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

While primarily designed to steer buyers to online vintage clothing shops, this blog is chock full of interesting, … [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    

Vintage Laura Ashley Green Teal Silk Velvet Golden Embroidered Coat 14-16uk RareVtg 90s Moss Green Flax Woven Linen Drape Minimalist Lagenlook Dress Jacket TopVintage 1960's Sundress With Bolero Jacket, Xsmall/small, Cotton, Full SkirtRich Vintage 1920's Flapper Burnished Copper Silk Velvet Bell Sleeve Jacket,robeVtg 80s Patchwork Chevron Leather Avant Garde Draped Cape Cocoon Jacket Coat SmlVintage Chimayo All Wool Woven Blanket Jacket 1870’s Linen Bustle Back Duster Coat W Brown Piping As FoundIncredibly Rare Vintage 1920's Babani Haute Couture Embroidered Blue Silk JacketVintage Laura Ashley White Cotton Crochet+jacket Summer Wedding M/l 10/12/14ukVintage 90s Tartan Plaid Peplum Jacket Sz MVintage '47-'60's Genuine Fur Coat, M, Carcoat Length, Spotted, Geoffrey CatAuthentic Regency Era Dress Jacket Hand Sewn 1810 - 1820'sVintage Chanel Women's Wool Matching Jacket And Skirt80s Plus Size 20 Teal Metallic Prom Dress/jacket Wild Child, New WaveVintage 1980s St John By Marie Gray Cherry Red Cardigan Sweater Jacket Sz MVintage 90 Caged Sheer Beaded & Sequined Ruffle Trim Layering Jacket Sz LVintage Chinese Embroidered Silk Kimono Sleeve Jacket Bai Hua Boho Frog ClosureVintage 80s Pastel Yellow Kitten Bow Fluid Swing Dramatic Opera Jacket Sz L/xlBlue Fish Jennifer Barclay Original 1993 Poet Flock Button-up Shirt/jacket Sz 2Vtg 90s Sheer Burnout Silk Velvet Black Gypsy Gothic Festival Draped Jacket TopVtg Long Dark Golden Sable Genuine Mink Fur Coat Deanfield London No ReserveJacket By Vivienne Westwood "anglomania" 1980'sVintage Windbreaker Warm Up Jacket Zip Up Spring Coat 90s Lightweight Retro FitVintage 90s Black On Black Embellished Sheer Floral Lace Bolero Jacket Sz L Burberry Iconic Women's Trench Coat Mac L Eur 44Vintage 90s Sage Embroidered Floral Lace Beaded Layering Jacket Sz M Vintage 90s Black & White Metallic Herringbone Belted Caped Detective Jacket Sz New John Richmond Debenhams Cream Wool Blend Belted Trench Coat 10 - Cl1 S43Vintage 80s Denim Acid Wash Heavily Studded Jacket Sz LVintage 80s Does 40’s Velvet Mocha Kitten Bow Jacket Sz Xl1950s 50s 60s Elegant Brocade A-line Mink Trim Cocktail Party Dress Jacket Set MCrop Top Jacket Buckle Chaleco Motorcycle Chia Leather Biker Waistcoat Zipper M Vintage Womans Men Coat Cape Fur Mink Beaver Burr's Danbury Conn Ct Glowing Vintage 1920's Flapper Watermelon Silk Bell Sleeve Evening Jacket,coatUnbranded Vintage Beige Suede Leather White Fox Fur Trim 3/4 Sleeve Jacket CoatVintage Nautical Jacket Button Up Coat Navy Blaze Doublebreasted Overcoat FitParis Label 1890-1900 Black Silk Lingerie Vintage JacketVintage 80s Leather Black Rose Lasercut Western Fringed Jacket Sz L Fred Perry Red Faux Fur Hooded Parka Jacket - Uk 10 - Winehouse Ska Mod RetroVintage 90s Ivory Boucle Moto Edge Textured Sweater Jacket Sz XsLovely Genuine Black Fur Coat, ~size 14, Excellent Condition, Sheared Beaver?Vintage 1960s Poppy Red Embossed Asian Edge Slk A Line Walking Coat Sz SVintage 1950s Spring Swing Coat Notched Shawl Collar Buttonless - Hess Brothers Vintage Levi's Denim Jacket - Pre-1971 Size SmallBeautiful Vtg. Orchid 2 Pc Sheer Nylon Chiffon Nightgown & Bed Jacket Sz.lVtg 70s Floral Hippy Psychedelic Poppy Print Cirette California Gauze Jacket TopVintage 90s Does 70s Suede Sangria Faux Fur Trim Ethnic Jacket Sz MVintage 80s Black Leather Jacket G Iii Fringe Motorcycle Bomber Western Womens MVintage 60s 70s Mod Chevron Cape Cloak A-line Swing Coat Woven NauticalVintage 90’s Cream Vegan Leather Piping Rare Boho Chic Peplum Jacket Sz MStunning Vintage 70's Suede Long Coat Gucci Final ReductionVintage 90’s Black Ruffled Rose Applique Wrap Opera Jacket Sz XlVtg 90's Zoran Black 100% Cashmere Cardigan Sweater Duster Coat Loose One SizeVintage 1940s Mexican Folk Art Jacket White Wool Embroidered Tourist Souvenir Edwardian Pinstriped Challis Wool Jacket W Thick BeltingVtg Red Tab Levis Jean Jacket Levi Denim Button Up Coat Usa Made Size 38 !!! FitVintage 30s Ladies "maribou" Bed JacketVintage 80s Paris Periwinkle Purple Mod Embroidered Wool Jacket Sz S Vintage Chinese Embroidered Silk Satin Oriental Lounge Jacket MVintage 90’s Black & Grey Zebra Mod Edge Leggy Jacket Sz L