Sunday, 11 October 2009

My Trench Coat

"The trench was once a uniform. Now it is a barge of individuality - expressing who the wearer is or wants to be" - Nick Foulkes

This essay will explore my personal fetish object of remembrance. An vintage item of outer clothing referred to as the trench coat. Various reference points will include my personal memories of my late mother Madge Linthwate, a child's coat, the history overview of the trench coats design and the water-proofed fabric. There will be always the film noir sense of the hard-boiled private detective wearing a trench coat in the film studios of Hollywood in the 1940s. This garment both traditional and modern has been re-invented as a high-fashion icon of clothing for the wearer in the twenty-first century. The second-hand culture of collecting highly prized vintage clothing will also be discussed. How vintage collectors re-invent their narrative of self by wearing clothing that empowers their identities of uniqueness and yet pays homage to the mythology of the past. Today in this techno-age of infinity8 there is appreciation for the workmanship of these garments, be it man-tailored, beaded, embroidered and printed or just the fact the zip was sewn in by hand. The generous amount of material or the textile reality of feeling the fabric can also amaze and intrigue from a tractile point of view. The history of the garment can be analysed on so many levels about the former owner of such exquisite fragments of time detailing how life was lived from a personal perspective.

Whenever I feel I cannot stand the stress of studying at UTS I go vintage clothing hunting in Newtown, which has a large selection of second-hand shops. There is one place deemed to be my favourite as I have found various items of vintage clothing to either hand-wash or to be dry-cleaned to treasure and file away in garment-bags for future use. One day I was offered a mink coat with a fox fur collar which unnerved me. I had no intention of being an extension of my late mother's narrative. My mother was viewed as a true 'Continental Lady' because of her ash-blonde hair and her striking resemblance to Marlene Dietrich. My most endearing memory of my mother was of an elegant lady dressed in a black man-tailored costume, gun-metal silk stockings with a seam, and crocodile killer stiletto shoes of black. A matching handbag and perched on her head a black net fascinator with tiny black velvet bows drawing attention to the deep set eyes of emerald green. My mother's lips were painted with Helena Rubinstein's red lipstick and her nails were painted with blood red nail polish. My first memory of my favourite item of outer clothing was a coat from Harrods. This design was usually worn by royalty in England and I remember looking in the full-length mirror at the child with ash blonde curly hair. The black velvet detailing on the collar, cuffs and the pockets intrigued me along with the feel of the fabric of the coat fastened with buttons covered in velvet. This was a practical gift brought for my sixth birthday by an American relative by marriage.

The trench coat is an amazing concept of practicality evolving in the trenches in the Boer War, the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The original fabric was a crude rubberised material which was replaced by the tightly woven water-proofed fabric of gabardine patented by Thomas Burberry (Foulkes, 2007, :37). The design of this coat goes way beyond the war-time boundaries into peacetime when veterans continued to wear their garments as a barge of pride. Therefore the history of the trench coat may be traced back to England but because of the war-related travel of servicemen this coat became a globally recognised symbol of freedom. The three main trade-names associated with the trench coat are Macintosh, Aquascutum and Burberry (Foulkes, :8-9). One of the main features is the raglan sleeve first designed in the nineteen century by an aristocrat's tailor to ensure ease of dressing by Baron Raglan who had lost an arm in the battle of Waterloo. There are also the other classic elements such as the welted pockets and the two rows of ten buttons down the front of the coat. The additional storm flap on the coat which can button up around the neck to protect the wearer against the harshness of the weather. One can be further smug with the belt tightly tied to keep the warmth within with the shoulder straps used to secure binoculars, gas-masks, whistles and gloves in wartime in the last century (Foulkes, :40-46).

In the 1940s there was the actor Humphrey Bogart wearing the trench coat in 'The Big Sleep' film noir landscape of blackmail and murder. The character Phillip Marlowe was the perfect example of the hard-boiled private detective in Hollywood cinema. Bogart wore the trademark Aquascutum's Kingsway-style trench coat in most of his films such as 'Casablanca' and 'Beat the Devil'. The only contender to challenge Bogey as the reining trench coat film star was Peter Sellers. Inspector Clouseau was a bungling idiot who through his misadventures he was somehow transformed into a style god because of his trench coat.

My Trench Coat
copyright © Marjorie Savill Linthwaite 2009
All rights reserved.

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The concept of the online 'My Trench Coat' is a revised/improved format of the paper-based medium 'My Trench Coat' copyright © Marjorie Savill Linthwaite 2009 All rights reserved. 50134 Culture, Writing and Textuality subject 2009.

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