A coat is a garment worn on the upper body by either gender for warmth or fashion.
Coats typically have long sleeves and are open down the front, closing by means of buttons, zippers, hook-and-loop fasteners, toggles, a belt, or a combination of some of these. Other possible features include collars, shoulder straps and hoods.
The garment is designed specifically to be worn outdoors to protect the wearer from the damp, cold, wind, and dust and is most commonly worn over the rest of the clothes, so is generally slightly longer and wider than normal pieces of the wardrobe.
However, although designed with protection in mind, not all coats are waterproof. Coats that are used to provide the wearer with extra warmth may be cut from cashmere, tweed, or fur. Coats worn as protection from the rain or snow, such as the classic raincoat or cape, will be made from lighter materials like gabardine or cotton, since they might be used in warm or cold weather.
Although a man’s wardrobe has always contained at least one piece of outerwear that can be worn as protection from the elements (such as a cloak, gambeson, gown, cote-hardie, or mantle), the overcoat has been a popular garment for both men and women since technical advances in the art of tailoring during the 17th century.
The medieval and renaissance coat (generally spelled cote by costume historians) is a mid-length, sleeved men’s outer garment, fitted to the waist and buttoned up the front, with a full skirt in its essentials, not unlike the modern coat.
The history of the coat is deeply rooted in military and naval backgrounds. The coat has been around since the 1800s when the first variation was worn by the Dutch at sea, and it was made from coarse wool fabric.
The trench coat was developed as an alternative to the heavy serge greatcoats worn by British and French soldiers in the First World War. Invention of the trench coat is claimed by two British luxury clothing
manufacturers, Burberry and Aquascutum, with Aquascutum’s claim dating back to the 1850s. Thomas Burberry invented gabardine fabric in 1879 and submitted a design for an Army officer’s raincoat to the United Kingdom War Office in 1901.
During the First World War, the design of the trench coat was modified to include shoulder straps and D-rings.
What became known as the “trench coat” combined the features of a military waterproof cape and the regulation greatcoat designed for British officers.
During the Second World War, officers of the United Kingdom continued to use the trench coat on the battlefield in inclement weather. Other nations also developed trench coat style jackets, notably the United States and the Soviet Union.
Trench coats have remained fashionable in the decades following World War II. Their original role as part of an army officer’s uniform lent the trench coat a businesslike respectability, although many prefer to tie the belt in front (rather than use the buckle) to project a more casual look than strict military dress. Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine from Casablanca and Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau wore the trench coat in the public eye.
In the 1960s, radical intellectuals wore trench coats over black turtleneck sweaters, while some Mods wore trench coats as fashionable overcoats, as an alternative to the fishtail parka or crombie.
Available in various styles, color combinations, lengths, and with or without many of its original details, the trench coat might have lost its functional military connotation, but it still very much retains that classic caché.
“Coat” is one of the earliest clothing category words in English, attested as far back as the early Middle Ages. (See also Clothing terminology.) The Oxford English Dictionary traces coat in its modern meaning to c. 1300, when it was written cote. The word coat stems from Old French and then Latin cottus. It originates from the Proto-Indo-European word for woolen clothes.
An early use of coat in English is coat of mail (chainmail), a tunic-like garment of metal rings, usually knee- or mid-calf length.
The longest wearable coat measures 21.057 m (69 ft 1 in), and was created by Walter Moore (USA) in Richmond, Virginia, USA, on 8 May 2021.