Wearing a Trench Coat With a Suit Like a Boss
There’s a chill in the air, but that’s no excuse not to look your best! Even the warmest suit will need a little help in the depths of winter, but you don’t have to sacrifice your sartorial elegance to stay cozy and safe from the elements. There’s a wealth of classic, classy men’s coat options that pair beautifully with a suit without downgrading your aura of power and prestige.
Today, the experts from Oliver Wicks are here to show you how to stylishly pair a suit with a trench coat. Let’s dive in.
- What Are Trench Coats?
- How to Combine Trench Coats With Your Existing Apparel?
- How to Combine Trench Coats With Suits
- How Should a Trench Coat Fit Over a Suit
- Trench Coat Materials, Patterns and Colors
- Suit Coat Materials and Colors
What Are Trench Coats?
Let’s start with the basics—what is a trench coat? It’s a style that’s iconic in menswear, but everyone has a slightly different idea of what a trench coat actually is, and they’re often mistaken for other men’s coat options.
A trench coat is a double-breasted men's coat that finishes at the knees. Note the two rows of buttons over the chest, which are synonymous with that style. It has epaulets, or small flaps, at the shoulders and buckles with a fabric belt made from the same fabric as the coat itself. Traditionally, they are camel or khaki, but you will find a broader range of colors today (navy or charcoal are often popular over a formal suit). It’s a boxy style with less tailored fitting than some other coats, but that doesn’t mean they’re not stylish.
As with many menswear items, the trench coat has some close ties to military history, rising in popularity as a practical, mildly weatherproof option for troops in the trenches of World War 1. We need to look a bit further back for their roots, however. From the 1820s, the rise of rubberized cotton was a way to have a flexible fabric that could withstand the elements. While the first forays into this sort of style was the iconic ‘Mack,’ named after its creator Charles MacIntosh, they weren’t the most comfortable thing to wear and were prone to melting in hot weather!
Luckily, science and fashion realized that stinky, sweaty, and melting are not the best features in a coat! There was a big push into more comfortable, pleasant, and breathable fabrics that could still retain weatherproof characteristics. Additionally, military history was finally swinging away from the bright, bold uniforms that had made sense while men were duking it out en masse but became a danger as long-range warfare became the norm.
Paired with the muddy, murky trench conditions in the first World War, there was a need for a comfortable, practical, and subdued coat that could blend into the landscape, allow men free movement and ward off some of the worst trench conditions—and the trench coat was born. It’s closely associated with Thomas Burberry, who pioneered the switch from classic wools to cottons in men’s outerwear.
This association with the upper echelons of military hierarchy (it was a noted style for officers) and a general sense of patriotism led to the trench coat being adopted as a glamorous statement piece that showed solidarity with the men at war and offered a host of practical applications. Even as the war resolved, they remained an elegant, popular men’s dress option that still stands today.
How to Combine Trench Coats With Your Existing Apparel?
So, we have an elegant yet practical and versatile lightweight coat that offers some protection from the elements and a ton of style too. This lack of bulk and forgiving structure makes the suit and trench coat an ideal combination that leaves you free to move, won’t leave you feeling confined or bulky, but will still keep you warm and make a statement. While it isn’t quite as toasty an option as a classic overcoat, the lighter nature and thinner fabric make it a great choice for all but the most frigid mid-winter weather.
Of course, a trenchcoat over a suit isn’t your only option, but the elegance and style it brings to the table are hard to beat. Remember that you have the belt and epaulets to balance when making your wardrobe choice, so it’s a good idea to look at two-piece suit options that are well-tailored to your body and will give clean elegant lines.
Something like our classic Oliver Wicks pick and pick navy suit would look fantastic under a trench coat! Balance it with a clean tie knot and a mid-breadth tie to avoid too much clutter at the neck, and you’ll have a look that’s hard to beat.
However, a suit/trench coat combo isn’t the only look you can build. A trench coat makes a great outerwear choice if you’re wearing a turtleneck woolen with crisp khaki slacks for more casual man-about-town elegance, too. With a bit of confidence, you’ll soon find your trench coat is a staple of your cool-weather wardrobe.
How to Combine Trench Coats With Suits
Since the trench coat and suit are such an iconic combination, let’s take a closer look at how to pull this look together cohesively and elegantly.
We’ll look at trench coat colors in a little more detail below. However, leaning into a neutral or dark coat option is always a good idea for any winter coat look. This avoids clashes with your suit and other parts of your wardrobe and provides a neat, strong canvas on which to build a powerful image. You can always add color to the smaller aspects of your wardrobe, like a winter scarf or tie.
As always, the later in the day the function you want to wear it to is, the darker the look should be. This is especially true in winter, where it’s likely that your woolens and suit choices will be darker and heavier themselves. However, a camel or traditional khaki will work for daywear and the office, bringing a lighter, brighter neutrality to the table. Staying more traditional with your choices will actually help you stay elegant and well put together across your entire wardrobe.
Remember, the coat is a broad part of your wardrobe that will be notable to the eye, but it’s not the star of the show—that’s still your suit. So, think of it as adding a great frame to a picture. You don’t have to match—that can look a little gauche—but you want to keep the complementary colors and undertones aligned. If you aren’t sure how to do that instinctively, don’t worry—a smart neutral, like we’ve listed here, will easily pair well with any other smart neutral.
So, you can swap between your navy, gray, and black suits with ease. If you favor a brown suit or like to experiment with warmer suit tones, like green or burgundy, you may want to steer away from a khaki coat, or at least stick to a bright pale camel, to avoid layering too much of the same color spectrum.
A black suit with a trench coat will always look understated and elegant, but with the right choice of color, you can make anything work. For example, a navy blue suit with a trench coat gives you an office-appropriate choice that will transition equally well to evening events or dinner with someone special.
Wearing a Trench Coat Over a Suit
We delve a little deeper into fitting a trench coat and suit below, but the key aspect to keep in mind is ‘streamlined.’ If you’re wearing an Oliver Wicks custom suit already, you’ve invested a lot into ensuring your suit is the right size and well-fitted to your body. While a coat will be a looser addition to your wardrobe, that doesn’t mean you want a sloppy fit that dwarfs and diminishes you. Your silhouette should be sleek and clean, even with the suit jacket underneath.
A general rule of thumb is that you’ll want to go up one size, if you intend to wear a suit underneath. You can always have a local tailor take it in a bit as needed (tailoring isn’t just for suits!).
Will Wearing a Trench Coat Over a Suit Damage It?
No, wearing any coat over your suit should not damage it if the coat is high-quality and well-made - If anything, consider it a layer of protection for your suit, when you’re out and about. This is why we advise paying careful attention to any embellishments on your coat. For the trench coat, the epaulets and belt are an iconic part of its shape, so adding anything else to the mix can be fussy and over-the-top. This would also increase the risks of snags and irritation to the wearer.
You will find lined and unlined trench coats on the market, but having a lining isn’t necessarily a sign of a ‘better’ buy. However, if you favor heavier woolen suit blends in cold weather, adding a smooth and slippery lining can help tame any static cling you may experience and ensures that there will be no risk of damage to the suit while you’re wearing it.
When is a Trench Coat Not Appropriate?
There’s almost no cool weather situation where a men’s suit and trench coat won’t look good. However, it is a more casual coat style, so skip it for very formal evening events—like a black tie wedding. It can, however, work for dinner dates, the office, and other formal occasions with the right suit. Otherwise, choosing a trench coat is more about the weather than the look.
They are light enough to serve well as a way to keep your suit pristine when you’re heading into the office in slushy precipitation, but they will be a bit cold for the depths of winter. Here, you may want to look at a heavier coat type, like an overcoat or peacoat, for your own comfort. Think of the trench coat as a great choice for city living in cold weather, for transitional seasons, and for quick forays into miserable weather and rainy days.
How Should a Trench Coat Fit Over a Suit
As you know, the Oliver Wicks motto is, “The suit that fits you.” This same focus on the balance and fit of your coat is what will take a look from ‘meh’ to ‘magnificent’.
Men’s winter suits already lean into heavier materials—you’re likely using your heaviest wool suits this season. So, the last thing you want is added bulk. This is why many men favor the trench coat over the heavier overcoat in all but the coldest temperatures. If you feel like you’re squeezing into a sausage casing just to button your coat closed, you’ve got a bad fit!
We advise wearing your suit when coat shopping if possible. You want a slim, but not overly tight, line when you button the suit over your jacket. This will also leave you the possibility of wearing the coat without the suit jacket underneath, without it being too gappy or over-large.
You should be able to place your arms into the arms of the coat without it forcing your suit jacket up your arm or squeezing your wrists as you move. Not only will this risk creasing your suit jacket and shirt, but it looks and feels uncomfortable too. The cuffs of the coat should fall just past your wrists—it’s ok if a little bit of your jacket or shirt peeks out, but there shouldn’t be miles of fabric on show.
You can always have a coat tailored, of course, but remember, even the best tailor in the world can’t add fabric where there is none, so pay careful attention to this detail and ensure you get as great a fit on the sleeves as possible.
Next, evaluate the shoulder fit. You want the coat to sit comfortably over you and your suit, and you should be able to move with complete freedom—try circling your arms to test the fit. Of course, you shouldn’t feel like you can’t breathe in the coat, either.
A well-fitted trench coat should also cover the suit jacket completely—at the rear, too, so do a mirror check! The classic trench coat should fall to the top of your knees. It can always be tailored up a little, but the closer the fit, the better.
Trench Coat Materials, Patterns and Colors
The traditional trench coat color is khaki; if you’re at a loss with where to start, it’s always a solid choice. Giving you a compelling neutral canvas to build from, it’s hard to go wrong with this option. It’s a versatile choice that will look great during the day and at the office, and you can also get away with it for later events until you can buy yourself a darker color.
Today, you will find far more than just the khaki option. If this is the first trench coat or first coat you’re adding to your wardrobe, it’s smart to stay with a solid neutral that you can pair with as many of your favorite winter suits as possible—so think black, charcoal or navy. This will also leave you with a practical base to build on that will work with as much of your wardrobe as possible.
If you’re feeling fashion-forward, you will find many other options open to you, of course. If you’re chasing sartorial elegance, however, we advise avoiding flashier options that can look tacky and sticking with darker, solid colors that allow you to build an ensemble look that flows with elegance.
As for material, if you’re buying a quality trench coat, it will be cotton-based. We always suggest steering away from non-breathable materials, like nylon, even if they’re cheaper. Not only do they get funky fast, but they also increase the chances of static cling. And the last thing you want is to fight to get free of your coat as you enter an important business meeting. With this in mind, look for a lined trench coat that offers a slippy fabric lining. Not only will this bring a nice skin feel to the table, but it will help avoid clinging, too.
You may find trench coats on the market with a wool or cashmere blend, which you can consider if it works for you, but the classic coated cotton will always make a powerful statement.
As far are patterns go, plain is going to be your best option, 95% of the time. We mentioned before that a trench coat is not the highlight of your look (that would be your suit!). Patterned trench coats may work well in very specific scenarios, but most of the time they’ll rob you of versatility, and cast shadow on the suit look that you’ve worked hard for! There’s a reason why the majority of trench coats available today are plain.
Suit Coat Materials and Colors
While a trench coat can also be a nice go-to to preserve your suit from the weather on rainy days, it is a look usually associated with cooler weather. So, you don’t want to put your trench coat over a summer-suiting material, like linen or cotton. This is a look best created with the traditional woolen or wool-blend suit to stay versatile, seasonal, and weather-appropriate.
Likewise, you won’t be cracking out your palest suits to wear in the depths of winter, so sticking with a darker and seasonally-appropriate color palette will always be your best bet. This looks best built around charcoal, navy, and black suits, with some forest green or deep burgundy, if appropriate to the occasion.
And there you have it! With this basic style guide to wearing a trench coat with a suit, you should feel empowered to look great, no matter how dull the weather is. If you’re looking for other tips on making the most of your suit wardrobe year-round, remember that you can subscribe to the Oliver Wicks newsletter (the signup box is on every page of the website) to receive handy tips and tricks for sartorial elegance right to your inbox.
Our team is always available at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat about your choices, too. Feel free to reach out to us today. And in the meantime, enjoy the new versatility that your trench coat will bring to your suiting wardrobe.