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 Ivory Polar Arctic Norwegian Blue Fox Real Fur Coat Jacket Cape Wedding M LGenuine Saga Arctic Polar White Fox Real Fur Coat Jacket ПVtg Rich Dark Brown Canadian Wild Mink Real Fur Jacket Coat Nerz Pelz MantelMoncler Black Down Filled Womens Belted Puffer Jacket Coat Real Fur Collar 3 NrVintage 1945 Geoffroy Cat Ocelot Leopard Fox Fur Princess Coat Jacket 6 8 10Vintage Platinum Silver Fox Real Fur Cape Stole Shawl Wrap Jacket Coat 6 8 10 12Genuine Real Mink Fur Coat / Jacket Chestnut Sable Shade 14/16 Mint ConditionGenuine Pastel Mink Real Fur Coat Jacket Belt Sable Hue Nerz НGenuine Vintage Mink Real Fur Golden Sable Hue Stole Wrap Jacket CapeGenuine Vintage Natural Red Fox Real Fur Coat Jacket ЛMulti Coloured Rainbow Full Length Real Mink Fur Coat Jacket Cape 8 - 10 - 12 SmReal Mink Fur Coat / Jacket Chestnut Sable Shade 8-12 Mint Condition Nerz HopkaGenuine Real Mink Fur Coat Palomino Collar Uk 14 - 16 Mint Condition Wow Factor!Real Mink Bisam Fur Coat In Rich Ranch Mahogany Great Condition Uk Size 14-16+Genuine Real Arctic Fox Fur Jacket By Fabulous Condition Uk 12Vintage Shaggy Real Raccoon Fur Hooded Parka Leather Jacket Coat Cape Fishtail LExquisite Antique Vintage Canton Manilla Silk Jacket Coat, Birds FlowersGenuine Real Mink Fur Jacket In Cerulean Sapphire Blue 8-12 Excellent CondExquisitely Chic Vintage Silver Mink Fur Stole Cape Coat Wrap JacketVtg Real Silver Tip White Fox Fur Cape Collar Coat Boho Hippy Bridal Wrap M-lGlossy Vtg 1960s Blonde Mink Real Fur Cropped Jacket Coat Retro Boho 8 Luxurious Vtg 1980s Dark Brown Musuqash Real Fur Coat Retro Swing 18 20 22Genuine Natural Sapphire Silver Blue Real Mink Fur Jacket Coat НRare Chic Vtg Late 20s 30s 1930s Striped Woven Drop Waist Coat Blanket JacketLuxurious Vtg 1980s Brown Silver Speckled Fox Real Fur Hat Coat X Small 20 InchVintage 1960's Abbeygate Black/gold Wool Smoking Jacket/robe, Large - C59Vtg 60s Lilli Ann Snow White Cream Lamb Fur Princess Coat Shearling Boho Mod S-mVtg 70s Black Wool Minimalist Drape Funnel Cocoon Scarf Maxi Caftan Cape JacketSo Chic! Autumn Haze Brown Mink Fur Stroller Coat Jacket Bakelite ButtonsAutumno Genuine Sheepskin Shearling Fur Leather Diamond Quilt Jacket Coat XsVintage Genuine Real Mink Fur Coat In Rich Ranch Mahogany Excellent ConditionLuxurious Vtg 1980s Black Pony Mink Real Fur Coat Cape Retro Boho Chic 18 20 22Vtg 60s 70s Ethnic Womens Jacket Hand Embroidered Bright Colours Hippy S M IndiaVtg 90s Blue Longline Denim Jacket Oversize Baggy Coat 8 10 12 Urban OutfittersLuxurious Vtg 1980s Dark Brown Ranch Mink Real Fur Coat Retro Swing 10 12 14Chevron Vintage 1980s Tanuki Fur Amazing Fur Jacket Sz M Vtg 80s Avant Garde Plush Faux Fur Amethyst Reversible Silk Hooded Anorak JacketAkris Switzerland Double Faced Navy Green Wool Long Great Coat Jacket 14 Nr WowExquisite Vintage Tambour Crewelwork Embroidery Wool Jacket Coat Genuine Real Mink Fur Coat In Rich Ranch Mahogany Uk 8-10 Excellent ConditionImmaculate Vtg 1970s Dark Brown Ranch Mink Real Fur Coat Retro Chic 14 16Vintage Real Sheepskin & Mink Teddy Bear Outsize Cocoon Coat Jacket Medium 12 14Vintage 1960s Black Mink Fur Collar Sheared Beaver Coat Sz Xl*Vtg 80s Glam Silver Sequin Encrusted Silk 2 Piece Disco Crop Jacket + Mini SkirtUnique Vtg 1970s Dark Brown Otter Seal Real Fur Coat Hippy Boho 8 10So Chic! Sleek Grey Gunmetal Lutetia Mink Fur Jacket Shrug Coat 1970sLuxurious Vtg 1980s Black Persian Lamb Astrakhan Real Fur Coat 24 26Genuine Real Mink Fur Jacket Palomino / Champagne / Cream Uk 8-12 Excellent CondVintage Nude Floral Silk Velvet Devore Tassel Fringe Scarf Jacket Kimono S M LVintage Shaggy Real Raccoon Fur Hooded Parka Leather Jacket Coat Cape Fox Boho LVintage 80s Plush Fox Fur & Cross Mink Dramatic Glamour Coat Sz M*Vtg 70s Dove Gray Wool Southwestern Knit Blanket Drape Caftan Fringe Cape JacketSo Chic! Soft Fluffy Full Length Creamy Coyote Fur Coat Stroller Value $2500Luxurious Vtg 1960s Dark Brown Mink Real Fur Coat Jacket Bolero Stole 10 12 14Luxurious Vtg 1980s Dark Brown Ranch Mink Real Fur Coat Retro Swing 14 16Vintage Baroque Faux Fur Princess Toggle Coat Winter Parka Hippie Jacket 70s S Lovely Vtg 1980s Silver Fox Real Fur Hat Coat Boho Retro Small / Medium 21 1/2 Snidel Cream Beige Animal Print Rabbit Coney Fur Jacket Coat Size 10Vintage 90s Orchid Purple Wool Belted Cocoa Edge Coat Sz S*Retro Light Brown Mink Jacket Cape Stole - George's Furs S M