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Monday, March 24, 2014

A little about Trench Coats

So I am in the midst of making a trench coat. Actually, I am pretty much finished making my muslin, which I will finish and use as a wearable, unlined, short trench coat...as for the real deal, my brain is leaning toward a solid colour but my heart keeps throwing up prints. In the meantime, I've been reading up on trench coats:


Did you know that trench coats became popular when Thomas Burberry wanted a raincoat that looked professional and did its job (keeping the rain out)? 

Raincoat Rivalry in 1914Both Acquascutum and Burberry claim to have invented the tan cotton trench. Raincoat rivalries aside, we do know that this garment was originally bred for war. In fact many of its most distinctive features were created with the military man of WW1 in mind. Shoulder straps allowed epaulets to be attached; pockets were deep so that maps or letters from home could be hastily stuffed away, and D-rings on the belt allowed accoutrements like swords to be attached and retrieved at a moment’s notice. When the war was over the trench coat stayed behind, becoming a fashion perennial.

He invented the long coat design, with epaulets, in a new fabric he invented called 'gaberdine". (Actually, there is some dispute whether the design of the modern trench coat was originated by Burberry or Aquascutum, another company that also furnished trench coats during WWI. But there is no doubt, that Burberry's fabric made the trench coat popular and utilitarian.) 

In 1879, gaberdine was a new tight-weave, water resistant fabric that was perfect form Burberry's intent. Burberry used this fabric in his new long rain coat. Soon after, the British Army made an order and sent its army men off to war wearing them. Indeed the trench coat gets its name from trench warfare of the First World War. 


Many of the design features of the trench were to serve the military. The storm flap (or gun flap) provide an extra barrier again rain getting in.  After all, if you are out in the driving rain for an extended period, you need a barrier to keep rain from getting in through zippers and buttonholes. There is some suggestion that it also helped to keep the coat from showing early wear due tot he firing of the weapon (hence, the name "gun flap").  Another feature is the cape. It acts as a second layer around the shoulders where water falls and sits. Remember, the original trench coats weren't completely waterproof, they were simply made of the tight-weave gabardine, so it would be more resistant to water but the water would eventually soak through. 


After the war, the British army gave its surplus coats to civilians in need and a trend was born. Soon detectives and gangsters were wearing them on movie screens and they became a symbol of masculinity. Indeed, Humphrey Bogart's character, Sam Spade in Casablanca, wore a trench that appealed to many. Trench coats became an essential part of men's wardrobes.


Audrey Hepburn's character, Holly Golightly, wore a trench in Breakfast at Tiffany's and suddenly, trenches were accessible to women. 



Components of Traditional Trench Coats:

1. Collar and lapel

2. Button closure

3. Raglan Sleeves - a standard trench coat has raglan sleeves. Many today do not.

4. Storm or Gun Flap - This is the extra piece of fabric on the right shoulder which protects the jacket from rain - or the kickback of a military rifle.

5. Belt - it must have a belt to be a trench coat

6. Sleeve Tab (called loop in the pic below): should be closed with a button


Source: 

Trench Coats in Movies:
Bogart, Davis, Hepburn, Ford, Reeves and Kate Middleton all in trenches...

12 comments:

  1. AN who can forget Sherlock Holmes? When I think of trench coats I think Sherlock Holmes.

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    1. Yes, I forgot about him He could have had the real cape effect doing on with his trench coat!

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  2. What pattern are you using? I just finished my first trench coat using the Sewaholic Robson pattern (http://debbie-sewdebbie.blogspot.ca/2014/03/robson-coat.html). I love it. Looking forward to seeing your finished coats.

    Thanks for the history of the trench coat!

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    1. The muslin I made is McCalls - a short one from about five years ago. I learned a lot making it but I think I will make my real Trench from Vogue 8884 or the Robson. I am undecided! I will post the muslin as soon as I finish.

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  3. A trench coat (for a man) really goes with a hat, like the one Bogart is wearing in the photo. I wonder if the relative decline in the trench coat is due to the decline in men wearing fedoras.

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    1. Hmmm, maybe. You are right though, a surprising number of men in trenches had hats (Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones, and Sherlock Holmes to name a few...)

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful information. I didn't know a traditional trench had raglan sleeves. I look forward to seeing your muslin and sewing along with you!

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    1. I'm hoping to post my wearable muslin today!

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  5. I'm so excited to see your trench as you work! What's funny, I did all sorts of research on a 'proper' trench, too. Now when I see trenches with incorrectly placed flaps or decorative buttons that do nothing, it has been driving me nuts. I made my trench with Vogue 8884, too... and I *almost* didn't only because it wasn't a raglan sleeved pattern. But really, it's not that big of a deal. But the useless storm flaps on the wrong side drive me nuts, still :) I know my coat isn't exactly a Burberry but it makes me happy and dry when it rains. Have fun sewing!!

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    1. Your post is so informative and inspiring Kathy. Thanks so much on the tip on gunflap sides - of course they change with the opening of the jacket. I hadn't noticed!

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  6. I didn't know about the raglan sleeves either. It will be lovely to see your trench take shape.

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    1. My trench coat muslin - which is definitley wearable but I will be changing a few things for my final (including the pattern) - should be posted tonight.

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