Updating My Wardrobe: a New Black Silk Coat

Greetings to you all! This blog has been resting since the end of last year. Not because I had to take a break. I simply haven´t had any costume projects to share. True, I have been to one or two events, but nothing new there.

However, I have felt the need to add something formal to my wardrobe, as well as something versatile, since there are a lot of these Gustavian (late 18th century) events around here. So I have decided to make myself a new coat. I have hoarded some black silk taffeta for a while now, not quite knowing what to do with it. But now I am about to turn it into a 1780´s-1790´s frock coat. It will make a nice ensemble with the black silk breeches and one of my formal waistcoats. It can be accessorised with or without a wig depending on what decade I chose to represent. It could even be appropriate for 18oo-ish.

As usual I try to do my research before cutting anything. Black garments were perhaps not all that common with the upper set but more so among the affluent middle classes. I am going for something formal but not too extravagant; I will not travel to Versailles nor the court of S:t James anytime soon.

Whenever possible, I try to consult the following sources: portrait paintings, fashion plates and extant garments.

Here´s a wonderful, well known David-painting from the Met:

Jacques-Louis David: Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his wife, 1788. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Monsieur Lavoisier was a prominent chemist and wealthy administrator in pre-revolutionary France. He was not an aristocrat but nevertheless lost his head, at age 50, in 1794 during the terror. In this portrait none of that had happened. He is wearing a black suit, buckled shoes, white frills and a powdered wig, sitting at his desk surrounded by carefully arranged Important Instruments and his lovely wife Marie-Anne. I like Lavoisier´s understated elegance.

Then there are quantities of fashion plates online. I cannot remember where I found this, but it is a fashionable French gent modelling 1781 fashions. He is fancier than Lavoisier, with an embroidered waistcoat, he is apparently a member of the Aristocracy since he is nonchalantely carrying a rapier. Anyway, I like the black silk coat-and-breeches-ensemble. He is also wearing a terrific wig.

Fashion plate, French, 1781

This coat is in the Skokloster Castle collections. It was worn by Count Brahe somewhere around 1800. (It is impossible to be more precise, unfortunately.) It is in perfect condition. It could have been made today, but then anything ordered by Count Brahe was always top quality. Of course it is a fancy amber silk with white silk piping, but the narrow silhouette is similar to the coats above, and I can study important details such as buttons, collar and pocket flaps.

Photo by Regencygentleman

Silk coat, 1790-1810. Skokloster Castle, Sweden.

Photo by Regencygentleman

Silk coat, 1790-1810. Skokloster Castle, Sweden. Note the impeccable buttonholes and the gathered sleeve heads.

Here is my black silk taffeta, and a glimpse of the brown linen that will give the coat some body.

Work is pretty straightforward, I just use my old toile from the blue tailcoat as pattern.

Cutting the pieces: the back and one sleeve.

I always prefer hand sewing, but I admit the machine came out for some quick interfacing, A strip of canvas is sewn to the linen lining. Normally I would do pad stiches here, but these seams will only show if you look very closely on the inside of the coat.

 

I basted the taffeta to the linen, treating them like one piece when assembling the coat. Here the centre back seam is ready to be stitched.

Et voila! The centre back seam is done.

A closeup of the back seam. After opening and pressing the seam allowance, I added a strengthening prick stitch on both sides.

Shoulders and side seams are done. Closing the lining.

Like so. Next I need to work on the tails.

This is how far I got before going out of town for the week..

Oh, about one month ago I went to a costume ball in the Royal Armoury, and then I began styling a cheap wig I found…

Photo by Regencygentleman.

Photo by Regencygentleman

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A First Empire Tailcoat

When we visited the Rosendal Palace back in August, they had on display this mouth-watering tailcoat. Having seen it in various publications over the years it was interesting to see it in real life. It is a tailcoat in the formal court style as seen in many countries from the late 18th century and well into the 20th century. Variations of it is worn even today both here and there. This particular coat once belonged to the Marshal Bernadotte of the First French Empire, later King Karl XIV Johan of Sweden, and founder of the Bernadotte dynasty.

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A dark blue single breasted tailcoat, with embroidery in gold depicting oak leaves and acorns. The buttons have marshal´s batons in the shape of a cross surrounded by laurel and oak leaves. France, 1804-1810. The Royal Armory, Sweden.

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The coat (or a version of it) on its original owner, the dashing Marshal Bernadotte, Prince of Ponte-Corvo, and sometimes referred to as “Belle-Jambe” (“Pretty legs”). Painting by Joseph Nicolas Jouy, after François-Joseph Kinson. Notice the impressive black neck-stock, the feathered bicorne, and insignia – such as the Legion of Honour – and the marshal´s baton, a blue cylinder with stars and eagles (introduced during the First French Empire). It has the Latin inscription: Terror belli, decus pacis, which means “terror in war, ornament in peace”.

Jean Bernadotte (1763-1844), born in the town of Pau, France, into a modest bourgeois family, was a self-made man and had one of the most extraordinary careers ever. He rose to the rank of general in the turmoils of the French Revolution. In 1798 he married Désirée Clary, the daughter of a successful merchant in Marseille, and whose sister was married to Joseph, Napoleon’s elder brother. Mademoiselle Clary herself was Napoleon´s former fiancée.

On the introduction of the French Empire in 1804, Bernadotte became one of the eighteen Marshals of the Empire. He served as governor of the recently occupied Hanover, and as a reward for his services at Austerlitz in 1805 he became the Sovereign Prince of Ponte Corvo the following year. Napoleon could not fail to respect Bernadotte´s talents, both as a general and as an administrator, but he found his independence extremely vexing. Perhaps in an attempt to get rid of him, Napoleon offered Bernadotte the position of governor of Louisiana. It never happened.

In 1810, as Marshal Bernadotte was about to travel to Rome to take up the role of Governor General, he learned that he had been elected Crown Prince of Sweden (as the Swedish King was childless). The Swedes chose to overlook Bernadotte´s humble origins thanks to his qualifications, his personal fortune, and his position as one of the most loyal allies of the French Emperor.

The Bonaparte saga was short, but the Bernadotte dynasty is still standing in Sweden, and its descendants are to be found in the Royal families of Denmark, Norway, and Belgium.

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A closeup showing the guilt buttons and the embroidery.

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In this older photograph the coat looks rather worn. The report says the sleaves were altered or restored. Interesting to see a glimpse of the embroidery on the tails.

The coat was obviously never worn in Sweden, but ended up in the collection of the Royal Armory. Click here for a link to info on the database for Swedish museum collections.

This is a myth but but I cannot resist including it: During his reign, Karl XIV Johan allegedly would not allow his doctors to examine his naked torso. The explanation was discovered as his body was prepared for the funeral: the former Republican solder had a tattoo on his chest (some sources report it was the left arm) and among other Jacobin symbols with the words, Death to Kings!

The Tailcoat, part 2

After cutting and assembling the main pieces of the tailcoat I have proceeded to the small parts: pocket flaps, cuffs, and collar.

The easiest first: pockets. I haven’t bothered to make functioning pockets, only the pocket flaps. The flaps are not merely decorative though, they are important for the overall silhouette. Sometimes they even have buttons, stylistic leftovers from the previous era. The actual pockets are often hidden in the pleats on the tails.

Tailcoat_Pocketflap_ Regencygentleman

Pocket flaps: I cut the pieces, wool for top and linen for lining, and sewed them together on three sides, leaving the top open. Turned the right side out and pressed, before sewing them on to the coat. They are slighty angled and nearly reach the side seams at the back.

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Cuffs: The narrow sleeve is finished off with a cuff. On a Regency coat the cuff is long over the wrist. It is slightly flared. It is cut wide enough to overlap but can be left unbuttoned. There is no opening above the cuff like on a modern jacket or shirtsleeve. Each cuff is constructed out of two layers of wool, folded. The sleeve is sandwiched between these two layers. As I mentioned before: the wool is really easy to work with. The stitches just seem to disappear.

Collar:

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Cutting three layers for the collar: top and bottom wool and linen interlining.

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Padstitching the interlining to the bottom layer of the collar.

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Padstitching done. The stitches are visible if you´d lift the collar. Interlining trimmed, and the collar stitched together at three sides and turned right side out.

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The collar is steamed and shaped. Ready to be sewn on to the coat.

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The undercollar and facing pinned to the coat. The seam will be covered by the outer layer, see image below.

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The edge of the topcollar is folded under and pinned, ready to be stitched.

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The finished collar. Still needs to be pressed.

 

The Tailcoat, part 1

1800 2 The tailcoat came in a variety of shapes and colours, depending on decade and wearer. For me it was an easy decision. I like the type of tailcoat that was seen a lot in the 1790’s and first decade of the 1800s, both for riding and – when embroidered – as court dress. Its gentle cutaway front and the absence of intimidating lapels seemed a good choice for the novice tailor. (Me, that is.)

Some facts before we continue: The swallowtail-coat or, simply, the tailcoat was a corner stone in the gentleman’s wardrobe. He could not be seen in public without it. In the last decades of the 18th century it gradually became the fashionable dress coat for day and evening wear, replacing the colourful silk frock coat or just au-corps. The understated somewhat militaresque elegance was more fitting for the man of new era with his interest in riding, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. Or the metropolitan dandy at least wanted to give the impression that he did these things when not in town and preferably so at the family country estate. The famous trend-setter was of course Beau Brummel.1800

The coat was either single or double breasted, always with a deep collar and in sombre colours such as black, navy or green. The front was cut away for riding comfort. At back the tail was divided in half by a centre vent, resulting in two coattails. The tails were cut in one piece with the body.

Now back to work. I am obstinate and can´t just buy a commercial pattern. I am sure they are excellent. Instead I am combining the draping method with diagrams in Norah Waugh’s Cut of Men’s clothes and the free online patterns on LACMA’s website.

Tailcoat2_Photo by Regencygentleman

Tailcoat3_Photo by Regencygentleman

This is my toile or mock-up, pinned together. I invested a lot of time on research but once I actually got started this process took me only a few hours.

Tailcoat4_Photo by Regencygentleman

 

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I found a beautiful wool in navy. Timeless elegance indeed! The lady at the fabric store was unable to say much about it, but my research tells me this type of wool cloth would be categorized as a medium to light weight herringbone tweed, see a closeup of a similar material here. It is real joy to work with this material, so every stitch is done by hand. I am using a fine linen for the lining, found a generous length of dark indigo linen in our stash. Metal shank buttons or self covered buttons?

Tailcoat5_Photo by Regencygentleman

The mockup is taken apart and is now my pattern. Cutting the left front panel.

Tailcoat6_Photo by Regencygentleman

Inside view of right front panel. Linen lining folded back to show the stitching of a strip of sturdy linen canvas interfacing to the wool. This is necessary in order to avoid a sloppy edge along the front opening.

Tailcoat7_Photo by Regencygentleman

Measuring up a pattern for some padding on the shoulder and chest.

Tailcoat10_Photo by Regencygentleman

All pieces pinned or basted together. Starting to look as planned. It doesn´t show here, but the sleeves need some adjusting.

Tailcoat9_Photo by Regencygentleman

Ready to be sewn together. Still need to cut cuffs and collar.

Note that the sleeve is cut in two equally sized pieces. That means there is a seam right at the front and one at the back. In modern tailoring the undersleeve is much narrower. After this photo was taken I spent endless hours fiddling with the sleeves to get the best possible fit. They were too high under the arm (armscye was ok though) resulting in awful creases and the top sleeve was pinned too tight to the shoulder. Luckily I cut the sleeves with a generous seam allowance.

Tailcoat8_Photo by Regencygentleman

Inside of the tails: Sewing the lining to the wool for a neat edge.

Tailcoat11_Photo by Regencygentleman
Inside the coat: sewing (with dark thread) along the basting (done in the light thread).

To be continued…

Sense & Sensibility (2008)


Last week I rewatched the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility from 2008. (I confess, the 1996 film with Kate Winslet & Emma Thompson will always be one of my favourites. Harriet Walter! Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie! Elizabeth Spriggs and Robert Hardy! What actors!) The new version grows on you. Liked it much better this time. There is more time to follow the original storyline of the novel. Barton cottage is so rustic that we actually feel sorry for the Dashwoods and understand their desperate situation. What prospects have they out there? Michel Clapton designed the costumes. Set around 1799 we see the transition from Georgian to early Regency, which I find interesting. Very plain frocks on the Dashwoods though, esp when the girls go to London. Why look like poor relations when they were forced out of elegant Norland Park only the previous year? The gentlemen (Edward Ferrars, Col Brandon, Willoughby, and John “Mycroft” Dashwood) are wearing different versions of exactly the type of coat I am preparing to make: cutaway tails in a soft curve and the abscense of lapels. Typical late Georgian coat being transformed into the frock coat of the Regency.

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New project!

Spring is here and we have set a date for a Regency picnic. I can´t go in full dress, so I need to create something appropriate for this and upcoming outings. First, inspiration for this project.

French gentleman 1795

French gentleman 1795, by J L David.

This gentleman´s outfit is in the sporty Style Anglais and can be regarded as the prototype for the Regency gentleman. We have all seen this before:  dark tailcoat, high collared waistcoat, yellow breeches, top hat and riding boots. He is still wearing a wig (or his own hair coiffed and powdered?) but it was going out of fashion these years. This transitional style is particularily interesting.

Can I do it? Well I´m ready to try. Stay tuned for more details in the next post!

 

The Tailcoat

Modern tailcoat worn as a formal Regency tailcoat or frock coat.The ball is getting closer so there are two posts today. This is the frockcoat or tailcoat I´ll be wearing for the ball. (Ignore the waistcoat, more on the one I´m about to sew in the next post.) I mentioned earlier that I already have a vintage tailcoat in my possession. It is very well made, possibly 1930´s or 1940´s with a rich satin on the lapels. With some imagination, the cut makes it passable as very late Regency, somewhere around 1815 or so. Had it been a coat of lesser quality I might have taken liberties with it, but as it is now I only replaced the buttons (temporarily) to make it feel less like a modern tailcoat and a little bit more Regency. My inspiration came from this image below of you know who in the role of a certain gentleman. Metal buttons on a black coat for evening wear. (Where are his gloves?) If I remember correctly black coats usually had covered buttons. Metal (brass) buttons could be found on coats in navy, green, brown, etc.

darcy-full-outfit

I would have preferred a wider collar and the shoulders could have been less boxy, more like above on Darcy.  The lapels should be wool or perhaps velvet. Back to the buttons: One afternoon last week I searched for suitable buttons in some vintage shops and second hand stores, going through endless rows of colourful ladie´s jackets from the late 1900s. Many interesting buttons, but too navy or simply not right. Finally I found an acceptable button at the local fabric store. Bought eight of them. It took only three quarters of an hour to do the sewing while watching the ball scenes from the 2009 Emma. Promise to show better pics in my next post.

Adapting a modern coat to Regency frockcoat.

Getting started

Getting startedIt is time to start sewing! Since my latest post I have made a decision regarding the ensemble. I think. A ball requires formal wear or “full dress” in regency terms. Read more about full dress here and here. This is what I´ve got to work with. I have a vintage tailcoat of very good quality. I like the unconstructed style of early regency coats but this will have to do. I don´t have the skills nor energy to make a coat from scratch. (At least not this time.) This is more 1810-20´s and will match Mrs Elton´s finery. The lapels are silk, and should perhaps be velvet. Slightly too wide over the shoulders. Oh well. If there is time I´ll change the buttons (temporarily) for larger ones. Continue reading