar rubberized cotton coat (a Mackintosh) was worn, the idea for the ventilation flaps originated from the terrible mixture of rubber smell and sweat which was a side effect of wearing the Mack.

So (after Burberry’s submission in 1901), the trench coat, as we recognize it, became available for British Officers and Warrant Officers 1st Class to order at will. The fact that the trench coat wasn’t available for anyone of lower rank went a long way to building up the reputation of the coat in perpetuity. To this day it’s considered a gentlemanly or ladylike staple for businessmen and people of class.

trench coat history

Back Home:

Officers grew attached to their coats and continued to wear them at home after the war, that’s how the trench-coat took to the streets. Another factor in their popularity was the fact that Burberry and Aquascutum while being the standard military outfitters, were also leading gentlemen’s wear and sportswear manufacturers.
A practical item for cold weather, waterproof with great big pockets, easy to pull over a suit or ballroom gown. Back at home, the belt would often be tied in a loose knot, instead of fastening the buckle in the more formal way done by military men.

When WWII began, the trench coat was still the best option for officers in the field during cold weather. Other countries followed suit but soon the coat became shorter and eventually, the shorter field jacket took over from the trench because it allowed officers to be a little more mobile. Nevertheless, back home on the streets, the fashion stuck and the trench coat had found a place in society.

It became quite obvious in the 1990’s that the real wartime origin of the trench coat had been forgotten…Burberry advertising campaigns on Regent Street read in huge letters ‘Trench Fever!’, only veterans of war remembered that trench fever was, in fact, a nasty disease that had been spread by lice in the trenches during the war.

Wartime, as well as mafia and detective films, made the trench coat something truly iconic, we’re all familiar with the ensemble of a trench coat, fedora, and cigar made famous by so many Hollywood movies. Over time, designers began downsizing the coats and making them out of warmer fabric, so the warm coat and the trench coat pretty much serve the same purpose these days.

Nowadays the trench coat makes its appearance on cue every winter in some format or another and most of us are able to say that we either plan to own one or we already do!

trench coat history


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arwen
arwen

yes, I’ve wanted to sew a trench coat for such a long time !

Grace
Grace

Interesting article! Thank you for sharing! A trench coat pattern would be lovely!!

Mieke Nijhof
Mieke Nijhof

Yes, I would love to have trenchcoat pattern.

Mieke Nijhof
Mieke Nijhof

Yes, I would love to have a pattern for a trenchcoat.

sharon taylor
sharon taylor

Nice history lesson. I’m interested in having a trench coat pattern.

Cara
Cara

A pattern would be great! Thank you.

Donna

Yes! Please make a pattern for a trench coat!

Sunnysewsit
Sunnysewsit

I’d Love to see a trench coat pattern, but not too complicated!!

Mary
Mary

yes please for petite lady

Mary lees Macnally
Mary lees Macnally

yes please for petite

Wenona
Wenona

I’d love a pattern for a trench coat!

sylvie
sylvie

Thanks for the trench coat history, very interesting. I’d love to have a pattern for a trench coat!

Sew Hoppy

Fascinating history with the “fors” and “whys” of the trench.

VickieP
VickieP

Great article!! Enjoyed it very much. And yes, I would be interested in a pattern for a trench coat.

J Bryan
J Bryan

Love to have a good pattern for a classic trench coat sized to 47″ hips!

fiberpainter

A practical trench coat pattern would be wonderful. Seems these days the iconic design has migrated from its functional roots to a fashion statement. Not everyone wants tight arms and nipped waists! Thank you for the interesting and informative article!

Ashlee
Ashlee

We absolutely need this pattern!

Linda Zoulek
Linda Zoulek

Yes I want a pattern for a trench coat!!!

Christi
Christi

Really appreciate this history recap on the trenchcoat. I’m reading it to hubby. I’m so glad I found your site and newsletter. I look forward to every edition.

Eva walsh
Eva walsh

Yes on the pattern

Maureen
Maureen

Yes please to the trench coat!

sarah battyll
sarah battyll

I think a trench pattern made by you would be a real winner – your patterns are so much more attainable x

Irene Clark
Irene Clark

Thank you. Interesting article. It’s something I may consider making, if I can find the right fabric

Irene Clark
Irene Clark

Thank you. This article was interesting. It’s something I may consider making, if I’m able to find the right fabric

Eleanor Gibson
Eleanor Gibson

Yes, I too want a pattern for a trench coat

Colleen Peters
Colleen Peters
Reply to  Eleanor Gibson

Would love to try my hand at making one.

Yvonne Larson
Yvonne Larson

Yes, I want a pattern for a trench coat!!

JulC
JulC
Reply to  Yvonne Larson

Yes please, add me to the list!

Edith Priaro
Edith Priaro

i have been looking for a trench coat pattern years please design ne

Kendra
Kendra

I would love to do a trench coat. I’ve been looking for a pattern I like and have not found it yet. Please do this!

Rosemary Bray
Rosemary Bray

Count me in – I would love to see this trench coat.

Cynthia B.
Cynthia B.

I would love to have a trench coat pattern that is not too complex to make. Thanks for the historical lesson on the trench coat. It was really neat and I’m looking forward to what you come up with and hope that you include a video tutorial with the pattern as well.

Mayra Cecilia
Admin
Member
Reply to  Cynthia B.

yes, definitely a video with this pattern.

Jonikka Raines
Jonikka Raines

I would love to have a trench coat pattern, being 6’0 tall, I can not find a trench coat
to fit me in the stores. London Fog made one I truly loved, but they no longer make
them in the tall sizes. So, if you come up with a pattern I would like that very much.

Creshone
Creshone

Please tell me you are going to be doing a trench coat. I have always wanted one.

Mayra Cecilia
Admin
Member
Reply to  Creshone

I am working on it. almost ready for testing.

Tina
Tina

please, please, please, would you do a tutorial. I have also wanted a trench coat all my life, but can never find one that I like the fit of. Please share your pattern and tutorial. I would definitely sign up for this. Thank you

Anaid
Anaid

Wonderful idea, a coat for all seasons. It will be -20F within the next six months here, this trench coat will be great to make and to have.

Theresa
Theresa

I would love to have a pattern for a trench coat. Where I live there’s not a need for one more than a few weeks in winter, but I like the idea of making one with lighter fabrics and wearing warmer layers underneath. Thanks for all the info!

Carol Cochran
Carol Cochran

It would be do exciting to make a trench coat. All of your tutorials are so easy to follow! Please, please do this as a sewing project!

Marnee K
Marnee K

I would love it if you made a pattern for a trench coat, I really want to make my own, I have issues with sizing with the ones at the store. Your patterns and tutorials are always easy for me to follow.

Leslie
Leslie

I loved the history and the desjgn drawn of the trench. What a neat project this woulld be!

Patricia Regul
Patricia Regul

I’ve thought about making one numerous times but never followed through. I would love to finally make one.

Vanessa Peters
Vanessa Peters

Yet another great suggestion Mayra. So many people would flock to the site to get the pattern. Its a daunting project on your own but with your brilliant sew along tutorials its within the reach of more people who wouldn’t otherwise attempt it. Your research is so useful too. It gives the project a bit of context. Count me in as an enthusiast! BW Vanessa