STILL NEED a Halloween costume? Go to a Goodwill, buy a trench coat and suddenly you’re Humphrey Bogart, brooding in the fog at the close of “Casablanca.” Whenever vintage purveyor Brian Davis comes across an antique trench while purchasing for his Brooklyn shop, Wooden Sleepers, he said he thinks of such Hollywood clichés. The archetypal khaki cotton trench, popularized by stalwart British brands like Burberry, is baggy enough to add 10 pounds, with large lapels, epaulets, two rows of prominent buttons and a belt tethered around the waist. Mr. Davis does not stock it with regularity.
“There was a time when every single guy probably owned a trench coat to cover up their suit,” he said, “but that’s just not the world that we’re living in anymore.” Aside from the archaic oversize fit and fussy details, the trench has also been plagued by unfortunate associations over the years, ranging from Columbine High School’s “Trench Coat Mafia” to flashers, who sleazily underscore the trench’s ability to conceal.
The trench deserves better. In essence, it’s a reliable, even regal, fall rain coat. “There’s a Chinese word that very roughly translates to dramatic, imposing and stylish. I think that summarizes the trench coat quite neatly,” said Mark Cho, the co-founder of the Armoury, a high-end haberdashery in New York and Hong Kong. Mr. Cho sports trenches regularly, but for the Armoury’s racks, he seeks out more-innovative iterations including those by Coherence, a Japanese label that constructs streamlined trenches from polyester.
Coherence isn’t the only label that’s found novel ways to bring the trench into 2018. Several brands, including Los Angeles’s Monitaly, London’s Dunhill and Paris’s De Bonne Facture, have shorn off the pointless shoulder epaulets (originally designed to display military ranking insignia), for a sleeker look. J.W. Anderson covered the placket on its tan coat to hide the rows of buttons. Dutch label Salle Privée halved the number of buttons with its single-breasted style. British retailer Topman reneged on beige, proposing a neat plaid iteration instead, while Prada now offers its trench in bottle green.
Outlier, a New York brand, makes perhaps the most minimal trench of the bunch—an epaulet-free, belt-free coat that swaps buttons for snaps. “We have a lot of respect for the classic Burberry trench,” said Outlier’s co-founder Abe Burmeister, “but some of [the details] are so specific to trench warfare, like the little loops on the back for hanging your grenades, and so it’s not really what we’re looking for in 2018.”
On any day other than October 31, that is.
TURN COATS / Modern Variations On a Classic Theme
Write to Jacob Gallagher at Jacob.Gallagher@wsj.com