A woman’s coat or jacket is rarely worn just to ward off the elements and keep warm, although these garments certainly do both of those things. More than a means of covering up, they are as important to an outfit’s overall fashion statement as the right dress, pair of shoes, or hat. A look back at the vintage coats and jackets of the 20th century reveals how these articles of clothing evolved to signal the styles of the women who wore them.

At the beginning of the 1900s, some women’s coats extended all the way to the calf at the back but had open fronts to show off a matching vest as well as a coordinated dress, which was so long it dragged on the ground. Other coats were almost poncho-like, with enormous collars, equally large patch pockets, and puffy balloon sleeves. Today, these coats seem like period pieces compared to other knee-length, belted coats with fur collars, cuffs, and hems, which hinted at more modern looks.

Jackets were often worn as the upper part of a suit. Shorter than coats, and adhering to the Edwardian habit of tight waists, such jackets were usually paired with a matching skirt that was cut loose so women could participate in everything from sports to the Tango.

By the 1920s, outer garments ranged from three-quarter-length Russian-style coats, with buttons running in a vertical row below the left shoulder and high Cossack collars, to colorful tailored jackets that stopped at the knees. Fur at the collar and hem remained popular, but so were Art Nouveau and Art Deco prints on silk. Meanwhile, velour and other luscious fabrics were made even richer with embroidery and costume-jewelry clasps.

Coco Chanel was just one of many designers who came into their own in this decade—other big names included Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, and Paul Poiret. These designers, and many more, made clothing—including coats and jackets—that was almost androgynous, borrowing heavily from the styles of 1920s menswear.

This trend toward masculinity continued until World War II. Many jackets got shorter, resembling tuxedos, while others drew from gaucho and toreador styles. Shoulder pads took off thanks to their dramatic use in the movies. Meanwhile, in Paris, Elsa Schiaparelli and others produced coats and jackets that were almost architectural in their structure and cut.

During the war, shortages of materials caused designers to economize—in England, the style was formally known as Utility. Double-breasted jackets used more fabric than single-bre...

Numerous looks for coats were born during the war years. Though many were designed for male soldiers and seamen, women’s coat-and-jacket designers appropriated these styles freely. There was the peacoat, a stiff, woolen garment that was particularly good at beating back chilly ocean winds.

Women also claimed World War I-era trench coat styles during the 1940s and ’50s. But some styles took longer to catch on—the bomber jacket, which evolved into the motorcycle jacket, wouldn’t gain popularity among women until the 1960s and ’70s.

The big news of the 1940s for fashion, though, was Dior’s New Look, launched in 1947. Like a lot of designers, Dior had wearied of all that wartime austerity. He wanted something fresh and elegant, and his aesthetic translated well to coats and jackets. The military influence could still be seen, but flaring hems and tight waists that flattered and hugged the figure feminized his New Look.

Materials like linen suited the change that was in the air, but so did big prints and loud colors. In the 1950s, a billowy purple coat would not have been out of the ordinary, but a tight-fitting Mandarin-style jacket in vibrant blue might also be embraced.

Suits in velveteen, twill, and man made materials such as Dacron were smart and conservative, a counterpoint to coats and jackets lined or trimmed with everything from real mink to faux leopard. Such was the 1950s, a decade when opposites routinely attracted.

By the 1960s, all bets were off. Yves Saint Laurent designed pink tweed suits with short double-breasted jackets—Sears sold Seersucker suits with jackets of the same basic cut. Also in the ’60s were denim jackets by Levi’s and Wrangler, designed ostensibly for blue-collar males. Much to the chagrin of their owners, fashion-forward wives and girlfriends frequently borrowed these jackets from their partners, sometimes permanently.

One of the most influential designers of the decade was André Courrèges, who not only invented the classic 1960s go-go-boot but also brought the fitted leather bomber jackets of World War II into the swinging sixties. The Courrèges jacket was made of patent leather, usually in a pastel such as pink, had plastic snaps, and sported a collar that looked even better turned up than folded over.

Chanel and Dior produced similar versions of the waist-length jacket—First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy made Chanel’s internationally famous. Cardin excelled at short jackets, too, but also floor-length maxi coats, which were trimmed in geometric designs from the waist to the collar and at the cuffs and hem—for shock value, these long coats were often paired with a mini-skirt.

Another women’s jacket icon of the 1960s was the double-breasted blazer. And for coats, especially for women in Manchester, England, bone-clasp duffels were the outwear of choice, probably because they made those long waits in line to get into one of the city’s legendary Northern Soul dance clubs just a little bit warmer.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

While primarily designed to steer buyers to online vintage clothing shops, this blog is chock full of interesting, … [read review or visit site]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Saga Fox Norwegian Blue Fox Fur Coat Jacket Stole Spotted Lynx Print 8 10 12 SmVintage Cites Exept 1945 33" Real Leopard Ocelot Spotted Cat Fur Coat Jacket Women Red Vinyl Raincoat Trench Coat Rain Cape Rubber Regenmantel Gummj Pvc.Rare 1940 Denim Embroidered Vintage Jacket Shirt Levi Strauss Western GarmentVtg Rare 50's Cape Drape Hooded Screen Siren Swing Coat Princess Amazing!!!!Wonderful French Vintage 1940s Real Fur " Golden Sable " Ranch Mink JacketBroadtail Platinum Silver Fox Real Fur Poncho Cape Bolero Jacket Coat Stole WrapVintage 80s Suit Jacket Poker Cards Joker Harlequin Moschino Womens M L CoolVintage 1960s Rabbit Fur Collar & Animal Print Stenciled Elegant Coat Sz M*Vtg Real Nutria Fur Huge Fox Collar Hem Princess Hippie Boho Dress Jacket Coat Art Deco Opera Cocoon Jacket White Fur Trimmed Silk Damask Gold Cream QuiltedVtg 70s Navy Wool Minimalist Dolman Draped Military Blanket Cocoon Cape Jacket LVintage Golden Sable Gold Mink Fur Jacket Stroller Coat. Soft & Plush Uk Size 16Vintage Light Brown Mink Fur Leather Belted Trench Coat JacketGenuine Arctic White Shadow Fox Real Fur Coat Jacket Lynx Markings 8 - 10 - 12Vintage 1950s Rich Brown Mink Fur Ladies Long Coat Shawl Collar Luxurious Ex ConVintage 1980s Ivory & Gold Sequined & Beaded Silk Cocktail Jacket Sz M Vintage Old Raincoat Rain Coat Vinyl Pvc. Rubber Regenmantel Gummi MantelLuxurious Vtg 1980s Chestnut Brown Musquash Real Fur Coat Retro Chic 28 30Vtg Genuine Mink Fur Sweep Princess Coat Cape Jacket M/l RanchVintage 1980s Emerald Green Wool Plush Fox Fur Collar Drama Coat Sz Xl*Antique Civil War Prairie Gingham Smocked Bodice Blouse Jacket 4 Pattern /repairVtg 80s Rainbow Colorblock Wool Avant Garde Cocoon Oversize Drape Jacket Coat Os1870 Labelled "vignon Rue De Rivoli" Paris Rare JacketVintage 1980s Bill Blass Ivory Color Block Wool Coat Sz Xl*Vintage 60s Mod Structured Wool Fur Trim Fit Flare Dress Princess Coat Jacket LGold Ribbon Brocade Jacket Vintage 80s Caped Fitted Sz XsAntique Black 1920's Flapper Cape Coat Art Deco Era Vintage Clothing Velvet Luxurious Vtg 1980s Black Persian Lamb Astrakhan Swakaka Real Fur Coat 30 32Vintage Neiman Marcus Vicuna Coat Tilly Heitner Open Wrap Swing Coat BlackVtg 50s 60s Arctic Fox Fur Stole Wedding Wrap Cape Capelet Shrug Coat JacketGucci Vintage Coat Tartan Plaid With Fur Vintage 90s Does 60s Princess Pink Plush Fur Trim Jacket Sz MVtg 60s Real Fur Wild Mink Plush Hippie Boho Dress Cape Stole Jacket Coat OsVintage Brown Mink Fur Coat JacketVtg 50s Cream 100% Pure Cashmere Blonde Mink Fur Shawl Sweater Jacket CardiganVintage 1960s Lilac & Cream Hooded Fit & Flare Drama Coat Sz M*Vintage 1980s Plush Tanuki Fur Collar Charcoal Gray Wool Drama Swing Coat Sz L*Vintage Elsa Schiaparelli Pear Green Wool Coat Back Pleat Signature LiningVintage 80s Applique Swing Drama Opera Jacket One Size*Vtg 50s Silver White Fox Fur Stole Collar Opera Long Coat Pinup Shawl Wrap CapeVtg 80s Olive Minimalist Draped Stroller Swing Pleated Maxi Trench Jacket CoatAmazing Vintage 40's Princess Swing Wool Coat Dress * MediumVintage Brown Ivory White Long Mongolian Lamb Fur Coat Jacket BohoVtg Annikki Karvinen Finland Woven Black + Rainbow Quilted Geometric Jacket CoatVintage 1960s Leopard Animal Print Mod Faux Fur Coat Sz M*Vintage Black Charmeuse Negligee Bed Jacket Lingerie W Marabou FeathersVintage Mod, Hippie, Disco, Woman's Blonde Mink Fur Coat Vest Good ConditionVintage 1950's Cotton Brown And Yellow Hawaiian Tiki Bolero Jacket-sm/medium Unique Vtg 1960s Honey Mink Persian Lamb Real Fur Hat Coat Retro Small 21 InchAstrakhan Fur & Blonde Mink Vintage 1960s Car Jacket Sz L*Vintage 80's White Brown Spotted Rabbit Fur Hooded Coat JacketVintage 1980s Harley Davidson Distressed Leather Motorcycle Jacket Sz XsVtg 80s Rare Ooak Sequin Encrusted 'on The Road Again' Traffic Signs Tour JacketVintage 80's Brown Magenta Pink Purple Dyed Striped Sheared Fox Fur Jacket CoatMidnight Aztec Black Vintage 1970s Hippie Ethnic Mohair Sweater Coat Sz L*Vintage Sills Bonnie Cashin Mohair Swing CoatGoth Glam Vintage Black Velvet Feather Trim Hooded Boho Opera Cape Cloak CoatVintage Luxurious Fox Jacket Curly Lamb Mink Fur Coat Dress Boho Sz.med-Vintage 60s Wool Mink Fur Trim Green Winter Fall Jacket Swing Dress Coat S/m