How to style a trench coat
Whichever style you choose a trench coat is prepped to be your go-to, wear-with-everything outerwear essential. For an informal look, wear a plain white tee tucked into high-waisted denim, with plimsolls or heels. For something more formal, contrast a crisp shirt with slim black trousers and a leather bag.
We take a closer look at the history of the (actually) iconic British design, why it’s still as relevant today as it was at the time of its invention and how to wear it in a contemporary context. Whether you’re looking for tips on how to style your trench coat or just how to make that essential outerwear investment, we’d suggest you keep scrolling down.
Too often in fashion, the words ‘timeless’ and ‘iconic’ are bandied around to describe the pieces that appear on our wish lists each season. However, one such piece wholly deserves both accolades and that is the trench coat. After standing strong for more than 100 years, it has remained largely unchanged as a garment with distinctive double-breasted button fastening, wide lapels, belted waist and cuffs, epaulettes and storm flaps. With limitless ways to wear it and seasonal updates of new fabrics and fresh colours keeping things interesting, the design is always underpinned by the original military aesthetic and the classic honey-beige, black and navy offerings remain.
THE HISTORY OF THE TRENCH
The trench’s history dates back to its invention in the 1850s, but it was at the turn of the 20th century that it became the indispensable civilian piece of outerwear it is today. Thomas Burberry, the founder of what is now the global British fashion house, developed a water-repellent cotton gabardine fabric in 1879. The cloth was used in a design for an army officer’s raincoat that he submitted to the United Kingdom War Office in 1901. During WWI, the coat shielded military officers from the unrelenting weather as well as the mud in the trenches; this is where the overcoat adopted its name. Beloved by officers for its weather-proof qualities and functional design, it soon became popular with male and female civilians after the war ended – and the modern trench was born.
Over the years it became more and more popular, entering the fashion hall of fame on the backs of 60s sirens – like Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe and Twiggy – and later Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn. All of these incredibly famous women adopted the originally masculine style as their own. The design was slimmed down and simplified over the years - no longer required to be worn over another warmer coat or for the military function it once served - and its place in fashion was cemented. Now a staple in the wardrobe of influential figures such as Kate Moss, Cara Delevingne, Alexa Chung and the Duchess of Cambridge, among countless others, it’s easy to see why this century-old outer layer is here to stay.
HOW TO WEAR IT NOW
With the ability to be styled with almost anything, it’s no surprise that the trench coat has transcended every season. While a waterproof jacket is the requirement, only the trench can fit the bill of looking just as chic with sharp tailoring as it does with rolled jeans, sneakers and your favourite vintage tee. Offering just the right amount of protection from the elements without the sacrificing any of your style points, throwing on a trench is never a bad idea. But which style is right for you?
The Duncombe is Jack Wills’ most classic trench coat, with the essential elements all intact. Choose from this season’s fresh pink or one of the neutral tones – stone and navy – and wear the double-breasted style with anything and everything.
The most versatile piece in your outwear armoury, a classic trench coat is at home over a suit or with your most sophisticated looks. It’s also at home over tea dresses and boots when the unpredictable festival weather calls for it. Or you might choose to really dress it down with a sportswear twist or ripped jeans – there’s a reason it’s been a favourite of everyone from Emma Watson to Kurt Cobain.
For the Dollyhill, we’ve taken the swing coat shape made popular in the 1950s, and incorporated features from the trench – a style 100 years its senior. The perfect marriage of classic and contemporary, the shades of pale powder blue or signature stone allow us to focus on the detail that makes this coat unique. Double breasted with storm flaps and a large collar, the hybrid of pretty details – like the tie cuff straps, pleated back and swing shape – make its styling possibilities vast.
The super versatile Dollyhill doesn’t have any issue with being styled like a classic trench; worn over simple summer dresses or a modern androgynous ensemble, this coat really speaks for itself. Let it elevate your look.
If you prefer your jackets short, this modern imagining of the trench will tick your box. Again taking cues from our classic Duncombe trench coat, the Hathershaw retains the double breasted style and features like the belted waist and cuffs, wide lapels, storm and gun flaps – everything but the trench coat’s length.
The cropped silhouette is perfect for wearing in the summer months when the weather-wicking properties are less necessary. It also gives the illusion of elongated legs and body, which is rarely an unwelcome outcome. Its modern look affords it greater licence to be teamed with more casual wardrobe pieces. Whether it’s jeans and cropped knits, leggings and sportswear, or summer playsuits, this is classic style you can have fun with.
It’s firmly established by now (we hope) that the trench, whichever style you choose, is prepped to be your go-to, wear-with-everything outerwear essential. You could be of the persuasion to just throw it on as you head out the door, knowingly assured that this tried and tested piece is in fact foolproof and you’ll look good no matter what. Or you could be the kind to have one in every colour, every shape, just to ensure that each time you finish your look it is the epitome of perfection and the “wearing black with navy” conundrum can be avoided at all costs. Most of us are somewhere in between.
From unstudied nonchalance to unabashed prim and proper elegance, we’ve listed our favourite trench coat styling tips. Pick one, pick none, mix them all up; how to wear your trench is up to you.
Give some life to your business wardrobe with a modern take on the power-dressing trench. Think new shapes, like a swing style or updated silhouettes, to add interest to your dress code and update your look. Coordinate with black on black and let the detail do the talking, or stand out in lighter tones and colours that will turn office heads.
There will (hopefully) be days in the summer where no coat is required, but for the rest, a light trench is the perfect accompaniment to your laid-back summer look.
Worn with denim (or any) shorts, a knee-length trench will elongate your legs and give a mismatched charm. Team with a delicate summer top, flats and your choice of sun-drenched location.
On The Town Trench
Trench coats aren’t just for daylight hours. Dark and dancefloor-ready, your night out getup is always at risk of not having the right outerwear to take you from door to door. We’ve all been there, right?
In black or beige, your trench will look as great over a short dress as it does with everything else. Tie the belt and grab your favourite clutch; that “what coat to wear” conundrum will be a thing of the past.