A box coat is a heavy garment meant to be worn over the top of the wearer's other clothing to provide warmth in cold weather. They became popular in 18th and 19th century Europe and were originally double breasted and would go beyond the wearer's knee, although both of these traits are not always true of box coats today. They were also usually dark in color. What distinguishes a box coat from other heavy coats is the fitted waist and shoulders and wide lapels, and the absence of a belt. These features allow the wearer's body shape to show to a larger extent than many other styles of overcoat would.
The box coat gets its name from its original purpose, which was to provide warmth for the drivers of horse drawn coaches. These coachmen would sit at the front of the coach on what as called the "box," hence the name of the coat. Since they sat at the front of the coach, the drivers would be exposed to the weather and thus required a warm garment to protect them during the cold European winters. Many of the earliest box coats also had shoulder capes that would provide extra warmth on particularly cold nights.
In the early 20th century, the advent of motor vehicles made the coachman obsolete, but the box coat endured. After the early part of the century, very few box coats still featured capes, and the term gradually came to encompass a wider array of different styles of overcoats. Today, it is common to find box coats that fall above the knee, and many of them are no longer double breasted. The only enduring traits that are necessary for something to fall under the term of "box coat" is the fitted waist and shoulders and the lack of a belt.
Today's broad definition of the box coat has resulted in such a variety of designs that almost every major winter clothing line will involve a box coat of some kind. While men were originally the nearly exclusive wearers of box coats, now it is just as common to find women wearing them, and they are available in any number of colors, from the original dark grays and blacks to more contemporary bright yellows and pinks. Many box coats are now quite light compared to the original coats, some even coming to be known as box jackets — a term that would have been an oxymoron when the garment first became popular.