As with many things in fashion today, the evolution of the trenchcoat can be traced to Kim Kardashian’s Instagram feed. On 16 October, the day before she was held at gunpoint and thieves stole $5m of her jewellery, she attended the Balenciaga fashion show in Paris, dressed in a trenchcoat masquerading as a ballgown, tied at the waist, cleavage in full effect. Fast-forward six months and the look had changed. On a night out, the star wore her trench open, shrugged on her arms, an apparently half-arsed attempt to cover up an outfit that consisted of a corset, lace leggings and little else.
Kardashian isn’t an insouciant dresser by any means – this is a woman who once explained to the internet how “we”, as in her team, wash her hair, and who popularised the term “glam squad” for said team, on hand for her every contouring whim. But casual is how to wear the trench now. Kardashian isn’t the only one doing it. Rihanna is into it, too – she wore hers oversized with an equally huge T-shirt. Then there’s Gigi Hadid in an open trench and crop top.
It has good catwalk game. This take on the trench for autumn is never tightly belted, always worn long and often in a size that the less fashion-literate might judge too big. It came in paper-thin leather at Céline; long and checked at Stella McCartney; belt trailing, bike helmet in hand at Vetements; creamy and flowing at Burberry. Finery and Marks & Spencer do fine examples on the high street, while Topshop says its trench is a bestseller this year. The trenchcoat with plaid cuffs is the piece all of fashion wants from the JW Anderson x Uniqlo collection, out next month.
Crucially, though, this trench is also worn by those without blue-tick Instagram followings. You will see it on public transport in the morning – worn crumpled with Birkenstocks, jeans, probably with a Daunt Books bag and no makeup. If once the trench was the symbol of the pulled-together, worn by those on their way to boss a meeting or sort out the gender pay gap, this one is more likely to be on the back of someone who works for, say, a midcentury modern furniture dealer, who has a subscription to Kinfolk and Aesop toiletries in her bathroom. This trench is the opposite of the pulled-together, Kate-Middleton approved trench, worn buttoned-up and with a blowdry. In fact, it’s downright messy.
If “humblebrag” is a term honed in the digital era, in fashion it’s a concept as old as the hills – the messy trench is classic “this old thing?” dressing, the kind of item that implies your wardrobe is so fabulous that you don’t even need to try. That’s why the trench now should never be belted. To do so shows a misunderstanding – we’re looking for a nonchalance, a laissez-faire attitude to ironing, taking the carefree summer thinking into this bit of the year, when one day in August could have a month’s worth of rainfall.
The trench has its roots, as the name suggests, in the trenches. It was designed, depending on whom you ask, by either Burberry or Aquascutum and worn by soldiers in the first world war. Since then, memorable civilian wearers include Columbo, Holly Golightly, Inspector Clouseau, Meryl Streep in Kramer vs Kramer and Prince, with black bikini pants, on the cover of Dirty Mind. Now, most women have a trench on their coat rack. It’s part of the elite of fashion classics, along with Breton tops and ballet flats, a sure thing on internet-based lists of items that every woman should own.
This latest version shows it as part of a wider trend that turns the everyday into a meme – from the Balenciaga Ikea bag to the just-released Supreme-branded chopsticks – where nothing, not even a fashion classic, is immune from a reworking. This take is a clothing cliche come to life – worn knowingly, lightly, with no respect for its august history. Respect for your elders is over in fashion. It’s time to get messy.