Trench coats are heavy-duty, waterproof coats with removable insulated linings. They fall to the knee or calf, and originally were developed by Thomas Burberry at the turn of the 20th century. They became popular as a lighter weight alternative to the traditional military greatcoat during World War I. The coat's name comes from the association with the trenches of that war. After the war, trench coats became popular for civilian wear.
Trench coats in the 1930s often were made from the original Burberry cotton gaberdine, a material made from long staple cotton. This material required no rubber or wax to repel water. Wool gaberdines were also commonly used for trench coats. These coats were available primarily in black, beige, khaki and other neutral shades. Leather trench coats were relatively uncommon in this period.
The 1930s trench coat followed the general shape of men's clothes in this decade, featuring wide shoulder and tapering sleeves. The trench coats typically were double-breasted with two sets of buttons down the front of the torso. They featured a belted waist and very wide, pointed lapels to increase the impression of broad shoulders and a wide chest. The coat was cut fairly loose in the body to fit over a business suit, but was not baggy. This coat was worn by a wide range of social classes, and was considered stylish everyday outerwear for middle class businessmen.
The first portrait of a woman in a trench coat dates from 1930, though women sometimes wore this masculine garment in the 1920s, according to Vogue magazine. During the 1930s, women adopted the trench coat, along with many other elements of men's attire. Women's trench coats were similar in shape to men's, with padded, square shoulders and a cinched waist. These garments were associated with business attire, which often drew from men's fashion.
The 1930s style trench coats can be an interesting addition to modern street wear, or to a re-enactment ensemble. No matter what the setting, however, it's important to correctly wear the coats. Trench coats of the 1930s were worn fairly loose with more ease than many modern coats. The buttons should fasten easily, showing no stress lines or wrinkles, and there should be plenty of space through the torso of the coat. Garments of this era have high waists, and should sit around the narrowest part of the torso, even for men.