As Harrison Ford just demonstrated so well in Blade Runner, one of the most classic pieces you can have in your closet is a trench coat. This is true for both men and women. It miraculously goes with just about everything in your wardrobe, whether dressy or casual, and takes you through all kinds of weather. I went through my own coats and counted three--a bone-colored cotton drill London Fog, a camel nylon Michael Kors, and a blood-red gabardine Ben Sherman. It's such a perfect design that almost any color or fabric works. As you can see from trend spotters WhoWhatWear, fashionistas are currently wearing everything from quilted white cotton to black leather. And they all look terrific.
Though the trench coat is the height of fashion right now, it certainly did not start that way. Its humble beginnings can be traced to the turn of the century as an option for French and British officers during World War I. In fact, the nickname "trench" came from those men who wore it on the front lines. Aquascutum, a British luxury brand, claimed the coat's invention as far back as the 1850s, but it's Thomas Burberry's 1901 design that has become iconic.
An ad for Burberry during World War I (above)
and a WWI British officer at a train station
Even though many in the military owned one, the massive ongoing popularity of the trench coat is really the result of classic film. During the 1930s and 1940s, film noir and other movies showed hero after hero wearing a trench. The best actors of the time--Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, and others (below)--all appeared in the garment with gorgeous women in their arms. They looked so good that the audience, including women, all wanted a trench coat of their own. Just take a look and you'll understand the impact. Then go get one for yourself.
Alan Ladd in This Gun for Hire (1942)
and Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past (1947)
Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946)
and Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
William Powell in The Thin Man (1934)
and Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet (1944)