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An overcoat is a type of long coat intended to be worn as the outermost garment. Overcoats usually extend below the knee, but are sometimes mistakenly referred to as topcoats, which are short coats that end at or above the knees. Topcoats and overcoats together are known as outercoats. Unlike overcoats, topcoats are usually made from lighter weight cloth such as gabardine or covert, while overcoats are made from heavier cloth or fur, because overcoats are more commonly used in winter when warmth is more important.
In many countries, coats and gowns reaching below the knee have been worn for centuries, often for formal uses, establishing either social status or as part of a professional or military uniform. In the 17th century, the overcoat became widely stylised and available to the different classes.
In the West, the general profile of overcoats has remained largely unchanged for a long time. During the Regency, the fashion was to have very form-fitting clothes, with sidebodies, waist seams, and a flared skirt. Examples of this included the frock overcoat and paletot. This gradually shifted to the looser styles more common now, typified by the Chesterfield coat, which became popular by the end of the Victorian period. Until then, most coats were double breasted, but Chesterfields and accompanying styles like the guard's coat were worn in single and double breasted varieties.
More recently, there is a decline in the wearing of full-length overcoats, and double breasted ones are much less common.