Long coats will always be the unsung hero of winter dressing in our eyes. A beautifully tailored long coat gives any wearer an air of stature and style. It is warm, luxurious, and extremely practical.
What exactly is a long coat?
A long coat, also known as an overcoat or long overcoat, is a tailored coat that is traditionally knee-length or longer. It is not to be confused with a topcoat.
They can be single or double-breasted and made of a warm, heavyweight fabric such as wool or a wool/cashmere blend. They typically have a single rear vent.
The Long coat’s History
When did the long coat first appear?
Since its invention in the late 18th century, the overcoat has been an essential part of a gentleman’s wardrobe. They were frequently worn as formal wear to represent the wearer’s social status or as part of a professional or military uniform.
The overcoat’s style hasn’t changed much since then, aside from subtle changes made in response to current trends. It was fashionable to wear form-fitting clothes during the Regency period, so overcoats were worn close to the body; double-breasted in style with waist seams and a flared skirt.
As the overcoat’s popularity grew and it became more affordable to working-class men, the silhouette became looser to accommodate their lifestyles.
The Overcoat in the Twenty-First Century
Because of the use of trench coats during World War I, the full-length overcoat became popular once more. The army wore single-breasted overcoats, while the navy wore double-breasted overcoats.
Soldiers wore them until the 1950s, when they were deemed impractical for use in battle. Around this time, the overcoat was adopted by the British Teddy Boy subculture.
Working-class teenagers wore them with drape jackets, drainpipe trousers, and brothel creepers, which were heavily inspired by the Edwardian era. These coats were typically navy or black in colour and single-breasted. They had a fly front with flap pockets and a single long vent at the back. From this point forward, full-length overcoats were replaced with more practical, knee-length coats.
By the 1980s, the long coat had returned to “fashion” and was being worn by the general public. It became a wardrobe staple during the age of power dressing. These coats, with their oversized silhouettes and strong shoulders, mirrored the relaxed suiting trend.
Long overcoats, like other menswear articles such as hats and ties, declined following World War II due to shifts in fashion and culture. Even though the latter are still worn today, what factors contributed to the decline of long coats in particular?
1. Transportation Modifications
The long overcoat evolved from earlier travel cloaks and great cloaks, which were large swaths of fabric that covered the wearer from head to toe.
These cloaks not only insulated and kept the wearer warm, but they also protected his clothing from the environment. Because many roads were unpaved, they were muddy in the rain and dusty in the sun. Even as roads became more paved in the twentieth century, the longer hems of long coats protected men’s clothing from mud, dirt, rain, and splashing.
Another factor is that men used to walk or take public transportation to work more frequently in the early to mid-twentieth centuries. Long coats kept men warm while also protecting their clothing from the elements as they walked into the office or to the nearest bus or metro stop.
Transportation seating has become increasingly small over the years, making an overcoat unnecessary and even cumbersome. Individual car ownership exploded in the latter half of the twentieth century, and if you only need to hop into your vehicle to drive to work with minimal braving of the elements, a long overcoat is unnecessary and may even be cumbersome.
This is especially true given that car seats, as well as plane and train seats, appear to have gotten smaller over the years, with more constrictive, captain-style seats replacing expansive bench seating.
Long coats, which were designed to be worn for extended periods of time in the messy elements, have thus become less necessary as modes of transportation have changed. However, they have remained popular in areas with a strong commuter culture as well as consistently wet and cold weather.
2. Suit and coat changes
The changes in other styles of coats and suits are the second main reason for the decline of long coats.
Overcoats were originally designed to completely cover the hems of jackets with longer hems, such as frock coats or tail coats. However, as these jackets fell out of favour, the length of long coats became less important.
And, just as jacket styles evolved, so did coat styles. Long coats and their closely related top coats were essentially the only appropriate daytime outerwear for public occasions in the early twentieth century.
Other jackets existed, of course, but they were classified as working or sporting attire. However, as menswear became more casual after WWII, these formerly utilitarian jacket styles, such as motorcycle jackets, field jackets, and recreational jackets, became more acceptable to wear in a wider variety of situations, and the overcoat’s monopoly was broken.
Long coats, on the other hand, remained associated with more formal day ensembles that were increasingly perceived as stuffy and out of date. This was primarily due to the fact that they did not complement the increasingly casual leisure and sport suits that were popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Slimmer, trimmer suits that emphasised an athletic figure became popular in the 1960s. A poorly cut long coat could easily distort these lines, and a long overcoat length concealed more of a man’s frame.
3. Changes in Menswear in General
Expanding on our previous point, our third factor is general changes in menswear.
The appeal of sportier, slimmer, shorter jackets and coats was just one of many changes in menswear from the second half of the twentieth century into the twenty-first. This was also a period of rapid decline in suit-wearing in general, and a long coat can appear overly bulky when worn without a suit underneath it.
Attempts to bulk up the underlayers led to the pairing of a hooded sweatshirt with an overcoat, resulting in a distinct hoodie and Crombie look that is a little too early 2000s right now.
With the rise of fast fashion in the 1970s, clothing prices fell, allowing men to buy more garments than ever before while paying less. This resulted in a proliferation of trendy, one-off outfits rather than men purchasing fewer but higher-quality garments and combining them in novel and exciting ways.
This general downward price pressure on men’s clothing harmed long coats, which still required more time, materials, and craftsmanship to produce well. As a result, long coats remained expensive at a time when men were less willing to pay more money for a single piece of clothing. This led to the production of more short coats than long ones.
Customers abandoned having a single tried-and-true long overcoat that could be worn with a variety of ensembles in favour of a plethora of cheaper, flashier coats.
4. Cultural Organisations
Long overcoats are most closely associated with well-dressed gentlemen in classic style, braving the elements while looking great.
However, this association does not appear to be shared by everyone. Long coats can appear vintage, and many men who wear them today are older, so they’ve become associated with being old-fashioned or just plain old.
This is similar to the misconceptions that many people have about pleated and high-waisted trousers. This association discourages young men from wearing long coats, making them appear more dated than they are.
Long coats are also sometimes associated with women, despite their ability to create a dynamic, inverted-v silhouette with broad shoulders and a narrow torso. This could be because hyper-masculine sensibilities are uncomfortable with a plush, expansive garment with a low hem, comparing it to a long dress. Several of the stylistic features of traditional long overcoats, such as silk-satin facings, colourful linings, and fur, are now associated with women’s wear which adds to this assumption. However, this is an unfortunate situation because labelling long coats as effeminate ignores their long history in classic menswear.
Long coats did see a revival in the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to films like The Matrix and Equilibrium, which popularised them, particularly among punks and goths.
More seriously, long overcoats have darker cultural connotations.
The most recent of these would be their association with the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, the perpetrators of which were known as “The Trenchcoat Mafia.” This resulted in a ban on long coats in many schools.
Long overcoats were historically associated with the military in general, and these martial connotations were enough to make many in the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s refuse to wear long coats.
Long black overcoats and leather trench coats are still associated with the German military during WWII and, more broadly, with national socialism. Hence, many men avoid wearing them out of fear of being associated with the neo-Nazi movement.
And it’s likely that these associations, combined with their ominous appearance, explain why long dark overcoats have long been a favourite wardrobe choice of many movie and TV villains.
5. The Demise of Coat Culture
The overall disappearance of coat culture is the fifth and final reason for the decline in the wearing of long overcoats today. All of the changes we’ve discussed today came together to essentially remake the world in a way that made long coats unwelcome.
Improvements in vehicle and building heating rendered wearing long coats to keep warm obsolete with time. In the past, men frequently drove with their overcoats on. However, if you go from your warm home to your warm car to your warm office, you may not feel the need for a long coat.
Because long coats were increasingly regarded as unnecessary, the attendant services associated with them began to fade. For example, nearly every restaurant, club, and office building had a coat check or at least a coat rack 75 years ago. You might be able to drape your casual jacket over the back of a chair today, but a long overcoat will most likely become a puddled mess and make it dirty as well.
Will Long Coats be a thing in 2023?
With that said, there are several factors that appear to disincentivize wearing long overcoats today, emphasising how great they are if we are willing to overcome all of these obstacles to continue wearing them.
So, let’s end on a high note by discussing why they should be worn in 2023 and in general.
For starters, they continue to be the best and, in fact, the only appropriate outerwear to pair with the most formal of ensembles. They flatter both your figure and the rest of your outfit and go with so many classic looks.
Long overcoats are designed to be worn over suits, so they don’t have the stretched-out, overburdened appearance that more modern coats can have when worn with several layers underneath. Long overcoats are also available in a variety of distinct styles such as the Chesterfield, loden, Ulster, and paletot to suit your personal preferences and needs.
Long overcoats provide the best warmth and insulation when combined with the appropriate accessories.
Finally, nothing beats a heavyweight, long overcoat that covers your legs when paired with other classic accessories like scarves and gloves for keeping your body warm and insulated.
So, even if you’re late for the bus on a chilly January morning, you can stay warm and toasty on your way to work, and it doesn’t hurt that you look great, too. Hence even if Long coats are not a must-have in men’s fashion or a must functional outerwear, they are not to be stopped from being an absolute banger of a clothing item that you can add to your clothing collection even in 2023!