After moving on from my older indistinguishable sense of fashion, having started out with a strange mixture of grunge-metal jeans and t-shirts, then pretty-boy clothes followed by a tinge of hippiness accompanied by my ever-changing hairstyles (long, buzz, spikey, greasy, combed to on side, then middle) I have finally settled my mind on the trench coat as being the coolest accessory in history.

Not only the Corvette of coats, the trench coat also includes a variety snappy punch lines perfect for those trenchy occasions. Impress your friends with a solemn glance and state as-a-matter-of-fact that "there can be only one". Astonish colleagues by throwing a few ninjitsu punches and asking if they want the "blue pill or the red pill".

I currently have a grey, almost nazi-looking trench coat which hangs just below my knees and although the ankle length black leather Matrix coats are definitely the coolest of the crop, I am particularly pleased with my current trench-ness. To my dismay though, upon inquiring, opinions are sundry, more often than not I am told I look like a flasher who preys on little girls. Certainly, after saving enough money to acquire an even cooler coat, I will become irresistable to even the most out-of-my-league women.

Just to add my $.02, I'd say that black is not always the ultimate choice in trenchness. I own (quick count) 5 trench coats, and they all have their own personalities. The 2 tan ones serve equally well, especially with the tattered fedora, to apply the P.I. look, which is rather convenient when I want someone to think they're being tailed. The long, gray one serves excellently as an actual rain coat, because, for some non-physical reason, it is apparently completely impervious to getting wet. The wide, gray, featureless one is nice because it has the effect of making people say "Hey, where've I seen that coat before? Oh yeah! It was on the guys carrying Kennedy's coffin!" And lastly, my favorite is a nice dark olive drab, which, when appropriately worn with the hair down, in the rain, mumbling to oneself, is almost guaranteed to make people think you're an old crazed marine suffering from shell shock. See? They all have their uses. Take it from a guy who got his first trench about age 6....

For the record, this is the classic trench coat outfit, with all the trimmings. It's based on postwar menswear from the late 40's to the early 60's and Ivy League traditional looks, and has a slight military flavor...not coincidentally, the demographic of most OSS/CIA personnel, and similar to that of MI6. For earlier personae, such as a Depression-era detective, simply change the suit and tone down the more obvious militarisms -- a sleazy detective should be more flashily "in period" than a merely seedy one (who might also be an Ivy Leaguer with miliary experience -- in the other World War). However, these suggestions should suffice for most International Men of Mystery.

Body Type: Trench coats are not, in themselves, slimming, especially the classic khaki model (actually more traditional than black). Tall, slim, and tight instead of muscular is what you want to be if you wish to dress in this manner: the myriad pockets, belts, layers, and folds put on pounds, while having too-broad shoulders and biceps only make you look top-heavy. It's assumed that you have easy, if not perfect posture, this is not a good look for slouchers! Look well-groomed, but not foppish -- ask your barber for a manicure with buffing, not polish, and (if possible) get shaved (as opposed to doing it yourself). About as far-out as you can get on the cologne is Eau Sauvage, or maybe Bijan -- for Sixties looks, search for Canoe, Hai Karate, or Aramis.

Underneath your trench coat: A well-cut suit, of either classic American (think Brooks Brothers, not Gentlemen's Wear House) or classic British (Alan Flusser, Hong Kong, or similar) tailoring, in either blue, grey (perhaps chalk-striped), or black wool. Try to get a three-button suit coat if you can....Military tailoring is a definite plus, as is the inclusion of extra pockets for one's Minox, microcassette tape recorder, one-time pad, Mace, etc. Naturally, your L-pill or silver dollar -- containing a needle full of curare -- should be kept separate from other money and close by. A top-notch tailor will allow ease for your shoulder holster, as well. Alternately, you could also wear classic separates, such as the blazer jacket/chinos look, but the suit is more traditional.
A white shirt of your choice (Arrow is good, Brooks Brothers or Mr. Pink is better), and a quiet dark silk tie. This is a low-key look, and any deviation from this (as was done on the CIA's Web Site for Kids) tends to give away unwanted information. Aside from your professional status, you want to look fairly nondescript, though a repp stripe or other tasteful insignia on your tie might be useful as part of a character.
Boxers, not briefs, and an undershirt. This is a cool-weather look, for the warm-weather version, check out my WU on Linen Suits.

The trench coat itself: Burberry's makes the best: khaki, good detailing, and a zip-out lining that when reversed, makes a good bathrobe. Lining fabrics are also a good place to hide maps, code sequences, etc....just have them printed onto the fabric! So clever! There should also be an inside "map pocket" in your coat, useful for stashing small objects.

Belted or unbelted? The choice is yours. Belted is good for the coldest weather, of course, is de rigeur for fighting, and helps to convey an aura of subtle menace, as well as concealing your Kevlar vest, should you choose to use one. Unbelted allows more freedom, a choice of methods of catching up the belt in the back, and a chance to appear friendly if it's left open. (Open coats, jackets and so forth signify an open heart...and are a classic refuge for damsels in distress.) Plus, you can more easily reach your shoulder holster that way, plus any concealed pockets either in the suit or coat itself.

Accessories: Hat. Fedora-type, in grey, or black velour (very Continental.) Try for a wide brim, it should mask your hair...which is short, right?
Glasses: Wear these even if you've got perfect vision, horn-rims or dark tortiseshell are the best. They needn't be sunglasses particularly, as their main function is to slightly obscure your eyes so it's difficult to distinguish either their color or where they're looking. Photogreys, plain green, or other classic styles are better than mirrorshades, although mirrored wraparounds are excellent for 60's looks!
Gloves: Black (low-key), unpadded (for dexterity). Get the best you can afford. Can be kept in an epulet, military-style, when not in use.
Belt:Good plain leather. Try for one with a money pocket.
Shoes: Dark wing-tips or similar shoes. By preference, wear longer socks, which are good for stashing in.
Shoulderbag: More useful than a briefcase, and actually in period, though not common in civilian life. Should be a pouch-type, either large or small, (a bookbag is excellent), made of strong canvas or leather, and worn across the body, with the strap epuletted down. This carries documents, tripod for Minox, silencer, etc. A small "document bag" can also be worn inside the trench coat, either alone or in addition to the shoulderbag/ briefcase. A briefcase, if carried, should be hard-sided, and preferably handcuffed to the person carrying it, since anything that can't be carried in a shoulderbag (cash, equipment, etc.) has a tendency to walk off by itself.
Wear a watch, with a leather band, and no other jewelry (although an ID bracelet -- originally a WWII fashion -- is not a bad idea. A signet ring, if it's meant to be part of a cover story, is good also.) Carry a lighter, even if you don't smoke -- Zippo, or a good piezoelectric, not plastic, a fountain pen, and a cloth handkerchief.

Now, go off and save the Free World!

The trench coat, though certainly stylish in its own way, is incredibly under-appreciated for its practical values. Consider the basic form of the trench coat. If reduced to its barest principles it is a comfortable, warm, weather-proof covering that comes at least to the knees and contains lots of useful pockets.
Consider the fundamental usefulness of such an item. Wearing a suit and don't want to get it dirty on the way? Wear a trench coat. Get splattered with mud on the way? You're still fine for when you get there, and the coat should brush of much more easily than a suit will. Cold and rainy? Standard jackets leaving your legs cold? Trench coats again, with a nice layer of protection going down to the knees or lower. Need a place to store all your various accruements without lugging around a bag? The trench coat's voluminous pockets provide locations to hold phones, maps, glasses, pens, multi-tools, small children... well, alright, not small children, but you get the idea. And so, I beseech you, do not deride or praise the trench coat for its subculture popularity; do not consider it as a mere fashion item. Consider it for what it truly is: perhaps the most useful piece of clothing ever designed for urban living.

Trench Coat: A Brief History

In 1879 Thomas Burberry, owner of an outfitters shop in England, invented a new fabric called gabardine, which was durable, breathable, and water-resistant. Tents made of this innovative fabric were made for Roald Amundsen, and outfitted with such he was able to be the first to reach the South Pole in 1911. In fact, Amundsen left a Burberry’s gabardine tent at the pole to inform his rival Robert Falcon Scott of his success.

In 1901, the British War Office commissioned Burberry to design a new officers’ service uniform, and in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I, Burberry adapted their gabardine coats for the needs and equipment of trench warfare. Thus, the trench coat was born and became very popular among British soldiers. After the war, the trench coat was introduced into civilian life as a fashionable weatherproof coat.

Years later, it would become a part of the signature look for private investigators in film noir and FBI agents investigating paranormal phenomena. It remains a classic garment in both style and function.

Sources: Burberry -

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