- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 7, 2007


You’d be hard-pressed to find a retailer this spring that’s not showering attention on what originally was intended as rain gear for English farmers and soldiers.

Trench coats are everywhere you look, rain or shine, and while classic khaki remains big, the coolest come with some individual style.

Michael Kors offers one in eyelet. J.Crew’s is crinkled, with flecks of stainless-steel filaments.

Zac Posen makes a short, sassy satin trench, and Gwen Stefani’s LAMB line has one decorated with the names of world fashion capitals in rainbow colors. (It also has a hood, which makes a lot of sense for what is essentially a raincoat.)

Burberry, which started it all with waterproof gabardine coats back in the late 1800s, has a spring trench collection that includes taffeta wrap-style coats. At its recent fall fashion show, Hermes previewed a $142,000 croc trench made entirely from the skin of one animal.

“Come rain or shine, day to evening, past or present, trench coats always make an outfit elegant, cool and sophisticated,” Mr. Posen says.

Gregg Andrews, Nordstrom fashion director, can’t think of a time, place or outfit that would be a “don’t” for the modern trench coat.

Those modern trench coats do take certain liberties: While a classic trench typically is a double-breasted, belted and below-the-knee coat with a matte khaki finish, what’s now being called a “trench” could be short, without a belt or done in a shiny metallic fabric. You’re still likely to find at least one or more of the traditional details, though, such as epaulettes, buckles on the sleeves or a flanged back.

In years past, trenches were primarily for daytime and had a businesslike look, Mr. Andrews says, but with the advent of a seemingly unlimited number of variations, they’ve become must-have items. He thinks a short white trench is among the chicest.

“The trench coat has enduring style. It’s classic like the little black dress, so it’s never going to go out of fashion. But this season, it’s been reinterpreted in so many ways,” he says.

For example, at Intermix, there’s a cropped leather trench cape by R.E.D. Valentino, Posen’s satin one and several by Gryphon, an all-trench collection designed by a former Vogue writer.

“This season has taken what was a traditional garment and brought a new fashion life to it,” says Sari Sloane, the retailer’s vice president of fashion and merchandising. “People are wearing trenches as a spring coat, as a layering coat, as a fashion item more so than an item you wear because it’s raining.”

Trench coats are so called because they were what soldiers wore to protect themselves from bad weather when they were “in the trenches” during World War I.

The trench gained a reputation as a wardrobe essential for spies and detectives after Humphrey Bogart wore one in “Casablanca,” says Andrew Bolton, curator at the Costume Institute in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Maybe that happened because it was utilitarian, anonymous,” he adds. “You blend in with the crowd when you wear one.”

By the 1950s, the trench had become a staple for civilians.

“It’s one of the classic designs of the 20th century, like Levi’s 501s,” Mr. Bolton says, “and even though it’s fashion, the practicality is still important.”

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