The trench coat might have had very British beginnings — it was pioneered by Burberry in the early twentieth century, and so named during World War I when soldiers wore the protective garment as an alternative to greatcoats — but the wardrobe classic is these days better known as a staple of all stylish Parisiennes.
The trench coat’s transition from English ingenuity to Gallic chic, from men’s garb to womenswear, from war necessity to everyday accessory, began in the 1940s. Hollywood dressed a new generation of heroines in trench coats — it was the ultimate uniform for modern women with a touch of the mysterious. Think Marlene Dietrich.
Parisiennes evidently decided they wanted the look for themselves. A trench coat was not only chic in its neat lines and details, as well as its soft colour that harmoniously coordinated with the beige palette of Paris, it was also simple and fuss-free, perfect for women who had just won the vote, after proving their mettle during the war years. It was a coat that had places to go, things to do, just like them.
By the 1960s, the trench coat had well and truly reached mainstream French style status, thanks largely to Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve (above), who wore their trenches with a wink, whimsically contrasted with girlish ribbons and bags.
Ever since, honorary Parisiennes have donned a trench to give them an extra dash of je ne sais quoi — think Audrey Hepburn and Jane Birkin (above).
And Parisian It-Girls, like Jeanne Damas, to this day regularly throw a trench over their denim jeans and white shirt.
The trench is one of Ines de la Fressange’s Basics in her book Parisian Chic, where she advises, ‘Never, ever buckle the belt properly like a good little girl. Tie it in front or behind with the buckle hanging loose.’ Now you know.
A trench coat is a perennial Parisian classic, but is particularly appropriate in early autumn, when a slight chill infuses the evening air.
If you’re in Paris and in the market for un trench, the French high street always has a great selection to choose from.
One of the best can be found at Comptoir des Cotonniers: a classic-style trench in timeless beige, which also comes in a couple of other seasonal shades (currently Cabernet and Evening Blue, above).
If you have a couple of hours to devote to shopping, take yourself to Saint-Germain, and wind your way around the streets by Saint-Sulpice — you’ll find not only Comptoir de Cotonniers but many other stores that sell Parisienne Chic so well: A.P.C, Soeur, Claudie Pierlot, Vanessa Bruno, ba&sh … Here you’ll doubtless find your perfect trench, which you’ll want to throw on at once. Take it out for a drink up at Café de Flore, that beloved stomping ground of Saint-Germain’s style set. You’ll fit right in.