Whether worn by Humphrey Bogart, Tom Hardy, Andrew Garfield or Brad Pitt, the Burberry trench coat is a fashion classic that has appeared on designer catwalks and Hollywood celebrities for decades. It epitomizes sophisticated elegance and is a timeless wardrobe essential for the fashion-conscious, along with a pair of jeans and leather jacket, says Amber Jane Butchart, associate lecturer at London College of Fashion.
The trench coat’s journey, though, began very far from the catwalk. It was first introduced during World War I, for kitting out unglamorous, battle-weary soldiers. Trench warfare was the characteristic of WWI, and the regulation-issue heavy woolen British overcoats were proving a hindrance rather than help to the soldiers.
In 1879, Burberry introduced gaberdine, a light, tightly-woven waterproof material that would prove to become indispensable to army uniforms. The lighter, shorter overcoat fashioned from this fabric was approved and became hugely popular.
Besides being easier to carry and looking smarter, the Burberry trench coat had practical features. The epaulettes displayed officers’ ranks, a gun-flap buttoned at the chest provided room for extra ammunition, and D-rings on the belt that could be used to attach maps.
Before the arrival of the trench coat, the colours for military overcoats were usually blue or red, the visibility considered to be a mark of honour and distinction. The battles in trenches, mud and sand changed that concept and the value of camouflage was realized. Khaki – derived from the Urdu word for dusty – arrived on the battle scene and on the fashion scene, and fortunately, has been with us ever since.