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]

The Antique Corset Gallery

The Antique Corset Gallery

Take a deep breath, and check out this sparse, simple, and beautifully designed site showcasing 250 years of corset… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

Real Fur 34" Long Dark "mahogany" Natural Ranch Mink Coat ~uk Size 14 To 16.Vtg Ivory Wool Fox Fur Trim Cape Poncho Coat Jacket Wrap Shawl O/sGenuine Arctic Shadow Cream Off White Fox Real Fur Coat Jacket ПVtg Cross Mink Dolman Fur Coat Cape Batwing Jacket Xs-m Vtg Platinum Blonde Mink Fur Swing Coat Jacket Cape S-mVtg Grey Mongolian Tibetan Fur Shaggy Lamb Coat Jacket Vest Cape S-mVtg 70s Silver Fox Fur Coat Chubby White Real Shaggy Boho Cape Draped Jacket S MReal Fur "autumn Haze" Natural Blonde Ranch Mink Jacket/bolero~uk Sz 14~16~mint.Vintage Genuine Norwegian Blue Fox Fur Stole Cape JacketVtg 60s Ranch Mink Fur Coat Princess Stroller Huge Collar Cape Long Drape JacketGenuine Real Mink Fur Jacket Bolero Blonde Sable ! Uk 10-12Vtg 60s Persian Lamb & Fox Shaggy Fur Grey Coat Jacket Cape S 46" Long Natural Russian Sable Coat~uk Sz 8 To 12~sobol Barguzin Kronen Zobel Genuine Vintage Natural Red Fox Real Fur Coat Jacket ЛGenuine Real Mink Fur Coat In Golden Blonde Sable Colour Size 10 - 14 ApproxVintage Real Fur Norwegian Blue Crystal Silver Fox Stole Wrap Scarf JacketVtg 60s Brown Mink Fur Coat Plush Draped Huge Collar Cape Opera Bridal Jacket MVtg Grey Sappire Silver Mink Fur Bolero Jacket Coat Cape S Genuine Real Mink Fur Coat Rich Chestnut Sable Shade Uk Mint ConditionVintage Chanel Paris Classic Linen And Silk Womens Jacket Blazer Size MVtg 60s Mink Fur Stole Coat Blonde Capelet Wrap Scarf Jacket Bridal Bolero CapeVtg Canadian Lynx Fur Plush Coat Cape Jacket SVintage Genuine Chanel Boutique Black Velvet & Gold Button Jacket Size 46 - W45Astounding Vtg 1920s Egyptian Revival Silk Fringed Robe Coat Embroidered FiguresSaga Mink Fur Coat Jacket Nerz Mantel Jacke Nerzjacke Visone нVtg 70s Ranch Mink Fur Coat Mahogany Bomber Leather Draped Cape Unisex Jacket MGenuine Vintage Real Mink Fur Jacket Coat Golden Sable Hue НVintage Laura Ashley Black Wool Velvet Mandarin Style Embroidered Coat 8/10ukVtg 60s Marbled Mink Fur Coat Plush Draped Huge Collar Cape Opera Bridal JacketFab Smoke Gray Embroidered Antique Edwardian 3 Pc Suit Coat,skirt & Tunic C1910Vtg 80s Muted Sapphire Blue Soft Plush Angora Knit Minimalist Cocoon Duster CoatVtg 20s Art Deco Flapper Coat Graphic Robe Bauhaus Dress Women's Lingerie ExoticVintage 1980s Plush Chinchilla Fur Trim Glamour Drama Iridescent Coat Sz LVtg Grey Real Mink Fur Design Jacket Coat Cape Xs-sGenuine Real Mink Fur Jacket In Golden Sable Shade Uk 8 -10 Mint ConditionGenuine Real Mink Fur Coat In Rich Ranch Mahogany F/l Excellent Condition 16/18Vintage 90s Christian Dior Berry Wool Walking Coat Sz L Vtg 70s Glam Shaggy Blk + White Fringed Loop Knit Faux Fur Yeti Boho Jacket CoatVintage 1980s Crystal Fox Fur Plush Glam Coat Sz SVintage Saga Fox Arctic Real Fur Chubby Coat Plush Winter White Jacket BlazerReal Rich Red Russian Ermine Fur Coat Approx Size 10Victorian 1880's Brown Silk Bustle Dress & Jacket Traveling EnsembleVtg 40s Wwii Swing Era Wool Fur Trim Princess Fit Flare Holiday Coat Jacket MGenuine Real Arctic Blue Saga Fox Fur Jacket By Mint ConditionVtg 60s Mink Fur Stole Coat Brown Shawl Cape Wrap Scarf Jacket Bridal Bolero Vintage Monsoon Black Midnight Velvet Beauty Classic Special Evening Coat 10Vintage 1980s Plush Raccoon Fur Glamour Coat Sz MVtg Black Wool & Mink Fur Swing Coat Jacket Cape LVintage Laura Ashley Victorian Green Tartan Plaid Frilled Collar Jacket 12-14ukVintage 60s Lilli Ann Rare Color Fox Fur Collar Jacket Coat Mod Princess Edwards Lowels Beverly Hills Black Fox Fur Tails Cape Boa Wrap Stole Shrug Coat Genuine Real Wool Fur Coat With Real Arctic Fox Fur Collar Stunning Real Canadian Grey Squirell Fur Reversible Coat Jacket Silver Mink БVintage 90s Plush Fox Fur Collar & Cuff Ebony Wool Glam Coat Sz Xl Vtg Lunaraine Mink & Fox Brown Fur Full Length Coat Cape Jacket S Ladies Patagonia Snaps T Fleece Pullover Green Jacket Size-sVintage 40s Monkey Long Fur Coat Colobus Vellerosus Gold Coast Princess Blonde Real Mink Fur Swing Coat Pelz Visone Fuchs Pelzmantel Wie Nerz Stunning Black Ugg Australia Alpine Shearling And Leather Jacket Size: M $975 !!Vintage 40s Wwii Silver Fox Plush Glam Boho Chubby Cape Coat Jacket