As with GPS navigation, the microwave oven, and that yellow Hummer that’s always taking up two spaces when you need to park, we have war to thank for the existence of the trench coat. And while the style takes its name from the bloody trenches of World War I, it’s actually based on the waterproof Tielocken coat that Thomas Burberry made for officers in the Boer War of 1899-1902. A hundred years later, the style is less associated with sodden British generals than with generations of style icons, from Bogey to the Mods to Paul Newman to the Walther PPK-toting guy on the right.
Most things worthy of the name Essential represent a compelling blend of function and form, and the trench is no exception. A proper version will be made of gabardine, a water-resistant, tightly woven twill with a smooth face and ribbed back, which was famously invented by Thomas Burberry. The coat will be double breasted, to better keep out the damp chill, and it will be equipped with D rings (originally meant for holding maps and swords, not hand grenades), as well as a sturdy belt. It will be roomy enough for easy movement, but not baggy. Befitting its military provenance, it will also feature epaulets. And while trench coats are available in a multitude of hues, from black to gray to midnight blue, if you invest in just one, it should be khaki—which, incidentally, is another military invention gone civilian.