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In many Sci-fi books, films and video games, the baddies need to have something that sets them apart from our strong jawed heroes. Typically in the form of a gas mask and trench coat (especially if they are space Nazis, hiss), and while looking both cool and good little black targets, it did get me thinking:

Why would a future military field a trench coat?

Asides from looking evil, possibly giving some warmth, comfort and maybe some protection if made of the right stuff, I just don’t see any practical reason why the standards issue uniform would be the trench coat. But I would like to know if someone else have any other ideas.

Some points the base our assumptions of of:

  • the environment that these uniforms are deployed in are earth like and in door. For sake of simplicity, environments like vacuum and extreme worlds such as Titan (Titans a moon I know) are going to be ignored. Because they would require a space suit to survive. Though if you want to add a reason why a Astro solider would wear a trench coat in such conditions, be my guest.

  • the military has access to advanced materials like CNT, graphene, spider silk, future polymers etc.

  • the length of the coat will be split into two types; long, which reach above the heels; and short, which hang around just over top or bottom of the knee’s. Any shorter and it’s a tunic.

Please note, I’m asking this question as something to keep in mind of when designing a world(s) I’m currently working on. I do not know if I’ll include trench coats into any setting, it really depends on this post and what I want in this world.

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    $\begingroup$ Some old military trench coats actually unfolded in to garments that covered nearly the entire body, with the exception of feet, hands, and face. I could easily see them as some kind of emergency hazmat/space suit feature. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 2 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ I used to own one, it had "legs" that folded up into the coat and was buttoned up out of the way. it also had a hood stowed in the collar. I'll try to find an example but search keeps giving me modern fashion trench coats. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 2 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I have a similar issue when looking up authentic examples of war time trench coats. $\endgroup$ – Seraphim Apr 2 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ Recognize that throughout history, military uniforms have been FAR more about style than practicality. That's true even today, outside of combat fatigues. (At least in the US military: don't know all that much about others.) Consider for instance the really stupid-looking hats they make officers wear... $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 2 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf During times of active warfare, practicality typically wins out. The "stupid hats" originated so that Grunts would know who was in charge. (Of course, that means the enemy does too, and can snipe the officers - part of why US Rangers don't wear rank insignia in the field) The "fashion" thing only really applies when there's either not much real fighting going on, or if the detachment is largely ceremonial. Of course, items invented for practicality, worn by successful soldiers, who then continue to wear them once they return to civilian life, often then become style or fashion $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Apr 3 at 12:33

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First, some history.

The first recognizable trench coat was first introduced during the First World War, hence the name. It was not, however, invented specifically for the trenches, as the name might imply: it was actually meant to be a lighter-weight, more comfortable and less-fussy version of the 19th century greatcoat. Both had the same overall purpose, however, which was to keep soldiers (more typically, officers) warm while on campaign in cold, rainy western Europe. Some trench coats had a rubber lining to make them waterproof, while others were made of thick, water-resistant and potentially anti-bacterial wool. Trench coats fell out of military use in the early days of World War II, because they could hinder forward movement in the far more mobility-oriented conflict. However, the German military continued to use them, particularly the officers of the SS. I'm not sure what advantage the SS thought this might grant them, and my suspicion is that it was meant to set them apart from the regular Wehrmacht more than anything else.

So, what are trench coats good for: they keep you warm, especially when lined and properly buttoned, and if they have the right coating, they can keep you dry as well. Any conflict that were to break out in cold, rainy country, and which does not necessitate rapid attack or deployment, might reinvigorate the trench coat. Silly as it may sound, in a border conflict between the United States and Canada might see the resurgent use of trench coats in the "Cascades" and "Great Lakes" theaters of the conflict.

Let's get weirder. Maybe a war has broken out on a planet or moon which rains something really weird: liquid methane, perhaps. Let's handwave up some material that can protect against the extreme cold temperature of such a planet and the negative effects of, well, methane rain, yet is not as bulky as a full spacesuit, YET would not be as effective if it was just worn as an Old Man's War-style tactical leotard. If such a conflict DOES necessitate rapid attack and deployment, but protection from the elements is still a serious concern, then soldiers in protective facemasks and ankle-length trench coats is not so crazy. Ditto for an environment where radiation might be a concern: whip up some magical rad-blocking material, then throw on an extra layer of the stuff just in case, and hey maybe it should cover not just the torso but as much of the legs as possible too, while we're at it. Think an inner-system planet close to an angry sun, or combat aboard a ship with an active reactor leak.

Basically, any setting in which flexible coverage providing protection from ambient elements you can come up with, would at least be a setting where trench coats don't seem completely daft. And, I mean, pair it with a good suit and the right hat, EVERYONE looks good in a trench coat, even the good guys. Take that, Space Ratzis.

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    $\begingroup$ Huh, never thought of it that way, thanks! $\endgroup$ – Seraphim Apr 2 at 7:09
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    $\begingroup$ Really like the ship fighting angle. No need to run, no where to run, potentially low temperatures,... $\endgroup$ – MakorDal Apr 2 at 7:23
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    $\begingroup$ The Red Army used trench coats. Everyone used trench coats/great coats in World War 2 in cold climates, not just SS officers. Look at World War 2 photos and you'll see Americans in them, Germans in them, British in them, Russians in them, Finns in them...the standard stereotype for a Russian soldier in winter these days is still someone in a trench coat. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Apr 2 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison Actually the first trench coats were invented by the Russians to keep warm during the winter. It is a Russian traditional fashion. It's not just for the military, it can be for civilian clothing too. But the Russian military was the first one to adopt the trenchcoat as a uniform. Russian military units like the Streltsy, Oprichniki, and Cossacks were famous for wearing trenchcoats as their main uniform. Trenchoats were also used by Polish soldiers, and Caucasian djigits of Shamil, which is not surprising since they are direct neighbors of Russia, with lots of cultural exchange. $\endgroup$ – Galaxy Apr 2 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Seraphim Given the Russian's preference to trench coats, I would think that tradition also plays a large role in determining the uniforms of soldiers. If there are Cossacks in your described future military, I doubt that they would readily wear anything but trench coats. Indded, the Vostroyan troops in Warhammer 40k wear trench coats as part of their uniform just because of tradition more than anything else. $\endgroup$ – Galaxy Apr 2 at 20:21
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Swiss-Army Jacket (think towel from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)

When you are on the move (as you often are in military conflict) you want to carry as little as possible, so items need to be as multi-functional as possible. If you are at home its nice to have a knife, spoon, and fork, but if you are hiking its nice to only have to carry a spork - even if it doesn't work as well. Likewise, a rainjacket, windbreaker, coat, blanket, and satchel are ideal but having one item of clothing that serves all those functions is much lighter to carry. I read somewhere that the original trench coats had a lot of folds that could be unbuttoned to make a blanket. They can be made to have many pockets to hold many items which makes those items easier to find at a moments notice and also dissipates the pressure off your shoulders. They can be cinched and buttoned tightly to keep you warm, or loosely to let a breeze through.

Perhaps, with the fancy material they could be made of, they have even more uses: they can float in case you fall in water, they could serve to keep you warm when needed and cool when needed, they mimic the background for camouflage and break up your outline, they are impregnated with "insect"-repellent (or what ever they want repelled on this other planet), they protect you from harmful radiation, they are bullet proof. Fancy new-age material could also make them super lightweight, breathable, and comfortable to walk/hike in - like hiking in a long, nonrestrictive silk dress that doesn't get caught on shrubbery or paste itself to your thighs.

Why not just have a skin-tight cat suit that does these things?

Sometimes extra fabric comes in handy: make them into a tent during a sand storm, put them on the spikey ground so you can sit, they can partially unzip to create ropes, they can store solar energy from the sun for later use (bigger surface area = more energy), use them as a blanket, if you are stranded lay them inside out so their bright colored lining and large size help people locate you, their inside is printed with instructions or translations or a map in case you are stranded and need to fix your spaceship or talk to the locals but your futuristic army cellphone is out of battery, you can open them up to make a shield (radiation, bullets etc) in case you find some poor soul unfortunate enough not to have a trench coat. The point is if you need something like a blanket or large coat for any reason you might as well make it your go to item of clothing rather than carry it in a backpack while using other things.

I'll leave you with a quote from Hichhikers to get your imagination going

“A towel, [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow, really good answer. $\endgroup$ – The Daleks Apr 3 at 0:42
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    $\begingroup$ "They can be made to have many pockets to hold many items which makes those items easier to find at a moments notice" -- Allow me to laugh. I've got only six pockets in my trousers and when I need to find something in there, I need to check all of them twice before finding the item in the first pocket on the third try... ^^ $\endgroup$ – orithena Apr 3 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ @orithena, a place for everything and everything in its place. Keep them tucked in the same pocket all the time and train in where things can be found. $\endgroup$ – Willeke Apr 5 at 9:04
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    $\begingroup$ loose cloth is better for ballistic protection as well, skin tight bullet proof cloth won't lose energy the way a flap of cloth that has to move air out of the way will. there is a reason many gun ranges use drop cloth like ballistic barriers. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 9 at 23:31
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When considering future war you have to realize it is simply not realistic. For all the Expanse's realism it still uses humans in its combat ships because it allows us to tell an interesting story. Droney the Drone is simply not interesting unless we give him human characteristics for no reason. It would be easier and cheaper on earth to start building drone swarms that detonate on infantry, guide in artillery shells and dismantle supply lines than it is to maintain tanks, aircraft and infantry. So any future story will immediately be asking for your suspension of disbelief (or hoping you dont know what tech might be available).

What do trenchcoats offer over other types of armor? Well they are less form-fitting and more draped over the person. If the trenchcoat is made from a bullet resistant material like spidersilks and graphene/CNT's and other super materials it would offer a layer of highly resistant material that can catch a bullet and stop it over a distance. You still need to spread the force of any shot, so the soldier wears a framework on his body over which the trenchcoat is draped. This framework doesnt have to be any thicker than current bodyarmor. The trenchcoat is stiff as well, making it easier to catch a bullet and reduce the impact. Since trenchcoats cover so much of the body it also offers a lot of protection against shrapnel from grenades, mortars and artillery. Since it is so large it could also be worn over your space-suit, protecting that what is keeping you alive.

A layer of Graphene is also hydrophobic, making rain and mud slide off easily. So a soldier could be crawling through the mud one moment and not have to worry about leaving a trail of mud and water behind him the next. It could also protect against some liquid chemical attacks. If equipped with air-screens it might even offer limited protection against aerosol chemical weapons. Perhaps even having a small canister of neutrilizing agent that fills the interior of the trenchcoat when a chemical gas is detected to help the soldier keep fighting or at least survive.

Since it is so sizeable it can also have a lot of pockets inside and outside to protect and carry a lot of ammo or gadgets with you. This allows you to use it like a more plausible Batmans Utility Belt.

A large trenchcoat can also be used as camouflage, as it is harder to identify the human shape when someone uses a trenchcoat especially one with camouflage patterns. On the other side of the coin it also makes it easier to build decoys as all you have to do is build a scarecrow with a trenchcoat, helmet and gasmask or something similar.

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm...I'd argue that cyber warfare, lag and potential glitches may still require a human element. But that's my opinion; you do make a good point either way! $\endgroup$ – Seraphim Apr 2 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ "Droney the Drone is simply not interesting unless we give him human characteristics for no reason." You still need boots on the ground to control the population you're trying to conquer. At the bare minimum, Droney the Drone needs to be able to talk to the locals he's trying to pacify. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Apr 3 at 3:24
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Looking good!

First have a long period of peace. In this period, the main principle for uniform designer was that it should look cool. For many years, different armies competed mainly in how snazzy they looked on the parade ground.

Trench coats look cool. The coolest.

Then war broke out. Sure, the coat can be hard to move in, but nobody wants to discard the very symbol of a competent soldier.

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In the future conflict, for the topmost layer clothing you want something which...

  • offers stealth against sensor suites of all manner of drones by hiding the gear soldier is carrying under a layer of sensor blocking/absorbing material (same principle as having internal weapon bays etc in current stealth aircraft), and by being cool on the outer surface so more difficult to pick up with IR sensors, and have color-changing chameleon surface to deceive image recognition (and human eye).
  • offers radiation protection
  • has moderate level ballistic protection, because almost all incoming fire will be indirect or long range, and rely on shrapnel instead of direct hits, or be small caliber from smaller drones etc
  • includes a built in temperature control system because many battlefields will be unbearably hot
  • offers good protection against wind and rain for the whole body
  • is relatively cheap to manufacture, so no full exoskeleton or full-body armor suit (those are for special forces and only worn while on an actual mission)
  • is easy to take off and put back on when inside bunkers, vehicles etc, because all the above features are going to make it a bit on the heavy side, but you still want to be able to wear it also outside combat
  • can easily adapt to different amounts of gear being worn under it
  • is relatively idiot-proof, just another piece of clothing really

When you add all the above together, you end up with a future version of trench coat: chameleon color changing surface on the outside, 1-2 cm thick with ballistic protection and active sensor signal absorbing and thermal control layers, future Velcro-like closing mechanism in the front.


For actual space operations, you want a space suit which can be worn at all times, even inside, so it really needs to be almost a skin-suit. And then when you actually go out into the space environment, you need something to quickly put over the skin suit, for extra radiation and abrasion protection... So basically everything above, still applies, the trench coat just needs to be designed to operate in vacuum instead of in atmosphere (especially for all the temperature control stuff etc).

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The situation demanded for protective gear. And the Powers That Be, in their infinite quest to save credits, confiscated a cargo ship with clothes.

The most common item was the Trenchcoat and it snowballed from there.

Think that history is funny sometimes. Wristwatches were used among ladies for centuries but they really evolved on the battlefield among officers. The item was handy/desirable and propagated among the ranks.

Give Trenchcoats to people in power and the rest of society will try to conform. They don't have to be PERFECT. Just get them GOOD ENOUGH.

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Trenchcoats as semi-disposable outer garment.

The conflict happens on a world much like Earth. More or less habitable in a shirtsleeves environment, but there are two things in the environment:

  • Some nasty gunk, from mud to bird droppings to tree sap. Getting it onto your skin is icky. Getting it out of your body armor is hard work. (Leaving it on your body armor makes the armor icky.)
  • Some nasty thorns or the like in the environment that degrade clothing and gear. Say waist-high grass with sharp edges. Or thorny bushes.

So you want some sort of overgarment that can be cleaned more easily than body armor and web gear, that will resist minor cuts and abrasions, and that can be thrown away if cleaning and mending looks too much work.

A standard issue rain poncho hinders movement too much and does not last enough. Enter the trenchcoat.

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    $\begingroup$ Some old trench coats even unfold to cover the legs entirely (almost like jodhpur pants), if you desire. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 2 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ Might be interesting if the planet has some kind of slightly corrosive liquid that condenses out of gases in the upper atmosphere. $\endgroup$ – Jehan Apr 2 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ So to relate this to antiquity - its a modern take on a surcoat, which was worn over armour to keep the sun off, protect the armour and its finish from incidental scratches, provide identification at a distance, and to some extent provide padding. Easier to was a surcoat than buff and panelbeat the armour, especially in the field. $\endgroup$ – Criggie Apr 3 at 3:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Jehan we have that. It's called acid rain. You'd just have to dial it up a few notches. $\endgroup$ – AI0867 Apr 5 at 10:19
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Time tested way of getting naked in a hurry.

flasher dude

source

Your future soldiers live in circumstances where they must get totally naked at a moments notice. Perhaps they fight inter dimensional battles like the folks in the Terminator series, and cannot bring anything with them. They have to be ready to go at a moments notice. They don't want their clothes to be molecularly disrupted by the transporter because what will they wear when they come back. Nothing covers better and is quicker to shuck than a trench coat. Flashers have known this for decades and your soldiers know it too. Film this scene first because it will be perfect for your trailer.

When they return from their planar battles, they likewise shed the astral goo and psionic residues and materialize back in their own skins, and pick up their trench coats. The military sews name tags onto them because there might be a few of them in the heap.

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They hide weapons.

If the military wants to make things look peaceful, you don't want your soldiers waltzing around with their guns out; so hide them in the coats. Is that soldier over there carrying a pistol, or is there an automatic weapon hidden there instead? The environmental protections as suggested by other answers are potential bonuses.

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They Look Bad*ss

Your bad guys need some kind of intimidation factor to keep normal people from bothering them. Trench coats (and gas masks, per your question) obscure the body anatomy in a way that other clothes don't, stimulating people's fear of the unknown (the same reasons clowns are creepy - we dont know that they're expressing).

You can hide Cool Sh*t (tm)

What do your Bad Guys need to operate? Probably weapons and some kind of contraband, be it intel, drugs or whatever. What's the best way to hide odd-shaped items? A cloak! What's the least conspicuous way to have a cloak? A trench coat! You could even have bulkier, drapier trench coats for lower-levels, since they need to handle stuff more, and tighter, sleeker looking ones for the upper brass.

Futuristic janitors SUCK

The janitors maintaining your indoor environment are horrible at their job! Dirt gets tracked everywhere, it's always wet, there's constant water leakage. A trench coat offers reasonable protection from splashing water if you have to walk through a shallow puddle. You could also drop the janitors and say that the outside world is basically the Pacific Northwest, in which case they also provide protection.

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