The Perennial Power of the Burberry Trench
What does a trench coat represent? For stylist Kate Young, it’s a marker of sophistication, exploration, and evergreen style. “Whether you’re in fashion or you’re not in fashion, you know what this piece is,” Young says. On the latest episode of Hello Fashion, her YouTube show created with The Slowdown, Young introduces us to the piece’s original architect—the British luxury fashion house Burberry—and opens our eyes to its many intricacies.
The inception of the brand, Young explains, was rooted in a very practical, universal problem: rain. Throughout most of the 19th century, clothing made to protect against the elements was heavy, bulky, and difficult to move in. In 1879, British outfitter Thomas Burberry devised a solution—a new lightweight, breathable, weatherproof, and tear-proof fabric called gabardine—and patented it in 1888. These qualities made the fabric coveted by explorers of all kinds. Notably, Young explains, Burberry made the first coat to go to the poles and, in 1937, the house designed flight suits for aviators Arthur Edmond Clouston and Betty Kirby-Green, who embarked on a record-breaking flight from Croydon, England, to Cape Town, South Africa.
Gabardine’s practical qualities also made it a sound option for military apparel. So, during World War I, Burberry designed the first trench coat using the material. Using a contemporary, army green version of the coat, Young demonstrates the signature elements—many of which are now merely decorative—that made it practical for soldiers, including a waist belt, placket, epaulettes, and D rings (which she notes were originally for fastening items such as grenades).
Young juxtaposes this classic version with a more modern iteration of the coat—a deconstructed composition of multiple layers, multiple fabrics, and unusual proportions. “It makes you think a little bit,” Young says. “It shows you that someone has taken an idea and broken it down and taken it apart and rethought it.”
She then fast-forwards to today, when the world’s top celebrities—among them Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez, and F.K.A. Twigs—regularly sport the brand. Despite this celebrity exposure, Young describes the brand as fundamentally “democratic” in its aesthetic. “Part of what I love about this brand is that it kind of works on everyone,” she says. “I’ve seen dogs wearing Burberry coats. Babies. Kids. Old people. Young people. People in other countries all over the world. It doesn’t really matter where you’re from—you like it.”
Ultimately, the house’s allure comes down to its endurance in both quality and aesthetic appeal. Indeed, for Young, Burberry creations are precious, lifelong pieces that approximate the quality of heirlooms. “I love when clothing items can be handed down along generations,” she says. “It’s rare, and it doesn’t [typically] happen the way it does with jewelry. But with Burberry, it does.”
Watch new and previous episodes of Kate Young’s YouTube show Hello Fashion at youtube.com/kateyoung.