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Clothing

The Winter Coat Guide: The Trench

Kamau Hosten

Before the end of November the gleaming lights and trimmings of 5th Avenue shops will attempt to conjure up a warm, rather cozy, if slightly manufactured, concept of holiday spirit. Truthfully, The Rockefeller Center Tree, with its own televised special complete with magnificent lights and pageantry is an annual tradition marking a true beginning to the Christmas season for many.  On the more cynical, though realistic, end of the holiday spectrum is the perpetual need for various coats to brave the the bitter elements. For the cool and rainy days ahead, the trench coat, especially the lined variety, should act as a first mate of sorts as we trudge our way through wintery slush.

With the cold weather staples like the paletot and the single breasted topcoat hopefully on the checklist, another equally important addition is said trench coat. The most widely accepted story regarding its name is that it was favored by British officers during the first World War; of which battle took place in trenches. Tan gabardine or cotton, popularized by Burberry and Aquascutum, is the most traditional, and historic choice, it's also the most ubiquitous. For the purists, nothing but khaki will do. Less popular but, just as appropriate is navy.

Unbranded coat (consignment shop), jacket by Isaia, shirt and foulard by Brioni, trousers by Gant, hat by Selentino

Unbranded coat (consignment shop), jacket by Isaia, shirt and foulard by Brioni, trousers by Gant, hat by Selentino

A cashmere overcoat and a newspaper held over one's head is no real match for the weather.  The basic construction of the coat itself; double breasted with storm flaps and wrist belts, all designed so water beads off the coat and doesn't get in, is a garment that came into fashion based on its utility. That, coupled with a removable lining can serve as a topcoat for the cool rainy days. When layer adequately, it may provide sufficient warmth for frigid temperatures as well. It's not the ideal choice but, it will work in a pinch.

Now, many design houses and fast fashion retailers have reworked the classic into a myriad of colors and lengths. Yet still, coats, especially those intended to protect the wearer from rain, make the most sense at knee length, despite what the trends may be.

A fourth option is the alternative coat. This green coat is wool, with a quilted lining. It is more substantial than a traditional trench coat but, with all of the militaristic inspiration and styling of one.

Coat by Brioni, Shirt by Kamakura, tie by Park en Madison Su misura, hat by Selentino

Coat by Brioni, Shirt by Kamakura, tie by Park en Madison Su misura, hat by Selentino

The color separates the wearer from the herd of black and off black. While it's not suited for the blistery days, it's ideal for odd jackets and trousers on calm, but cool days. This coat will be just as home with chinos and jeans, versus the decidedly dressier double breasted paletot.

Utility and style play well together in a trench coat. The military inspired construction is practical; keeping the wearer warm and dry. The styling, typically a distant second with a garment designed for military use, has become a popular piece since the second World War. Immortalized on screen by the Humphrey Bogart's character in Casablanca, it's become that rare piece with equal parts style and function.

All photos by Bevin Elias