Monday, November 16, 2015

Featured Garment: 1820s American Surtout

I decided--inspired by the Dreamstress, if you are familiar with her blog (if not, it's on the sidebar the right of your screen)--to start doing a weekly "Featured Garment".  For the most part, these are likely to be a piece of men's clothing that catches my eye--whatever period it may be.

For the first one, there is a fascinating wool early surtout--a frock coat--from America, that is up for auction.
The Auction house has this to say:
Beige wool broadcloth, fitted through chest, tan velvet collar & turn back cuffs, diagonal double row of brown thread buttons, side & F waist seam, double pleats to wide back skirt, CH 40", L 39", (1 tiny hole, velvet knap worn & torn, sleeves enlarged w/ inset beige wool gusset) very good. James Kochan - Don Troiani Collections
The piece caught my eye because of the low pockets--to start with.  Other things that caught my eye are the extra long cuffs, lined with the same velvet as the collar, and made to be turned back--also note the position of the three buttons on the cuffs.

As you can see, this is an early example of the "modern" frock coat--a fitted garment with a waist seam and full skirt.  The overall cut is fairly standard for the style--with a couple of exceptions.  If you look closely, you can see that the sleeves were too tight for the owner, and a fish was let into the inner arm seam--something quite interesting as it shows that even tailors would modify the fit of a finished garment (we see this in the 16th century--adding on to finished garments--but I hadn't seen it in the 19th century before)--the wool is close, but not a perfect colour match.

The back is even more interesting!  As you can see, the center back flares to give more room for the hips and there is considerable overlap at the vent.  Rather than the usual single pleat on a frock coat, the cut  is more evocative of the justaucorps of the previous century.  Double pleats, and more flare, plus the buttons at the bottom to keep it from flaring too much.  My guess is that the back flares as well as the skirts.

Looking at the cuffs, you can see that they appear to have some raw edges.  In addition, different buttons were used--either metal, or silk covered.  Possibly covered in the same velvet as lining the collar and cuffs, but is heavily worn (which wouldn't surprise me given the region).  Something that puzzles me is that the pocket flap is tacked down, so that it cannot be opened the entire way.

As you can see--wrapped thread buttons were used, likely brown silk.  Happily, you can see an interesting part of the construction--it appears that the seam allowances for the velvet top collar are folded to the underside, then felled down with a cross stitch in a matching gold silk thread.  I do admit myself puzzled by the small buttons on the shoulders--they are not visible when the collar is down; the only thing I can think of, and am not sure if it was done, is a detachable caplet...
Alternately to the thread buttons, is they could be cast and patinaed brass, in the form of thread buttons, with the light spots from wear--I can't quite tell from the photos.

As you can see, the skirt is lined in a gold twill, probably silk.  The facing is the same buff wool as the exterior.  I have no idea what the front is--linen, perhaps?
The buttons are keyholes, which may date this later--I hadn't seen keyhole style buttons commonly until the mid 1830s.  (See buttonhole article here).

This would be the center back, just under the collar.  Note the pattern matching...and where it is not.  Another thin to note is that the lining appears to be quilted, presumably for body and warmth.

The stamp puzzles me.  Chrisdie was a period costume rental firm which was founded in 1873, on the Bowery.  In 1963, the company closed and all the garments were sold off to various buyers.  Which to be honest, would perfectly explain the irregularities in the construction and why it seems to be a transitional garment--especially those buttonholes. (Executed, Pp. 8).  Because it is a late Victorian (or later) rendition of an earlier garment.

It seems there is a secondary facing, whipstitched down over the front breast and the buff facing (a sliver of which is visible at the lower left).  Thoughts on the reason?

What are your thoughts on this find?
Mine are that I want one...even if it wasn't made until the late 1800s, rather than being an original garment from the 1820s as the auction company claims.
NOTE: I did not come to the conclusion that it was a "fake" for the claimed period until most of the way through this article.  It took approximately 30seconds of googling to find a reference to Chridie's company.  Just a warning to those of us who use auction houses as sources.

Source: Augusta Auctions.
Brilliantly Executed: Costume Craft and the American Theater.  (Executed)

© John Frey, 2015. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photographs of my work may not be duplicated.  Photos on this page are from the Augusta Auctions Page.

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