Alexa

The new trench trend twists the timeless classic

 This product image courtesy of Ann Taylor shows their silk utility shirtdress.  There is some flexibility in the description of what makes a trench a...
 This product image courtesy of Gilt Groupe shows the Thread Social cotton canvas tie waist trench coat.  This season, trenches are a bona fide fashio...
 This product image courtesy of Gap shows their soft trench and perfect khaki. This season, trenches are a bona fide fashion trend, with runways and r...
 This product image courtesy of Gilt Groupe shows the Vera Wang Lavender Label belted trench. This season, trenches are a bona fide fashion trend, wit...
 This product image courtesy of Ann Taylor shows their femme silk trench.  This season, trenches are a bona fide fashion trend, with runways and retai...

Fashion Trenches

This product image courtesy of Ann Taylor shows their silk utility shirtdress. There is some flexibility in the description of what makes a trench a...

Fashion Trenches

This product image courtesy of Gilt Groupe shows the Thread Social cotton canvas tie waist trench coat. This season, trenches are a bona fide fashio...

Fashion Trenches

This product image courtesy of Gap shows their soft trench and perfect khaki. This season, trenches are a bona fide fashion trend, with runways and r...

Fashion Trenches

This product image courtesy of Gilt Groupe shows the Vera Wang Lavender Label belted trench. This season, trenches are a bona fide fashion trend, wit...

Fashion Trenches

This product image courtesy of Ann Taylor shows their femme silk trench. This season, trenches are a bona fide fashion trend, with runways and retai...

It's time to dig out the trenches again.
The reliable outerwear piece long linked to strong soldiers and sexy spies is one of those classics that so many of us already own, and it's pretty safe to say that whatever coat you have, it has never fully gone out of style.
This season, though, trenches are a bona fide fashion trend, with runways and retailers offering a few twists to keep this century-old style feeling fresh.
When designer Rachel Roy previewed her spring collection for buyers, editors and stylists, there were models showing off a dozen different interpretations of trench coats. From a buttery leather version to a fancy metallic one, she offered a version for various occasions and lifestyles.
"The great thing about a trench is that it is equal parts smart, easy and pulled-together chic," Roy says.
There is some flexibility in the description of what makes a trench a trench: Roy says its defining characteristic is the shape of the shoulder; Lisa Axelson, vice president of design at Ann Taylor, isn't sure if it's the shape of the pockets, the storm flap or a nipped waist.
Regardless, Axelson says, you know when you see one _ even if it's a dress in washed silk with a draw-cord waist like the one she included in her spring lineup.
That's right, fashion insiders don't say a trench has to be a coat. There are capes, vests, dresses and even trenchlike trousers.
"People have taken a lot of creative freedom with the trench coat, adding newness," says Amanda Brooks, fashion director at Barneys New York. "There are endless ways to reinterpret it, and designers have been incredibly innovative."
The look doesn't have to be about outerwear, agrees Axelson, but it does have to be about strength, shape and silhouette. There aren't a lot of bells and whistles, so structure and craftsmanship count a lot in creating a high-value trench, she says.
Noting Phillip Lim's raglan-sleeve coat for his 3.1 label, Barneys' Brooks says by changing the sleeve seam and creating a slimming inset on the back of the sleeve, he made something so different _ and directional _ out of something so familiar. "Just because you're buying one now because it looks new, you won't get the, `Whoa, you're still wearing that coat?' in three months," says Brooks, who says her three trenches _ a leopard print, a waterproof version and a shorter hip-length version _ are more than five years old.
It's the inherent familiarity that gives the trench its long life.
Burberry gets credit for the early waterproof gabardine coats back in the late 1800s, crafting them for English soldiers and farmers. The name comes from World War I _ worn by troops in the dug-out, protective trenches.
Fast-forward to 2011 and the offices of Elle. Joe Zee, the magazine's creative director, says a woman in his office took an old trench, lopped off the sleeves with help from the local dry cleaner, and wore it as a belted dress. "I loved how chic that looked, and it was a cute, easy take on the trench."
He also likes to see an oversized, menswear-tailored trench, with its sleeves rolled up, worn over a feminine blouse and pencil skirt.
"For me, this is a staple that should exist in every woman's wardrobe," says Zee, also the host of the new fashion-themed show "All On the Line" on Sundance Channel. "It's the easy, go-to, perfect-for-every-occasion piece of outerwear."
Fashion fans shouldn't be discouraged by its sturdy construction and versatility _ not usually words that go with a trend, adds Patrick Robinson, creative director for Gap. A trench can have an edge if you want it to, he says.
But his favorite versions of the season are softer than you'd expect, maybe in more of a makeup blush tone than khaki. "Don't think about the practical," Robinson says. "Think about what it brings you: confidence."
Roy is sold. "It's the most flattering garment in my closet!" she says.