Closet Essentials: The Trench

A classic trench coat can be the most versatile thing in your wardrobe. Read on to find out how to shop for this closet staple and style it to your advantage.

Burberry Prorsum Resort 2010

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Did you know? The trench coat, wardrobe staple of fashion folk everywhere, was invented as a raincoat for British and French soldiers in the First World War. The style utilized the new gabardine fabric to protect men from rain and mud as they fought in the literal trenches. However, it wasn’t until after World War II, when the trench coat began showing up on private detectives on pulpy novel covers and in movies, that the item took on a sexier, more fashionable vibe.

Timeless Trench Coat by Gryphon

Whether in its classic double-breasted form or in one of its more creative variations, the trench coat exudes mystery and casual cool, making it a no-brainer way to class up pretty much any outfit. In no particular order, here are our favorite ways to style a trench coat:

1. Belt around the back

Leave the bottom or the whole thing open over a jeans-and-tee ensemble so people can see how effortlessly put-together you are.

2. Throw over a cocktail dress

We love the combo of utility and frilliness – edge up a little silky dress with your staple trench. Bonus: when it’s done up, it’ll look like a trench dress, which is also super-chic.

3. Tie the belt

Don’t buckle your belt – tie it in front in a loose knot. Knotting your belt not only changes the shape of the coat, but it immediately makes it look more casual.

4. Cut the sleeves off

For the bold of heart only: cut the sleeves off a cheap trench and wear over pretty much anything for a weird-but-cool summer trench, a la this completely amazing convertible trench by Elizabeth and James.

What to look for in a trench coat? Fit, fit and fit. The shoulder seams should hit the outer edge of your shoulder without feeling too tight, lest you get a decidedly-unstylish linebacker effect. You should be able to tie the belt around your natural waist for the right proportions. And pay particular attention to length. While trench coats come in as many different lengths as styles, it should hit you at a flattering point on your calf or thigh or you won’t want to wear it. Bring a brutally honest friend with you when you go shopping for a trench coat to assess, but remember: you can always get outerwear shortened at a tailor for cheap.

Speaking of cheap: Burberry, purveyors of the classic trench since its inception, ain’t that. Don’t fear: shoppers on a budget have a ton of options at major retailers. Our suggestions:

Premium Godet Check Trench, $400 USD, Topshop

Classic Trench, $198 USD, Banana Republic

Classic Trench Coat, $88 USD,

Do you have a favorite trench coat in your closet?

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