The History of the Trench Coat
The myth tells that the trench coat owes its origins and rugged appeal to the trench warfare of the First World War. What is sure is that it evolved from waterproof coats created by Scottish chemist and inventor Charles Macintosh and British inventor Thomas Hancock (founder of the British rubber industry) in the early 1820s.
Macintosh and Hancock’s rain-repellent garment, the “mack”, was made from rubberized cotton. It was worn as outerwear for outdoor activities and military service and soon it became a marker of social distinction and class, even in the army.
The invention of the trench coat is claimed by two British luxury clothing manufacturers, Burberry and Aquascutum, but the truth is that the two firms helped popularize a type of coat already in existence, adapting it for military use and improving it in term of breathability and waterproofness.
Thomas Burberry invented gabardine fabric in 1879 and submitted a design for an Army officer's raincoat to the United Kingdom War Office in 1901. Burberry’s “gabardine” fabric was the most breathable, because of weatherproofing the individual strands of cotton and wool fiber rather than the finished textile. It became popular among explorers, aviators, and other adventurous gentlemen.
Although it was worn by officers during WWII, the coat also began to be romanticized by Hollywood in the 1940s. Replacing the image of the officer with the one of the fast-talking journalist, slick gangster, guarded detective, dashing spy and seductive femme fatale, Hollywood helped the trench coat enter a more fashionable wardrobe.