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”)



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

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [read review or visit site]



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    

Genuine Vintage Real Mink Fur Coat Jacket Bolero Sable Hue Норка 8 - 10 - 12 Superb Original 1930s Moss Crepe Evening Dress And Bolero Jacket - Uk 8Vtg 60s Oleg Cassini Luxurious Real Pastel Brown Mink Fur Lloyd's Jacket CoatGenuine Vintage Natural Red Fox Real Fur Coat Jacket Лиса Шуба Pelz 10 - 12 Vtg 80s Sepia 100% Wool Minimalist Draped Volume Open Shawl Tent Jacket Coat OsVtg White Ivory Cream Beige Blonde Real Fur Mink Stole Bolero Jacket Nerz PelzStunning Original 1930s Black Velvet And Ivory Satin Evening Coat - Uk 8 / 10Vintage Real N. American Raccoon Fur Silver Grey Fox Hue Jacket Coat 8 - 10 - 12Original 1930s Beaded Lavender Chiffon Evening Dress And Jacket - Uk 8 / 10Vintage Monsoon Twilight Velvet Beauty Maxi Riding Style Evening Coat 12/14Vintage 80s 90s La Gear Cropped Denim Jean Acid Washed Sequin Jacket Coat Size MVintage Retro Glamour White Heart Winter Full Length Faux Snow Leopard Fur CoatOoak Vtg 70s Handmade Indigo Reversible Ultra Drape Trapeze Swing Cape Jacket OsGenuine Vintage Real Nutria Fur Coat Jacket Brown Mink Hue Нутрия 10 - 12 - 14 Vintage Real Fur Animal Print Gilet Vest Coat Jacket Fox Lynx Mink 12 - 14 - 16Genuine Vintage Real Nutria Fur Coat Jacket Beige Mink Hue 12 - 14 Vintage Animal Print Leopard Cheetah Mod Hollywood Glam Chic Retro Coat JacketFred Perry Women's Beige Collared Harrington Jacket - Uk 12/ Eur 40/ Usa 818thc Childs Lavish Silver Metallic Embroidered Coat/hood W/family Crest/crossVtg 50s Hawaiian Sea Turtles Novelty Print Rockabilly Circle Skirt Dress +jacketVintage 80s Duster Coat Jacket Woven Navajo Southwest Western Pioneer WearVintage 1930's* Purple* Silk Velvet Bias Cut Dress+ Wrap Jacket..2 Pcs.. SmallRare! Vintage Women’s 1940’s Hollywood Leisure Jacket! Vintage Coat Saga Fox Fur Genuine Cream White Glamour Halloween Autumn WinterVtg Ladies Hudson Bay Wool Point Blanket Coat Sz Xl White Multi Stripe JacketVtg Black 100% Cashmere Knit Minimalist Oversized Boyfriend Shirt Jacket Coat LVintage Lilli Ann Gamine & Flirty French Faux Pony With Lamb Trim CoatVtg 70s Mahoganey East West Buttery Leather Shrunken Aviator Crop Biker Jacket SVintage CoatVtg Tent Pompom Faux Fur Real Metallic Embossed Leather Draped Cape Coat SwingerAntique Hand Done Irish Crochet Swallow Tail Jacket Snow White BeautyLynx Fur Coat VintageWomen's Vintage Forstmann Swing Coat ~ Plaid 100% Virgin Wool Size M/lVintage Coat Jacket Fox Fur CollarVintage Never Worn Deerskin Buckskin Western Jacket - Very FineFavourbrook For Saks Collection - Red Embroidered Velvet Long Jacket - Size 10Womens Burberry CoatVintage Blonde Mink Fur Coat Genuine Autumn Haze Hooded Jacket Craft Cutter Vtg Swing Coat Black Velvet Trapeze Opera Maternity Evening Jacket Union MadeVintage Lilli Ann Early 60s Silk Dress Suit Jacket ModVintage 70s Cape Columbia Wool CoatVintage Red Wool Ladies Coat Lilli Ann San Francisco Excellent ConditionVtg 70s Nutmeg Knit Bell Sleeve Ethnic Chevron Fair Isle Festival Cardigan CoatVintage Genuine Sapphire Silver Grey Mink Fur Jacket Coat White Craft CutterVintage Curly Sheep Goat Real Fur Wrap Jacket Hippy 70s Coat Parka Cape Boho M/lVintage Levi Strauss Blue Denim Trucker Jacket Sz M/l WomensReal Mink & Vintage 1960s Silver Leather Fur Chevron Mod Jacket Sz Xs / SVintage Pendleton 49er-style Yellow And Gray Wool Plaid JacketVtg 60's Leopard Print Cape / Coat Vintage Vintage Faux Fur Mod 1960'sVtg 40's Friess Original Blue Gabardine Wool Nipped Waist Tailored Jacket SVintage 1940s Mouton/sheared Lamb Fur Jacket/swing Coat Brown Clean! Ex!Vintage 70s Coat Faux Fur Halloween Hippie Gangster Curella Deville Black Glamorous 1930's Vintage Purple Velvet Evening Coat Swing Pinup HalloweenGreat Harris Tweed JacketMint Soft Chinchilla Rex Mink Rabbit Silver Gilet Vest Bodywarmer Coat Jacket Vintage Shaggy Shabby Shearling Lamb Fur Leather Patchwork Coat Parka Toggle 70sJudith Ann Creations Vintage 3/4 Length Coat Size LargeGenuine Vintage Sable Brown Mink Fur Coat,stole, Cape, Wrap, JacketGenuine Vintage Real Nutria Fur Full Length Coat Jacket Mink Hue Нутрия 12 - 14 Vtg Blue Suede Fringe Tooled Leather Top Jacket Festival Boho Hippie Cape Poncho