Have you noticed how editors talk about personal style as though getting ready was a mathematical equation? We throw terms around like “cost per wear”, and “fashematics” i.e. an A-line skirt + knee-high boots = the Mod look. There’s also the faithful “top five” wardrobe essentials, a list to live and die by. Everyone has a top five, and often everyone ends up having the same top five: a classic white shirt, a well cut pair of jeans, an LBD, brogues, and of course, a trench coat. A trench coat always makes the cut.
Classic and elegant, and yet charmingly masculine, a trench coat is the tailored equivalent of the boyfriend jean or the biker jacket (two other essentials, but then we’re exceeding our “top five” quota) — and for as long as I can remember I’ve lusted after them. They’re unpretentious and practical, but can be worn as both day wear and evening wear. Few other garments have the same versatility.
Historically the trench wasn’t always a fashion item. It was for officers during the First World War, but then the humble uniform got caught up in the romance of the silver screen. Humphrey Bogart melted hearts in his classic trench as jilted officer Rick Blaine in Casablanca, and women soon caught on. In the final scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard lock lips in the rain while wearing matching trench coats, hers grey, his a classic beige. Imagine if they’d been wearing a non-waterproof fabric and hadn’t the courage to brave the elements? We might never have had that happy ending. Hepburn, of course, took to wearing the trench off screen as well, and it soon became synonymous with her singular style — much like Capri pants and ballet flats.
The French love a trench coat. Francoise Hardy, Brigitte Bardot, along with honorary Frenchies Charlotte Rampling and Jane Birkin, all adapted the look in their own unique way. Birkin liked to sex hers up with a pair of patent leather boots and therein lies the charm of the trench — it can work with almost any look and any mood.
I like to wear mine open, belt undone, like I just threw it on last minute without a moment’s thought (which I do, most of the time). Even on my laziest day a trench can dress up any look. T-shirt and jeans go from casual to smart casual in a second, and a beige trench is the perfect addition to an otherwise boring all-black ensemble. Likewise, the trench coat can be worn as a cover-up with a cocktail dress, or, for the brave among us, as a dress on its own. For this, though, fastening the belt is absolutely essential.