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    

Vintage 40s Original Arnold Constable Princess Fit N Flare Camel Coat 8 10 S Vintage Huge Real Silver Arctic White Fox Fur Stole Wrap Bolero Scarf Coat GiletAuzerine Natural Jasmine White Silver Ivory Cream Blonde Ranch Mink Coat JacketFabulous 1980s Vtg Blonde Mink Real Fur Coat Stole Cape Chic Wonderland 18 20Genuine Vintage Real Mink Fur Jacket Coat Golden Sable Hue Норка 16 - 18 - 20Vintage 40s 50s Original Black Swing Coat W Paris Novelty Print Lining 12 14 MLadies Genuine Real Mink Fur Pastel Sable & Fox Fur Coat Jacket 10~ 12 ~14 ?Genuine Vintage Silver Grey Sapphire Mink Real Fur Large Stole Wrap Jacket НОРКАReal Arctic Snow White Silver Fox Fur Hood Gilet Vest Coat Jacket Bodywarmer Genuine Vintage Natural Red Fox Real Fur Coat Jacket Mink Sable Лиса 8 - 10 - 12Genuine Vintage Natural American Grey Red Fox Real Fur Coat Jacket Лиса 12 - 14Suede Afghan Penny Lane Coat Jacket Hippy Boho 10 8 6 Us 4 6 2 70s Folk StyleVintage Zandra Rhodes Blue Devore Velvet Cape/kimono/opera Coat/robeBeautiful Vintage 1945 Exotic Spotted Wild Cat Fox Not Mink Real Fur Coat 12 14Vintage Genuine Real Mink Fur Coat Jacket Autumn Haze Sable Shade 10/12 20" Long Real Fur Vintage Mahogany Ranch Mink Jacket Bolero~uk Size 12 To 14...Vintage 1980s Silver Fox Real Fur Coat Stole Cape Boho Gypsy Chic 12 14Unisex "real Canadian Alaskan Timber Wolf Coyote Fox Fur Coat Jacket M-lGenuine Vintage Mahogany Brown Mink Real Fur Bolero Jacket Coat 10 - 12 - 14Ladies Vintage Genuine Real Mink Fur Jacket Bolero Coat Pastel Sable 10/12/14 ??Vintage Genuine Mink Fur Cape Jacket Stole Shawl Wrap Evening Coat Vintage 50s 60s Original Silk Cheongsam Dress N Matching Jacket 10 S Exquisite Original 1930s Black Lace And Silk Satin Coat Dress - Uk 8Vintage Chimayo Blanket Jacket In RedGenuine Azurene Off White Pearl Mink Real Fur Stole Wrap Cape Jacket Норка 8- 14Vintage 60s 70s Faux Fur Coat Spotted Exotic Animal Cheetah Leopard Fuzzy BlackVintage 1980s Silver Fox Real Fur Coat Stole Cape Boho Gypsy Chic 14 16Magnificent Vtg 1941 Exotic Wildcat Spotted Cat Not Mink Fox Real Fur Coat 20 22Unique Vintage 1941 Exotic Fox Wildcat Spotted Real Fur Coat Cape Swing 16 18Large Vtg 1950s Brown Silver Speckled Fox Real Fur Stole Cape Coat Shrug Dita Vintage Mink Coat Shawl Collar The Tailored Woman Madison Ave Nyc Plus Size 42"lLadies Vintage Genuine Real Wild Mink Fur Jacket Coat Bolero Chestnut Brown Ladies Vintage Real Mink Fur Jacket Coat Pastel Sable Shade 28" Long 12~14/16Pink Faux Fur Coat. Vintage 1990's. *never Been Worn*. Size 14Vintage 1960s Dark Brown Rabbit Mink Real Fur Stole Cape Coat Shrug Dita Chic Vintage 50s Original Simon Massey Black Tailored Suit Jacket Red Lining 10 12 SVtg 50s Shadow Gray Cashmere Soft Draped Minimalist Trapeze Jacket Stroller CoatMagnificent Saga Mink 1980s Vintage Dark Brown Real Fur Coat Retro Chic 22 24 26Vintage Real Mink Fur Jacket Coat Mahogany Darkest Brown Scalloped Edges 8~10/12Vintage Laura Ashley Grey Wool Fur Collar Full Length Oversized Coat 10/12/14/16Vintage 1960s Honey Blonde Mink Real Fur Cropped Coat Stole Retro Chic 8 10Magnificant Genuine Real Mink Fur Jacket Coat Rich Mahogany Brown 14~16 1900 Violet Silk Imaginative Silk Jacket Lavish Soutash Nyc Couture LabelStylish Luxurious Sapphire Blue Iris Mink Full Length Fur Coat Xl / Xxl Vgc1950 Jean Patou Paris Label On Cream Silk Faille CoatMint Condition 27" Long Canadian Alaska Timber Wolf Coat Jacket~uk Size 8 To 10.1900 Gorgeous Cream Wool Jacket Colorful Soutash Layered Shawl Collar Nyc LabelWomens Navajo Blanket Jacket Bright Multi Color Geometric Print Coat Unlined MVintage 1980s Glossy Black Rabbit Real Fur Coat Cape Stole Boho Chic 12 14Vintage 1940's 50's Designer Lilli Ann Cashmere Coat Fox Fur Collar L Xl1940s 40s Black Gabardine Fitted Suit Rockabilly New Look Jacket AsianLush 1980s Vtg Chocolate Brown Moose Red Fox Real Fur Coat Red Fox Stole 14 16Fred Perry Women's Red Twin Taped Harrington Jacket - Uk 10/eur 38/usa 6Beautiful Vintage Powdery Blue Mohair Long Coat -3/4 Sleeves -1950's -size 12/14Vintage 70s Blue Suede Leather Jacket Grey Faux Fur Trim Boho Glam Hippie SVintage 1950s Pale Blonde Mink Real Fur Stole Cape Shawl Coat Bridal Retro DitaBlue Fox Real Fur Dolman Coat Jacket Cape Poncho Stole Gilet Vest 14 16 18 M XlFabulous 1980s Vtg Fox Real Fur Coat Cape Boho Gypsy Chic Shaggy 16 18Vintage Soft Glossy Silver Fox Fur Full Length CoatWomens Navajo Blanket Jacket Long Bright Multi Color Geometric Print Coat Boho