“The best sporting weather proof that the world has yet seen or is ever likely to see”

Sometimes I get projects that are simple, client A wants costume X, I make costume X and everyone is happy. Simple.


Sometimes however I get the chance to work on much more complex projects, projects that require research, thinking, testing and decisions, these are generally more interesting if a little more challenging.


At first I thought making a WWI Trench Coat for Whitchurch Silk Mill was going to be one of the simple projects, but this is turning out to have so much more depth than I imagined possible and as much as I can I’m going to share my process with you as this project unfolds.


Whitchurch Silk Mill is the oldest silk mill in the UK, still in its original building in rural Hampshire it is a working Georgian water mill that still weaves silk using 19th century machinery. They used to weave silk for linings for Burberry coats and for this project I have been commissioned to make trench coat to be lined with a special one off commemoratory silk to mark the anniversary of centenary of the First World War.


The “trench Coat” was really the first raincoat, made of gabardine a waterproof heavy-duty cotton fabric invented by Thomas Burberry in 1880. worn by officers in in the Boer war, where they were a real hit, being lightweight, waterproof and hard-wearing.


They became called “trench coats” in World War One, in which they proved to be ideally suited to trench warfare. Their popularly has continued and they are considered a design classic today. You may have spotted one being worn in episode 4 of the BBC WWI drama The Crimson Field.

Screen shot 2014-05-16 at 15.27.13

The design changed during the Great War as improvements were made to assist the trench bound wearers. The first challenge was for me to choose which version of the coat to make (Cue Lindsey following white rabbit down research black hole…)


The trench coat you see today is typically double-breasted with 10 front buttons, wide lapels, a storm flap, buttoned pockets, belted at the waist, buckled straps around the wrists and buttoned shoulder straps.


The early coats were quite different;

Screen shot 2014-05-16 at 15.36.50

Single breasted, plain, long and full, these coats from The Burberry Catalogue in 1905 are much the same design officers took to war in 1914.


During the war the design changed to suit the needs of modern warfare, key changes were the wrist straps, to keep the mud out, the the storm flap to keep the rain out, shoulder straps to keep kit straps fully on the shoulder and D loops on the belt which allowed for carrying more items of equipment around (not hand grenades, that’s just silly) shown here on an original coat.

Screen shot 2014-05-14 at 12.11.58

Screen shot 2014-05-14 at 12.11.35

Screen shot 2014-05-14 at 12.11.46

We wanted our coat to tell the story of the Great War, so we chose to go with a later design allowing us to explore all of the above, but we were also keen to make sure it is not just a modern coat, our final design is very similar to this design from this poster from the IWM collection.

Screen shot 2014-05-14 at 12.05.54

Now we have the shape, next is the Fabric, we need a gabardine or drill cotton in the right colour, but what is the right colour?

Officers heading over to Burberrys Haymarket store could have coats made up in a range of colours, this was after all a bespoke item, but there was only really one colour suitable for a war time coat, especially if it was to be worn as part of your uniform.

Khaki, or drab which has its origins in India is used by armies around the world for their uniforms. The word Khaki comes from the Persian word meaning soil. It has been used to denote both a yellow-brown and a green, but like dirt, over the years is has been applied to a range of colours.

you can buy precoated waterproof cottons to make raincoats today if you wish, they come in a fairly standard palette shown below.


the top colour being a little too cream and the second one down not quite being a drab enough green, the main issue with these fabrics is the grain, or lack of, these are very tightly woven cottons, you can hardly see they have been woven at all, but look at this close up of an original WWI Burberry trench coat.

Screen shot 2014-05-14 at 12.20.53

We need a fabric with the same weave, weight and drape to be able to match the look of the original and this is I think is almost more important than colour. Saying that we have managed to find a fabric which meets these requirements and is only a shade or two darker than we imagine the original would have been when new.

In my next post on this project I will talk about creating a pattern and the fitting process.



About lholmes4keats

I have worked with Museums across the UK for the last ten years making costumes for exhibitions on everything from The Titanic to Tyrannosaurs. I have Run workshops and lectures on costume both nationally and internationally, my work has featured in exhibitions, films and theatre productions both nationally and internationally. In 2011 I curated The Needle is always at hand, an exhibition of dress based on Fanny Brawne's life while she lived at Keats House.
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8 Responses to “The best sporting weather proof that the world has yet seen or is ever likely to see”

  1. Erwin says:

    Hi there

    Thanks for your interesting post about the trench coat, on which I stumbled by accident whilst searching for “gabardine” ,”trench coat” etc. I was quite impressed by your knowledge on the subject, hence my request for some advice.

    Apart from having designed a Great War remembrance tartan (the “Passchendaele Tartan”), I’m also chairman of a remembrance pipeband (Field Marshal Haig’s Own Pipes & Drums , https://www.facebook.com/FieldMarshalHaig/). We’re playing in a uniform which comes close to Scottish Great War models but are not reenacters, which has the additional benefit to allow us to some compromises when necessary. Which brings me to rain gear.

    Having tried a rubberised WW1- cape, we came to the conclusion these are inadequate to protect the pipes. Modern Inverness capes (the almost standard rain protection for actual pipebands) are almost all of half-shiny near plastic type and in addition black, blue or, more seldom, bottle green. What we need is some variation of the old khaki or camel color.

    This led me to the idea to make Inverness capes ourselves (the model is periode- wise ok, although probably not worn by military pipers then) but then with a gabardine-type fabric. However, I’m not to convinced about what is sold nowadays as “gabardine”. In reading your blog, I noticed that you were confronted with the same problem. I’m not too sure about cost (which is an issue in our young pipeband) and waterresistance of the material but above all, am curious if the fabric is available “off the shelf”. I was intending to send this rather lengthy comment as an e-mail but couldn’t find a contact address, sorry for this.

    Best regards


    • Hi

      Pleased you enjoyed the post, sadly it is quite hard to find modern versions of what would have been known as gabardine then, there has to be some sort of compromise, I did find some non shiny waterproof cottons, but not in quite the right colour, more creams that karkis, the other option, which is cheap but I have not yet had an opportunity to try is to wax the fabric yourself the old fashioned way to waterproof it, or to try an oil skin cotton, which you can buy ready done from shops like merchant and mills, I hope this helps? Lindsey

      • Erwin says:

        Hi Lindsey

        Thanks for your super-fast reply. As we are no reenacters, reasonable compomises are acceptable to us. Waxing is not really an option as it will ruin our tartan bagpipe covers which are “resting” against the fabric (I have some wax- coats).
        Don’t know if you are willing to share some addresses of suppliers? I do understand if you prefer not to do this but if you do, that would be much appreciated.

        Best wishes


      • I don’t have an issue with sharing suppliers, but I don’t really keep a list and can’t always remember where I brought things, I know I found some good waterproof cotton in a shop in Berwick street, soho but the Colour wasn’t right and merchant and mills are worth looking at, they are online

      • Erwin Ureel says:

        Many thanks Lindsey. The search continues!

      • I will keep an eye out on my travels!

      • Erwin Ureel says:


  2. Erwin says:

    Just wanted to add that the fabric you decided might be aceptable, although is seems a bit darker.



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