Military Trench Coats of the 1950s

Written by eric erickson
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Military Trench Coats of the 1950s
The popularity of the trench coat endures for young and old. (Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

The effects of war on civilian culture can be felt in many ways, including notable examples of fashion and style that have had a habit of making their way from the battlefield to the runway. Military trench coats, first popularised for military use during WWI, endured throughout the twentieth century as a popular style of overcoat for men and women, possibly reaching the height of popularity following WWII in the US and Great Britain, where trench coat fashions had come to symbolise disparate social status and civilian attitudes toward warfare.

The Dictates of War

The introduction of trench warfare during WWI exposed soldiers of all ranks to long periods of time in the cool and damp climate of Central Europe. Thomas Burberry, a British clothier, designed an overgarment that was durable, warm, and weather resistant, made of gaberdine and lined with wool. The trench coat was generally hip length or longer with accessible pockets and wide lapels, a style that was both utilitarian and official.

War Fashion Spreads Worldwide

The effects of WWI on fashion throughout the world, and in particular the U.S. and England, could be felt by the popularity of the trench coat throughout the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. WWII helped spread the fashion even farther, and film stars such as Humphrey Bogart helped spread the fashion throughout mainstream culture. During this period, the trench coat became increasingly popular in women's fashion, spurred by actresses such as Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, and Barbara Stanwyck, who helped popularise the feminising of the garment with the addition of fur-lined lapels and collar.

The Emerging Business Class

In the 1950s, the emerging middle class in the U.S. and in Great Britain helped popularise the use of the trench coat as everyday wear for white-collar men. At the same time, the growing international fashion scene and Europe continued to expand trench coat fashion for women. The trench coat was now recognisable as a common overgarment for young and old, men and women alike. British clothing designers continued to be at the forefront of mass-production, with companies like London Fog experiencing great success in domestic and overseas sales.

Changing Perceptions of the Military

The trench coat in the 1950s, while becoming the regular overdress for businessmen and fashion-conscious women, also began to form an essential part of an emerging youth culture in Britain and the U.S. Attitudes toward warfare and the military had caused a growing disillusionment following WWII and subsequent engagements. "Mods" in Great Britain, and "Beatniks" in the US displayed their dissension toward militaristic attitudes by sporting military fashions, including camouflage, bomber jackets, and the trench coat. Many of these styles of dress have persisted in youth culture through the following decades, forever changing the way military fashion influences civilian culture.

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