Lords of Lapels: Flamboyant Tailcoats and Frock Coats of the Early 19th Century

Reveling in Revers
The 1970s only dreamed of being this flamboyant!

I love lapels and collars. The bigger they are, the better! Toss in some velvet or fur and I will swoon!

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Trompe l’oeil lapels by Hermes?
Yes please!

And this one?
We’ll call this the “Margarita collar” because I’d wear it, but it might take a few margaritas to get me there!

Ladies have a large variety of fabulous lapels to choose from, but most men usually only wear lapels on business or formal suits. Apparel prior to the late 18th century was also seriously lacking in the lapel department. The 1780s decided that this lack of lapels was a crime and by the 1790s, men were wearing lapels so large they dwarfed the coat they were attached to! Not satisfied with just a single magnificent lapel, gentlemen and dandies layered lapels. A coat might have double lapels, resting over a waistcoat (or even two), also with lapels! Incroyables, fashion-obsessed youth with a flair for the outrageous, wore the largest and most ostentatious lapels of all:

Tailcoat, circa 1795-1800

“Ha! Those lapels are so puny and insignificant I need an eyeglass to see them!”
A close up of an Incroyable sporting a jaw-dropping set of revers/lapels in an original engraving by Carle Vernet
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Thus began a golden age of menswear–the Age of Lapels!

Silk Tailcoat, circa 1790-95

“Portrait of General Louis Charles Antoine Desaix de Veygoux” by Andrea Appiani, circa 1800
While teh lapels themselves are rather tame, the layering makes them pop.

Wool and Silk Velvet Frock Coat, circa 1820-30

Man’s Dressing Gown, circa 1820
Even at home wear in the 1820s had lapels! How sexy is this toile dressing gown?!

Wool and Silk Velvet Frock Coat, circa 1830-38

Modern menswear is all about making a man look as angular as possible, boxy, even. In the early 19th century, men’s fashion was all about the inverted triangle. Layers of high collars on coats, waistcoats, and shirts –not to mention the massively wide stocks and cravats– combined with tight-fitting boots, breeches, and trousers further enhanced the top-heavy shape, which, admittedly, is not unlike an old-fashioned Barbie doll. Indeed, by the 1830s, you might even say the ideal male shape matched that of his female counterparts:

Fashion plate, circa 1829

Pouf sleeves made the shoulders look larger and nipped-in waists look even smaller. King George IV was rather barrel shaped, so he relied on a belt-like waist cincher to help firm up his middle for a more fashionable appearance. For other fashionable men, even wide lapels and pouf sleeves were not enough, so they, too, turned to corsetry to get the popular pigeon-breasted look. Many cartoonists enjoyed lampooning dandies, poking fun at how similar a man’s dressing routine was to a lady’s. Indeed, a fashionable man during the 1820s wore just as many layers as his female counterpart and put equal effort into his hairstyle, accessories, and cosmetics:

“Dandy’s Toilette: Stays” by an English Satirist, circa 1818
I don’t think a dandy would put his stays over the top of his trousers since it would make unbuttoning them impossible and block access to his fob pocket. However, he was quite wise to put on his boots before lacing up!

“Dandy’s Toilette” by an English Satirist, circa 1818
The final look, though sadly lacking in lapel eye-candy. Still, he cuts a figure anybody, man or woman, might envy! The tailor/manservant is brushing down the tailcoat with a garment brush to remove any loose hairs or dust. Until sticky lint rollers were invented in the 1950s, no wardrobe was complete without a good garment brush (as this 1940s video will tell you).

The ultimate Lord of Lapels was none other than the dashing young Napoleon Bonaparte. Besides sporting large lapels, Regency, Napoleonic, and Romantic era coats were usually coated (Ha ha ha! Coated.) in buttons. A gentleman could decide for himself just how much lapel he thought was appropriate for the occasion. For example, Napoleon’s coats were often worn buttoned to the neck for formality and warmth, but most were also decorated on the inside so he could fold back the lapels for some extra pizzazz!

“Bonaparte, First Consul” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (based on a portrait by Antoine-Jean Gros), circa 1804
This painting has an interesting history (which you can read here).

BAM!
“Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, full-length, as First Consul” either by or copied from Antoine-Jean Gros, circa 1803

He must have really loved this particular coat/style because he is frequently painted wearing it in various states of un-buttoned-ness. Coat fronts designed to fold back into lapels displaying a fancy lining like this are called “revers.” Wikipedia credits the term to the 1860s, but the technique was used long before then. The fanciest revers were worn by the French officers in the Napoleonic wars. Military fashion has always influenced civilian fashion trends and the luscious lapels of the upper military echelons made their way into the formal wear for non-military personnel soon enough. After all, who wouldn’t want lapels/revers like these?

“Portrait of François Paul de Brueys d’Aigaliers” by an unknown artist

From the 1790s to the 1820s, the tailcoat was the go-to men’s garment. Frock coats became fashionable in the 1820s and 30s. They are called frock coats because they have a full skirt around the bottom, unlike a tailcoat which is cut away at the front. “Frock” was originally a general term for loose outerwear for both men and women, but over the years, it developed feminine connotations. Indeed, many modern women’s coats look identical to early 19th century menswear! Modern men’s frock coats are still available, but they are more columnar than their 1830s predecessors.  If you are a slim-shouldered gentleman, you might be able to find the perfect Georgian frock coat in the lady’s section of your local department store!

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Lady’s Fit and Flare Coat by Next
The 1820s and 1830s style of frock coat is now known as a “fit and flare peacoat” and if you find one with buttons that end at/above the waist and big, bold lapels–JACKPOT!

Many modern coats can be quickly modified to look more antique by “down-dating” the lapels. For example, a coat styled like the one above can be left unbuttoned at the top just like Napoleon’s uniform. Add some decorative braid or velvet to the inside edges for glorious Napoleonic-style revers! A stunning fur shawl collar is another easy way to dress up a frock coat for late-Georgian costumes. You can simply tack a crescent-shaped piece of faux fur or a vintage fur collar to an existing coat to mimic the look of an elegant Georgian frock coat:

Winter Frock Coat with Fur Shawl Collar, circa 1828-30

Men weren’t relegated to dark colors, either! While the most popular 19th century colors for men’s coats were blue, brown, and black, there were exciting coats out there, too:

Silk Dress Coat, circa 1825-30
Day coats were generally subdued, but evening wear and dressing gowns were frequently bright and colorful.

By the time Queen Victoria inherited the throne in 1837, lapels had calmed down considerably. Large shawl collars stuck around, but the true golden age of ostentatious lapel tailoring lasted from about 1790 to 1835. If you aren’t as enamored with giant lapels as I or an Incroyable might be, don’t fret. There were many styles and sizes of lapels to choose from and many modern coats will work just fine as-is. For example, for Christopher’s Georgian Picnic outfit, he just wore his everyday modern wool coat:

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Large, full-length coats like this were called “great coats.” They were often worn over tailcoats during the late 18th and early 19th century for extra warmth until frock coats came into fashion. You can read more about Chris’s 1820s outfit here.

Honestly, a coat, waistcoat (vest), pair of slacks or trousers, and dress shirt is all a gentleman needs to start putting together a handsome Regency outfit. So go big, go small, or wild but don’t go home because, seriously, ladies love a man in costume! Fancy lapels are just a bonus.

:)

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Aaaaannnd….bonus picture of Alison’s awesome Marat cosplay/costume with the most redonk set of leopard print lapels!

There are no words…
Check out her tumblr and deviantart pages to check out her fantastic cosplays, historical costumes, and more!

Also, here’s a great suit-coat-to-tail-coat tutorial.

Lovely Limbs: Modern Stockings with Historical Style

Completely Hosed on Hose

Some women are obsessed with shoes. I love them, too, but my love affair with shoes is more practical than fantastical. My love of stockings, however, has grown exponentially over the years. Not only are they fun, they completely alter the way shoes fit. A shoe that is too big or even too small becomes much more comfortable with the right stocking. Keeping you warm as the weather turns chilly is a huge bonus as well.

Kittens and tea also help greatly.

When I talk about stockings, I don’t mean our modern idea of stockings– the sheer, skin tone nylons or the cutesy sock-shapes we hang up at Christmastime. Though they are both rooted in historical stockings, they are like the two seperated halves of the stocking story. Stockings in the past were knit or sewn, and while silk can be made very sheer, our ancestors valued its ability to hide skin just as much as it reveals the shape of the leg. Stockings in the historical sense are more akin to what we consider modern dress socks, and they aren’t just for ladies. Even while men were busy showing off sexy gams in tight-fitting stockings it was unseemly to show leg skin, so stockings were a necessary part of everybody’s wardrobe. Historical stockings ranged from thin silk to heavy wool, midcalf to thigh high, and plain white to wildly patterned. They’re a great way to add extra personality to any historical outfit!

The most basic of historical stockings is plain white. They were worn by men and women alike and generally reached the knee or just above it. A good pair of modern knee-high trouser socks will work nicely for almost any era from 1600-1900. I wear a pair of finely knit knee-highs I found at Dollar Tree and I love them!

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Dressed for the 1960s…

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..and 100 years “earlier” with my 1850s slippers!

To fit larger feet and calves, like Christopher’s, I purchased some “thigh high” knit tube socks. Since his legs are so massive, the stockings only reach his knees, but they still work.

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I don’t remember his calf measurement, but his thighs are 27 inches around (same size as my waist in a corset!) and those are size 15 EEEE feet, if that’s any indication. In contrast, these stockings fit my scrawny legs at thigh level, as you can see in my garter tutorial. Our ancestors didn’t have the benefit of spandex, so they used garters to hold their stockings in place. If you use modern stockings, you don’t need to worry as much about “losing your legs,” but some tall stockings still work best with garters, plus they look so pretty!

Historical stockings also came in many solid, natural colors. My go-to historical stockings are O-Basics from Sock Dreams. They come in a variety of nice colors and are great for keeping warm in winter:

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BAM! My beloved O-Basics in Rust.

Colored stockings were fairly common, especially reds and blues. The color of your stockings can be an important clue to your historical persona. For example, the Blue Stockings Society was an 18th century organization that promoted women’s education and intellectual hobbies. While Bluestockings did not necessarily wear blue stockings, the name indicated the informality and progressiveness of the club. Proper, fashionable, rich folks at the time often wore black or other expensively-colored silk stockings. Worsted wool stockings, in this case blue stockings, were considered to be informal and unfashionable. The term “bluestocking” indicated that a woman (or man) was more concerned with personal intellectual pursuits than the whims of fashion, but it was also used pejoratively around the turn of the 19th century to mean an ugly, frumpy woman (much like the word “feminist” is twisted today, sadly. It’s amazing how little things have changed in 200 years).

  If you’re looking for stockings with character, there are plenty of stunning stocking options to consider! This isn’t a complete list of hosiery types by any means, just  some of my favorite styles of fancy historical stockings and a few modern options that closely match.

Open Work Stockings – 19th Century

For an extra pretty pair of stockings, consider the texture as well as color. Victorian stockings are often knitted with lacy openwork designs that stretched open, revealing tiny peeks at the flesh beneath. A tad scandalous? Maybe to the ultra-conservative, but during this era of long skirts and ladies’ boots, openwork stockings offered some cool relief during warmer months.

Kitted Cotton Stocking with Double Zigzag Pattern, circa 1830

These stockings in the MFA Boston collections are very similar to this pair, dated nearly 50 years later by the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Linen Stockings with Triple Zigzag Pattern, circa 1875-1900 (“last quarter the 19th century”)

While it’s possible that one or the other is mis-dated, the similarity is indicative of the popularity of this style throughout the era. This homemade pair of knitted socks from the middle of the century has a similar openwork style, but this time horizontally;

Cotton Stockings with Scallop Pattern, circa 1860-69
Mid-19th century stocking are often shorter than stockings found earlier and later in the century. These hit mid-calf rather than over the knee. Others hit right below the knee.

There are TONS of modern stockings that feature openwork knit patterns in every color of the rainbow! The most common colors during the mid-Victorian era were black and white. But don’t feel like you have to limit yourself. There were some pretty wild stockings out there! Colors like plum, navy, and mustard are the perfect accompaniment for a ballgown in the 1850s or a walking dress from the color-crazy 1890s . Dainty, repeating open work patterns that are more geometric and abstract rather than floral are perfect for just about any costume from 1825 to 1900!

Super Stripes! – 1850s to 1890s

The 1890s were the heyday of wild stockings!  Bold colors and bolder designs were in vogue, especially the iconic striped stockings we know and love.

Cotton Stockings, circa 1890-99

Silk Stockings, circa 1880-99
The 1970s…is that you?!

The fashion wasn’t just for can-can dancers and other “ladies of the night” (who are, in fact, depicted wearing plain black stockings more often than patterned ones). Fancy stockings went well with fancy opera boots, reflecting the indulgent, candid attitude of the era– the more fancy you could squeeze onto your person, the better!

Another era that might surprise you with its hosiery is the 1850s:

Cotton Stockings, circa 1850-70

While considered a somewhat dowdy era, the 1850s saw a whole plethora of underwear trends emerge. Indeed, you almost call it the Era of Underthings! Lots of revolutionary supporting garments emerged during the era, including the pin and loop busk which allowed women to easily put on and tighten their own corsets (and marked the beginning of modern corsetry) and the iconic hoop skirt. Alongside these fashion innovations were some entertaining undergarment trends, bright red petticoats and cheerfully colored socks among them! Children’s socks were commonly patterned, showing candy stripes from under adorable little dresses throughout the Victorian era:

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Tintype of Two Children, circa 1880
Source: eBay

Modern horizontally striped stocking are easy to find anywhere, especially around Halloween. Many stores like Walmart carry them, though often they are toe socks. Athletic tube socks with a banded top are also a good option, plus they come in a wide variety of colors and heights, are easy to launder, and look ridiculously cute with a Victorian bathing or cycling outfit!

Back and White Over the Knee Striped Athletic Socks from Sock Broker

Stockings with Contrasting Clocks – 1600 to 1820

One of the most iconic historical style of stocking is the clocked stocking. Clocked stockings have decorative bands and flourishes ascending from the heel or decorating the ankle. Earlier clocked stockings have a contrasting wedge shape that begins at the ankle and goes up the outside of the leg, sometimes nearly to the top of the stocking. Clocked stockings of this sort were in style for over 200 years until about 1820:

Silk, Silver Gilt, and Cotton Stockings, circa 1610

Spanish Embroidered Silk Stockings, circa 1750-70

Italian Silk Clocked Stockings, circa 1780-1825

If you are looking for a classic, upper-class 18th century or Regency stocking, American Duchess offers fine modern reproductions of classic contrast clocked stockings:

A.D. Clocked Stockings in White and Black

Victorian Floral Stockings, circa 1830-1900

From the wedge-shaped clocked design came the flourish of the Victorian years. Solid-color stockings often featured pretty woven or embroidered decoration on the front of the foot and ankle. Contrary to popular myth, ankles weren’t strictly taboo during the Victorian era, so long as they were covered with stockings. In fact, dancing and walking frequently provided glimpses of a lady’s ankles, especially when ladies wore slippers.

Cotton Stockings with Embroidered Embellishment, circa 1860
These stockings are dated to the 1860s, but are more 1870s in style.

Finding modern socks with the design localized like this at the ankle is a bit tough, but once again, American Duchess swoops to the rescue:

A.D. Edwardian Silk Stockings
Though dated as Edwardian, these stocking will work well for late 19th century, too. American Duchess also has other styles with flourishes at the ankle.

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These fancy Floral Chain over the knee socks are a new from Sock Dreams! I love all the rich color choices, but this pretty beige is my fave.

If you feeling super crafty, you can make your own pair of embellished Victorian stockings! For example, the Dreamstress made a pair of silk stockings then used a bit of applique to accent her ankles:

Click here for her blog post.

For all the pretty without having to sew your own stockings, you could applique, embroider, or paint your chosen design onto a pair of pre-made stockings of your choice. However, if you’re feeling REALLY sassy, you can use one of the many stocking knitting patterns available online. The Antique Pattern Library, for example, has numerous Victorian instruction booklets that detail how to knit your own pair of stockings, including several editions of the Nonotuck Silk Company’s “How to Use Florence Knitting Silk” booklets from the 1880s.

Early Patterned Stockings – 17th Century

While most portraits from the 17th century show people wearing solid-colored stocking (usually in white, black, or shades of red), there are surviving examples of livelier stockings, like these:

Knitted Silk and Silver Gilt Stockings, circa 1600-1670

Child’s Silk and Gilt Stockings, 17th century

These pretties are usually child sized, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a little inspiration from them! Combine the knitted design with the embroidered motif from these luxurious adult-sized stockings of the same era, and you get these gorgeous stockings:

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S.D. Dreamer Jacquard Flowing Vine Stockings in Dijon and Navy

Can you imagine how fabulous these stockings would look with some American Duchess Stratfords or Virginias?!