Utterly en-trenched

In Clothes, Famous people, Style icons, Trench coat on April 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm

I was on my way to the Savoy one recent mid-morning to meet one of my best friends for a cup of tea, when it struck me: every other woman I saw was wearing some form of trench coat.

In one little side street in Covent Garden I passed just four other women and they were all wearing them. One black, one classic beige 3/4, one leather, one leopard print. They all looked great. When I was finishing up with my friend she stood up and put on – guess what? A black Burberry trench coat.

I remember her buying that coat a year ago, as it was one of those purchases that combined equal thrill, guilt and terror, and I was her retail counsellor, promising her she wouldn’t regret it.

She hasn’t. In the year since she says she’s worn it constantly, taking it round the world on business and fun trips, wearing it to work, in the evening, all the time. It has become, she said, her default top layer.

What pleased me was to see how all that wear had softened what had started as quite a formal coat (the cotton twill is lightly satin-ed and it has divine little puffed shoulders on the sleeves) has softened into a garment of equal style and character. She’s worn it in like a great pair of jeans.

And as she knotted the belt – note bene, we’ll  be coming back to that – it looked like part of her.

Trench coats are like jeans, they go with everything and there’s permutation of the classic style to suit everybody. In particular, trench coats are the most useful single garment for trans-seasonal dressing. Whether it’s sliding into cool, as it is now in Australia, or leaping straight into weirdly hot, as it has in the UK, a trench coat is your friend.

They are available in every colour, fabric and length, at every price level these days, but the most important thing to understand about a trench is how to wear it.

It must be worn with utter insouciance – hence my point about knotting the belt. Don’t buckle it, you’ll look like an American businessman from the 1980s.

But that’s not only the wrinkle to wearing the trench. I wanted one from the moment I saw Ali McGraw running through an airport in one, in a mid-1970s film I haven’t been able to identify, despite much googling.

So I was gutted with disappointment when I went to Burberry to try one on and discovered that a short, thick-waisted blonde just couldn’t carry off that classic piece like a tall, skinny brunette. And back then they weren’t available in a million different varieties from every chain store in the land. It was Burberry or bust.

It wasn’t until I found a cheap army surplus one in really soft khaki cotton, that I figured out how to wear it for my shape and height – open, with the belt knotted at the back.

Small-waisted women – like my friend at the Savoy – look great with the belt fiercely knotted.

Or you can wear it cinched with a leather belt.

Or forget the belt altogether.

I think they look seriously great worn flapping open – and with the sleeves pushed up.

Or don’t even put your arms in the sleeves.


Trenches have a particular affinity with jeans, with stripey Breton tee shirts, and silk scarves (separately or together), but I particularly love them worn done up with bare legs. Wickedly sexy (is she wearing anything else underneath?).

The simplicity of the classic beige trench is also the perfect foil for wacky accessories. Like jeans, it’s a neutral back drop for the shout out items.

And that’s the secret of the trench. You have to make it your own, beat it into submission, abuse it a bit, until it is totally yours. Like a pair of cowboy boots, or a signature hat that you wear every day until all self-consciousness is gone, you have to break a trench coat in.

Then you will wear it with the style of the people in these pictures.





Pictures: I didn’t want to caption them underneath because it makes the pics go smaller, so here’s what they are, top to bottom:
Francoise Hardy (the website I first found it on said, Jane Birkin – but I’m trusting a French friend on this one…)
Jackie O
from the Sartorialist
from the Sartorialist
from the Sartoiralist
Bridget Bardot
from the Sartorialist
Jackie O
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Stephanie Seymour
Alain Delon (in Le Samourai)


  1. Great post. Think I’ll have to ‘invest’ in one.

  2. I really try my hardest to understand with this trend and I still don’t get it. Trench coats add a layer of unflattering volume to you as well as giving you the feeling you left the house with your dressing gown on.

  3. Love! Made me rush out and buy a trench with a bit of a sheen and leopard lining from Portmans today (what a transformation that store has had). Thanks, Maggie.
    P.S. Is one of the last photos Stephanie Seymour, not Jane. X

    • You’re so right…. I knew that, was just in a big flap because WordPress is so MADDENING to load pics onto and by that stage I was ready to smash the laptop with a hammer…. Thanks so much for pointing it out. That’s when you miss your subs x

  4. It has been a long time since I watched the movie. ‘The Getaway’ with Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw and I do not remember an airport scene. What I do remember, however, is that she wore a terrific trench coat and looked great in it. Thanks for the memory, Maggie.

    I have one in my wardrobe, too. Goes well with any of my fedoras 🙂

    • Not sure if that’s the one. I did see that online, but that’s not the film I remember. She takes off to the airport with just a small bag and throws on this genuis trench and I thought: I want to be HER. What about Monsieur Delon working that fedora/trench look? What a dude.

  5. Maggie, have a wonderful short Burberry trench in buttermilk which is perfect in Melbourne’s Spring and Autumn and in fact this summer I have worn it constantly over summer dresses or summer pants and sandals. I have just bought a slightly longer and heavier one from Jigsaw to wear as a frock coat especially for the races and it will get its first outing at The Anzac Day races at Flemington on Monday. It has a beautiful lining that I want to show it off, so planning to belt it at the back and let it openly flap. I can see it becoming another wardrobe staple…..and I love wearing scarves with mine too.

  6. I thought the first photo was Francoise Hardie. She was about the same era as Jane Birkin I think. I like the dog the best.

  7. As soon as I read your blog and salivated over the pics, I rushed upstairs frantically rifling through my ‘winter’ coats, emerging triumphant with my old trench. It was a happy reunion. I proceeded to drape it, cinch it, open and flap it, collar-up it and adorn it with scarves. Oh what a time we had! So many looks, so little time! Thanks Maggie for such great ideas!
    (Now I just need a dog…..)

    • I love this. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to think that via my own stumblings through fashion’s complications, I can pass on what I’ve learned to others in a practical way. Thanks so much for telling me xxx

  8. Oh Maggie, I thought I was the only woman in the world who couldn’t wear a trench!!!!! I too am short and thick-waisted blonde(read grey). I try one every time a see one that I think will transform my life and be a go too piece that will bring together every look, so thank you I am going to try it open and tied at the back. It makes complete sense – you are a genius!!! Loving the style notes even more in my emails, Happy Easter.

    • Fan-tast-ic. This makes me so happy! And please tell anyone you think might be interested that they can find me on line – it’s harder than I thought it would be to get the word out there xxx

  9. I agree that if you’re not long and lean, the Trench can be shortening the silhouette…especially the neck. I made sure mine didn’t have any epaulettes or shoulder pads, and a collar that stays open wide rather than rigidly high.
    Not everyone has Françoise Hardy’s gorgeous long neck (and jawline!)and like Bagnidilucca, I immediately recognised her, she was one of my idols as a teenager in France. Marianne Faithfull reckons Françoise was the early RollingStones’ style icon…

    • So do you think that first pic is Francoise Hardy rather than Jane Birkin? The site I got it from said Birkin – but now another says Hardy. I’ll take your word for it, because I know you would know!! xxx

      • thanks Maggie…just had a quick look for photos of Jane taken in the same angle, and found

        and yes with that hairstyle it is easy to mix one for the other…but I also found another pic of Françoise attributed to Jane…

        Françoise has a shorter nose and a stronger chin and jawline, Birkin a slightly bigger pout.

      • It’s a good reminder not to trust everything you find on the internet… x

    Occasionally I kinda think it’s OK…Cute Poochie. Warm Poochie & whatever else Penny said!

  11. Great post Maggie, I love a trench. I have a classic bone coloured trench that I wear to death in autumn and spring, even initial ‘Inspector Clueso’ comments from my family didn’t put me off! I also have a black satin trench (lined in hot pink!) for evening that always gets nice commments when I wear it.

  12. I have a pale pink one. Love it, I always get bags of comments (nice ones) when I wear it. I am short waisted so always wear it open. I have a really nice Jigsaw coat from many years back which is trench-like in that it is beige/ trench-type material but is shorter, no shoulder, pocket detail or belt. With just the first button done up (under the bosoms) it gives a nice V-neck, empire line narrowing silhouette. So I second the motion that if you are not endowed with a trench-worthy frame, try and look for a variation in a shape that suits. Love all the pics – is there a fashion blog post that couldn’t find a pic of Audrey to illustrate a point? I think not.

  13. I’m 5’4″ and I’ve always worn my darkish fawn trench (from Seduce. I think?) open with the belt tucked in the pockets or tied at the back.

    You’ve confirmed what I must have intuited… Short girls don’t close their trenches!

    Oh, and I always have the sleeves pushed up — but I do that with almost everything as a Bad Habit.

  14. Have a Taupe trench which Goes with Everything and travels well. I was in Paris last week (love saying that) and in Printemps, G Lafayette etc. was peered at for wanting a size 44 bottom and 42 top – shock/horror. I am 5’4″ 60kg and a 12 in Australia. Finally found an outfit at Weill – a fabulous shop, with assistants who didn’t think my request was outrageous. Where do average size women shop in Paris? (Not an American size 2)

    • I don’t think they allow average sized women in France… they are just tiny. Very thin ARMS it would seem. You can’t get your arms into anything.

  15. I’ve always wanted a good quality trench and finally over Easter I bought a classic Burberry while in the US. The Aussie dollar was kicking and I took advantage! And I have NOT looked back – it has totally redeemed itself with a fabulous return on cost per wear. Now if only I looked as good as those fabulous Burberry-ites from The Sartorialist’s efforts in !

  16. Just divine, and easily listed as one of my 13 wardrobe essentials every mother can’t do without

  17. Oh, you’re such an amazing writer!

    I discovered trench coat love this year, I bought the most beautiful bright modern purple trench coat from Laura Ashley of all places. I love it, for all of the reasons you’ve pointed out there are to love a trench coat. Done tightly round the waist, loose and open, nothing makes me happier than wearing that coat. And the compliments!

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