The Trench Coat Through History

The trench coat earned its name on the battlefields of World War I. The heavy woolen greatcoats that had defined military outerwear for decades were too cumbersome, too long and too likely to get bogged down in mud to be practical amid the new realities of trench warfare. Into their place stepped the trench coat—a touch shorter in length and crafted from fabrics that were lightweight but still weather-resistant. When America joined the Great War on April 6, 1917, Brooks Brothers set to work equipping the men headed across the ocean with their uniforms and, of course, with their trench coats. The style became an instant hit on the home front, as well—part of a widespread trend for military-inspired designs that became popular with American men and women alike. (It was, in effect, a precursor to the current trend for camouflage, well, everything.)

The unbeatable versatility of the trench coat meant the design remained popular after the Great War was over, as returning veterans continued to wear theirs both for its benefits and to recapture the glorious (and ghastly) days of their youth as they rejoined the civilian world. In the ensuing decades, it became a staple in the wardrobe of the refined man—and the occasional woman. Girls at elite boarding schools were notorious for swiping coats from their younger brothers and rapidly depleting our stock of boys’ sizes, much like they did with our iconic Original Polo® Button-Down Oxford.

The trench coat remains an immensely evocative design. For some, it conjures the noir P.I., with his fedora and trench smoking a cigar in an alley, while he waits for a dame with a dark secret and legs down to there. For others, it suggests the smart businessman, with a khaki-colored trench to protect his grey flannel suit from the elements as he hustles through the streets of midtown Manhattan to make an all-important deal. The trench is more than a coat—it is an attitude.

Today we offer the timeless coat in an array of iterations, from classic single- and double-breasted silhouettes in water-repellent cotton twill with a removable wool lining to luxurious versions from our Golden Fleece line crafted from BrooksTech™—a high-tech three-layer water- and wind-resistant synthetic fabric from Italy. We even reimagine the classic design in unexpected colors and fabrics.