Lightweight and rainproof, Burberry’s tartan-lined trench has risen from utilitarian staple to jet-setter’s must-have.

The Origins: In 1879, English outfitter Thomas Burberry invented gabardine, a water-resistant fabric that he used to create comfortable rain gear—a godsend for oft-soaked Brits. London’s first Burberry shopopened in Haymarket in 1891.

Call of Duty: During World War I, the company provided coats to British Army officers to wear in the trenches—hence the moniker.

Video: More Stylish Rain Gear

Daredevil-Approved: Around the same time, Burberry became the go-to supplier of adventurers, including Sir Ernest Shackleton—who wore its outerwear to Antarctica in 1914—and John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, pilots who donned the company’s aviator suits in 1919 to complete the first nonstop transatlantic flight.

Royal Treatment: Queen Elizabeth II granted Burberry a royal warrant in 1955. Today, the Duchess of Cambridge dresses up her Sloane Ranger–worthy ruffled wool version with a clutch and pumps.

On the Runway: Christopher Bailey, the label’s chief creative officer, continues to evolve the look. Seen on Burberry Prorsum’s Spring/Summer 2014 runway: a featherweight knitted merino-wool trench—ideal for May showers.

Mimi Lombardo is the fashion director at Travel + Leisure.