Sunday, December 20, 2015

Featured Garment; An Early Frock Coat?

Last week we went to 1330s Genoa, with a rather interesting cioppa.  I had a devil of a time deciding exactly where to go this week--I just couldn't seem to find anything that piqued my interest.  Then I remembered a garment which caught my eye months ago (or however long since I first started using pinterest)--and extremely early example of a frock coat.

This coat, from Eastern Europe, dates to 1815--a good five years before the frock coat as we know it is supposed to have come into existence--as popular knowledge has it, anyways.  In reality, it existed on the continent before that--it just took a little longer to reach the shores of merry old England.

Just looking at it, you can see that the garment is military inspired--the frogging, the braid....the scores of buttons.  I love it.

Sadly, I don't have as much information on it as I like, and the Met is not a museum which particularly likes to be contacted for additional information.  And the only information it actually gives is that it is Eastern European, from 1815 (ish), and that it is silk.  So...on to my observations.

We have here a body coat of the frock coat type.  There is a narrow waist, fairly full skirts, and slightly long sleeves with sewn on cuffs. It has a military styled standing collar.  All of that is nice and simple.  It's also fairly obvious that the entire garment is made of silk velvet--it is a possibility that it was black originally, but has faded to an absolutely lovely dark chocolate brown (which I, personally, prefer).  Sadly, I cannot catch even a glimpse of the lining.

Looking extremely closely at the images, I believe that the chest is padded and stiffened to accentuate the figure and close fitted waist.  Because the museum decided to take the images flat (to be fair, the garment may be rather brittle) the breast was not closed--yet you can still see the somewhat dramatic curve to the front opening.  While the style of frock coats from late in the previous century may have had the curved front and been worn open, I do not believe this is the case here.  In addition to any padding there may be, the frogging across the chest also accentuates the shoulders.

The skirts of the garment are extremely full, and have an extra pleat, beyond the usual at the side-body/back seam.  It does, as you can see, have a pair of plait pockets in the center back--you can just make out the shape of the flaps, which appear to be edged in the soutache braid.  The back is fairly narrow, and has quite a severe slope to the back shoulder seam.

Above, you can see the shape of the cuff--the seam is hidden under the wide strip of material.  The other side is straight.  Only one buttonhole is visible, which I presume is near the wrist joint. I believe, based on the shape and the period, that the sleeve comes to somewhere around the web of the thumb.

As for the decoration, I will leave it to you to describe the intricate interlacing, which covers the shoulders, cuffs, collar, and follows the side back seams (plus the small of the back).  You can see that the soutache braiding also extends down into the skirts with a shape evocative of ferns (to me at least).

The frogging on the chest intrigues me--it is not a solid braid.  Rather it has a core of some natural coloured material--possibly wool, or leather--which was tightly wrapped with the black (presumably) silk.  In the closeup below, you can see where some of the braiding has unraveled, showing a core of what appears to be tightly twisted leather. 
Even more interesting are the toggles--all 45 of them, before 13 were lost.  I believed that they were made of painted wood--I still do think they are wood, but they appear to be covered in something, and I cannot tell what.  My best guess--other than something like embossed leather--is braided/woven thread coverings.  This guess is backed not just by the remains of individual threads in the picture below, but one of the missing toggles left what appears to be a large bunch of thread in its place.
Weaving the coverings for all those toggles is not a project I would care to undertake.

On the front of the coat you have a strip of trim--the same as the wider pieces on the cuffs and covering the back/sidebody seam--running the length of the opening.  It appears that this trim (in all locations, likely) is sewn down with a form of running/prick stitch.

Bearing all this in mind--I am half wondering if the date on the garment is mixed up.  It wouldn't be the first time the Met attributed a garment to the wrong time (*cough* That horrendous green doublet *cough*), and the silhouette looks extremely similar to 1830s examples of frock coats.  Share your thoughts in the comments below.
1834 fashion plate.

When it comes to recreating the garment, it would be a serious pain.  The velvet is easy enough to source, as is the soutache braids.  I even think the frogging on the front wouldn't be too terribly difficult--but those toggles would likely have to be made by hand.
For a pattern, I would use the earliest frock coat pattern available--somewhere out there there is a 1820s tailoring book for sale--and modify it slightly as needed to produce the effects of this garment.

My (personal) verdict?  I want this coat....I really don't want to make it.

All coat images from and belong to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

© 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.


  1. That puts me in mind of the 1848(ish) Czech "national" coats. By which I don't mean it is one of them - they would not have had such full skirts anymore, and tended to be dark blue (as the accepted "Slavic" colour). What I'm getting at with it is that those, in their turn, remind me of coats worn by Hungarians at the time, with the braiding, which seems to have been a fairly stabilised "national" style already in Hungary. So my tentative theory is that this could very well have been Hungarian in origin.
    (The same sort of braiding was also being done on "folk costumes" all over the place, probably borrowed from military styles and then borrowed back for "national" styles; this is far too shaped and tailored for "folk costume".)

    1. I hope it is! (Grandpa was Hungarian)
      It had put me in mind of that region as well. I would have to actually find other Hungarian coats from around the same time to determine it better. (Heh, not likely--not being a monoglot as I am).

  2. Ooooh, it's beautiful! I want it too, but I also don't want to sew on all that tiny cord. Looking through your archives I'm finding so many garments I hadn't seen before!

    I wouldn't be surprised if the Met has the date messed up. They've got a feathered 19th century muff that they've listed as 18th century, even though they have a nearly identical one that's correctly dated, which is very annoying.

    1. I haven't sunk to those levels of madness either...yet. It may happen someday.

      They've done it before, and will again. On the other hand, I originally thought the piece I took a look at in a future featured garment post (to be published on 9-6-16) was fake and a century later; closer examination and research made me change my opinion.

      Looking at this garment again, the dating could also be correct. With more examples now, I /am/ seeing similar frock coats in fashion plates from the '20s; main difference is that most--but not all--have puffed sleeve caps.
      Sadly, examples of early frock coats are rare...

  3. Hmm... Is this not practically the same coat?

    1. It may very well be, or close to it. Like Vincent and I said, the MET doesn't always date things correctly.

      Nice find.