There's a reason a trench coat has remained in your fall jacket rotation all these years. Reliably sleek and functional, polished yet understated—the best trench coats epitomize the concept of a hard-working wardrobe basic. As fashion historian and curator Michelle Tolini Finamore puts it, "The trench coat is the perfect example of utilitarian wear that, over time, has blurred the line between function and fashion. The coat's history begins in the early 20th century as protective, warm, and waterproof utilitarian garb for British officers, with the word 'trench' referring to their use in the fields of war. And during World War I, the impact of military styling on civilian fashion was immediate," she continues, explaining how the utilitarian style slowly trickled down into everyday wear to become the layman's staple that it is today.
Because practicality aside, trench coats also have the potential to make a lasting style impression—think Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's or Priyanka Chopra arriving at the 2017 Met Gala in a Ralph Lauren trench dress with a mile-long train. (Finamore's favorite pop culture moment featuring the age-old trench? "Catherine Deneuve's Yves Saint Laurent patent leather trench coat in the 1967 film Belle du Jour.")
Ahead, shop the best trench coats for fall 2023 that offer smart utility as well as a sleek look—or, in a few cases, maximalist flair. Weave the below options into your jacket rotation to kick-start the season in style.
The Classic Trench
Never underestimate a classic. These tried-and-true trenches will see you through rain or shine. In particular—and in what should hardly come as a surprise—Burberry's trench coat is trending, with ShopStyle reporting that searches for the style are up 21 percent. "Burberry is most closely associated with the trench, and it makes sense given the form's British roots," Finamore explains. "The continuation of tradition is a point of pride for the fashion house. However, the Burberry trench coat has also been re-invigorated over the years, disrupting the standard construction, with designers like Riccardo Tisci employing inventive cutouts or transforming it into ballgowns and jumpsuits."
The Ladylike Trench
The trench coat has staunch roots in menswear but, over time, has become more of a fluid outerwear option. This season, get inspired with feminine-feeling updates to the classic coat, like single-breasted buttons, ruffled details, and cropped silhouettes.
The Anything-But-Basic Trench
Go big and bold this fall. Up the ante with a trench coat that features a mixed media makeup or statement detailing, like a faux fur collar or splash of print. In particular, consider trying a trench with a high-shine look: ShopStyle, a digital shopping platform and search destination, shares that metallic trench coats are also up 33 percent, which tracks considering mighty metals are front-running fall 2023 color trends.
The Waterproof Trench
Originally, trench coats were predominately crafted as rain jackets from a water-resistant material called gabardine. Allow the fashion historian to explain: "Breathable yet weatherproof, gabardine is the fabric most commonly associated with the 20th-century trench coats created by Burberry and Aquascutum, brands that started out by innovating waterproof fabrics." But now, in the great year of 2023, designers are experimenting with a variety of other fabrics and non-khaki colorways.
The Leather Trench
Look for leather trenches this fall. Shopstyle shares that searches for leather styles are up 39 percent. And if you want to step slightly out of the box, try a light suede style instead, which will serve you on chilly fall days and will patiently wait for you come spring. Consider expanding outside of the traditional khaki hue of a trench, too—perhaps either a caramel brown, sooty charcoal, or juicy plum purple? You hardly need any "per-suede-ing."
Meet the Fashion Expert
Michelle Tolini Finamore is a Fashion and Design Historian, Curator and Author. She has curated numerous exhibitions, including the recently opened Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. She has written numerous books and articles for both the scholarly and popular press on topics as varied as fashion in silent film, menswear, contemporary fashion, and sustainability. Michelle has taught courses on fashion, design, and film history at Northeastern University, Rhode Island School of Design, Massachusetts College of Art, and the Fashion Institute of Technology. She has interviewed fashion luminaries such as Hamish Bowles, Fern Mallis, Isaac Mizrahi, Liz Goldwyn, Hussein Chalayan, Diane Pernet, Viktoria Modesta, Virgil Ortiz, and Rodarte on stage.
Stay In The Know
Marie Claire email subscribers get intel on fashion and beauty trends, hot-off-the-press celebrity news, and more. Sign up here.
Emma Childs is the Fashion Features Editor at Marie Claire, who writes trend reports, long-form reported features, and style guides. She previously wrote for TZR, Editorialist, Elite Daily, and Mission Magazine and studied Fashion Studies and New Media at Fordham University. When she's not writing fashion deep-dives, you'll find her stalking eBay for designer vintage and perusing HBO Max (in her heart, it'll always be *HBO* MX).