Coats and Capes

views updated May 21 2018

Coats and Capes

Men and women could choose from among numerous different outer garments during the eighteenth century. In general people wore a cape or a coat over their clothes to keep warm or to repel rain.

Women wore a variety of large circular capes or cloaks over their long, full dresses. Made of velvet or taffeta, these outer garments were often decorated with ruffles and ribbons or trimmed with fur. Cloaks often had hoods large enough to cover women's huge hairstyles. These large coverings were worn for formal occasions. Other, less formal coats were also available to women. The spencer was a short-waisted jacket with long, tight-fitting sleeves. The casaquin was a hip-length jacket that fit closely in the front but hung more loosely in the back.

Men had a similar selection of outer garments. The most common outfit for a man included breeches, a waistcoat, and a longer jacket called a justaucorps. At the beginning of the century, the justaucorps was a collarless coat that buttoned in the front and reached the calf, but it gradually shortened to just below the hips by the end of the century. The fit of the justaucorps also changed dramatically over the century. During the early part of the century the skirt, or portion below the waist, flared outward, aided by stiffening provided by whale-bone or horsehair. It was similar in profile to women's skirts that were supported with panniers, metal and wooden supports used to hold the skirt out away from the legs. As the century continued justaucorps became more formfitting, with the sleeves and skirt becoming tighter. However, the cuffs of the justaucorps became larger by the end of the century. The justaucorps eventually developed into the pourpoint, a jacket with a large collar, by the end of the century.

The justaucorps and the pourpoint were both formal jackets. Some men adopted a more relaxed style during the eighteenth century and began to wear a frock coat. The frock coat had a looser fit and collars. Fastened with buttons in the front, it could be double-or single-breasted, two rows or one row of buttons. English men had worn the more casual frock coat made of plain dark cloth when they were in the country. (Many wealthy English men had large country estates that they visited when they wanted to relax.) The frock coat soon became a very fashionable coat for men, even in towns and cities.

Men also wore heavier outdoor coats and cloaks over the justaucorps. The surtout was a large woolen calf-length coat with a rounded collar. It also could have one or two cape-like collars to protect against the rain. The roquelaure was a large cloak worn on the coldest days. The redingote was a large coat that fit closely along the upper body and had large cuffs and a full skirt. By the end of the century military men and academics were the only men who wore cloaks, while all others wore large coats, such as the redingote.


Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.

Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Cunnington, Phillis. Costumes of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century. Boston, MA: Plays, 1970.

[See also Volume 3, Seventeenth Century: Justaucorps ]


views updated Jun 08 2018


Following the American and French Revolutions of the late 1700s, an appreciation for democracy and for the common man spread over the Western world. This led to a plainer style of dress for the men of the 1800s than had been the fashion in the centuries before. Elaborate frills and fancy decorations were replaced by simple styles in basic colors. The coat was one of the central elements of the nineteenth-century man's everyday wardrobe, and, though there were many different popular styles, they all reflected the less showy fashion of the times.

During the early 1800s, the desired masculine shape featured a large chest and a small waist, and the coats of the day were designed to help achieve this figure. Shoulders and chests were often padded to make the top appear larger, and coattails were cut full to emphasize the slim waist. Depending on the wealth of the wearer coats were made of wool, cotton, or linen, and different fabrics were worn in different weather. The most popular coat styles of the first part of the century were the frock coat and the cutaway coat. Both were rather formal coats with a design based on the British hunting coat, cut up to the waist in the front with long tails in the back. The cutaway had a curved line along the side and rounded tails in the back, while the frock coat was cut in a straight line to a pair of pointed coat tails in the back. Frock coats also had a trim piece at the back waist with two buttons for decoration. The frock coat remained the most common coat for daytime wear into the 1890s. However, while bright reds, greens, and yellows were popular in the early 1800s, by the second half of the century most men wore only dark colored coats, such as black and navy.

The fitted silhouette of the coats of the early 1800s was replaced at midcentury by straight-cut jackets that hung loose from shoulder to hip. Another development during the second half of the century was the introduction of special clothing for sports. In 1837 the captain of the British ship H.M.S. Blazer outfitted his men in a short boxy double-breasted (two rows of buttons down the front) jacket. The new style caught on and "blazers" became popular wear for such sporting activities as boating and tennis. In 1890 the Norfolk jacket was introduced; it was a hip-length loose coat which was meant to be worn with the knee pants called knickerbockers. The Norfolk and knickers, or knee-length pants, soon became popular casual wear for men and boys of all classes.

Men of the 1800s also had a variety of overcoats to choose from. For those who preferred an old-fashioned look, cloaks were still acceptable, such as the dramatic Garrick, which was a long velvet cape trimmed with fur. The Chesterfield was the most common modern coat, a long, straight-cut single-breasted coat, usually made of black wool with a velvet collar. Some stylish men wore buffalo or beaver fur coats that reached their ankles, while others preferred the dashing look of the Inverness, a sleeveless wool plaid coat with a short cape that hung from the collar around the shoulders.


Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Western Dress, Prehistoric to Present. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2002.