Turning Coats and Staring at the Seams
I am slowly getting settled into my new apartment in Fort Worth. It’s not huge, but there is enough room for my collections and for that I am incredibly grateful! The rest of the place is still a mess of boxes, random mounds of stuff, and scattered papers. My collection, however, is neatly stored in my too-giant-to-fit-upstairs chifforobe in the living room where I am slowly repacking it in new acid free tissue (Fort Worth has a Container Store? Yes please!).
One of the first items I rewrapped is one of my favorite pieces: An 1890-1905 striped velvet jacket/blouse.
Velvet Jacket or Blouse, turn of the 20th Century
I found this gem at the Veteran’s Thrift Store in Lubbock, TX (If you are ever in the area, go there! It’s one of those old-fashioned thrift stores packed with unknown treasures). It was on a rack of vintage clothing and tagged as “1970s.” Though it was likely worn a few times during the boho era, it was certainly not manufactured then! The construction, quality of sewing, and wear tipped me off, and I was walking on clouds when I paid my seven dollars at the resister. To be quite honest, I didn’t really know what this piece was at the time, but I liked it! At first, I thought it might be a jacket due to its loose fit and the fact that it is completely unlined, but the raw polished cotton tie around the waist is obviously not meant to be seen, leading me to believe it was either made to be or converted into a blouse to be tucked into a skirt or covered with a wide sash (a popular accessory during the Edwardian era).
The 1890s waffle between Victorian and Edwardian, but I consider most things from this era to be early Edwardian pieces since Queen Victoria had been replaced by Princess Alexandra as fashion’s muse. Plus, early Edwardian clothes, including the 1890s, are generally puffy on top and narrow on the bottom (hmmm…sounds like someone I see in the mirror every morning).
Back of the Jacket
Then I thought it may be an Edwardian pouter blouse since it is shaped correctly for that in the front, but the shape of the puff sleeves is very 1892. The 1890s saw the emergence of the pleated, poof-front, so this piece could have at least started out life in the 1890s. I even entertained the idea that it may have been a 90s morning or dressing gown that was later converted, but that seemed a little far fetched. That little cotton tie seems quite original to the piece. The sleeves, however, are shaped correctly for the 1890s.
Terribly blurry picture of the sleeve shape. Notice how it is slightly fuller near that top and narrows to the cuff. 1890s sleeves are generally full at the top while Edwardian sleeves are fuller near the bottom. However, there are always exceptions to the “rules.”
“France Mode” fashion plate, circa 1892
Also, what is with the blue lady’s creepy double eyes?!
I have other examples of poofy 1890s sleeves, like my HOLY COW IT’S RED 1890’s bodice:
Red Silk Bodice, circa 1890-95
Red was a very popular color during the Gay Nineties. Think Moulin Rouge.
Or the slightly-later 1890s Yellow silk-front gown:
Ensemble, circa 1894-99
This dress also highlights how the shirred, poof-front emerged in the 1890s and eventually grew into the dangling pouter pigeon look the Edwardian era is famous for. Puff sleeves saw a resurgence later in the Edwardian era, around 1905, in a similar shape to the 1890s. My striped jacket’s loose fit points equally to this era even if the dark, heavy velvet is not what we would consider fashionable for a period known for pastels and lace. Dark velvets, however, were still used:
Fashion Plate, circa 1905
“The draped blouse is the favorite whim of Fashion for the Spring walking costume, and it is very becoming to slender figures. The costume shows such a jacket, bloused or eased at the back, and with the fronts gathered at the waistline, a girdle belt affording a finish.”
A jacket in the Edwardian era could be a bolero-style, or it could be tucked into a skirt to complete a Fall or early Spring outfit, as mine likely was. The cotton drawstring and lack of a lining indicate that my velvet blouse/jacket was probably worn over a shirtwaist or dickey/chemisette like the illustration of the red outfit above shows.
If the jacket is nearer to 1905, the simplicity of the fit–especially in tandem with the richness of the material– is unusual. Most Edwardian clothes from around 1905 have plenty of “sewing action” going on, like insertion, buttons, collars, yokes, and lapels. Also, jackets from this era usually have V necks or a chin-high lace collar. My piece has a comparatively runty, soft collar and no decoration beyond the fashion fabric itself. And though the velvet is fairly eye-catching on its own, to an Edwardian, such a straight-forward jacket would be very plain indeed. However, if this jacket was worn by a working woman, such as a secretary or sales clerk, it’s no-nonsense modesty would be expected. Even the interior of the garment is relatively simplistic:
It is unlined except for the cuffs and collar. The front of the blouse has two pleats carefully made to match the stripes in the velvet:
The pleats are created at the shoulder seam and sewn down the breast, though most of the red stitching has come undone:
Missing stitches are also a problem on the front placket:
I cannot tell if this piece ever had any hook and eye closures, but I found no evidence of them at all. However, I did find evidence of heavy collar pin usage on the part of the lady who wore this. Throat pins were popular during both the Victorian and Edwardian periods and many collars bear pinprick scars from the habit. I consider such “damage” to be a nice little treat, actually. It adds a touch of humanity to an otherwise empty clothing shell. It also helps that I love antique jewelry almost as much as I like antique clothing…
The major seams in the piece are machine sewn while the rest of the sewing is done by hand. The velvet selvedges were machine sewn together to create larger piece of fabric to work with, a clever, frugal technique. The person who created this jacket was very aware of the stripe pattern and worked hard to maintain it.
The edges of all the major seams are edged with thin strips of polished cotton. The armscye is rolled and covered with cotton as well. I like to finish my own unlined garments like this because it doesn’t rub or feel bulky, providing smoother movement and protecting the seam. I am inordinately pleased that a historical seamstress preferred this method as well:
Also: Notice how all the shoulder seams are ironed open. Ironing your seam allowances flat like that instantly improves the way the garment sits. It’s like magic!
Even though this jacket is bit too generic to put a hard date on, it is punched up with bright colors, bold pattern, and the thrill of a garment well thrifted!
For more information on the actual sewing techniques and practical applications for Historical costuming, I highly recommend visiting
Historical Sewing: 19th Century Costuming by Jennifer Rosbrugh
Her blog is full of Victorian sewing techniques, pattern advice, fitting tips, and historical fashion in general.
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