What a find! I purchased this coat from the Etsy vendor Petrune in 2012 after yet another hours-long late night browsing session. The photos were tiny, but what I was able to see looked like it could be spectacular…
Originally advertised as an ‘Edwardian riding coat’, I wasn’t sure of the era until I fiddled with it on the dress form. It was nearly identical to some original pattern diagrams I’d seen in the book Directoire Revival Fashions 1888-1889 by Frances Grimble, and was cut perfectly to fit over the prominent bustle of the late 1880s. It needs a fair amount of repair, which I have held off until I could take photos of the interlinings and such.
The original Directoire Period spanned 1795-99 and was a transitional period between the fitted gowns of the late 18th century with flat, boned bodices and the softer look of Regency fashion with its high waistline and gauzy, shirred folds. The late bustle era’s interpretation of this look sported fichus tucked into necklines, more symmetrical styles with little to no skirt draperies, and jackets with cuffs and lapels. The waistline tended to be cut straight across and ended at the natural waist both in front and back, dispensing with the peplum of the basque and the tail of the postilion bodice. The skirt backs were plain, pleated, smocked or looped into large folds that collapsed and laid flat on top of the bustle. For an excellent analysis of the Directoire period of the Victorian era and its elements of 18th century style, please refer to Jen Thompson’s article 18th Century Revival in Victorian Fashion [Parts 1 & 2].
Though it lasted but a few short years at the end of the 1880s, the Victorian Directoire period is one of my favorites. I was ecstatic to become the owner of this coat, and can only imagine the smoky train stations and crowded city streets it must have seen.
The coat is full-length, and mimics an 18th century dress in that it features an elaborately embroidered ‘stomacher’ piece. It is cut like a redingote with a false front skirt piece of matching fabric sewn in, and flares at the cuffs like a man’s frock coat. It has no label, but appears professionally made due to the flashy design, precision of cut, quality of hand-finishing and extensively-machined appliqués.
The lapels are folded back over the chest and hand tacked to the falling collar near the points to keep them in place. The stitching has come loose on the left side—you can see how both the lapel and collar were finished individually, then sewn together. The lapels are faced underneath by hand with a light brown satin, some of which has come apart to reveal the dark broadcloth interlining.
While the standing collar is appliquéd only at the front, the falling collar is decorated all of the way around and tacked down with a few stitches at the center back. It is also faced underneath by hand with light brown satin and most likely interlined with broadcloth as well. Each of the collar pieces appear to have been made and faced as separate pieces before assembly. The standing collar has been attached by hand.
The center front of the coat has a false stomacher—the false front under section extends into an asymmetrical flap on the left side that fastens over the other front under section. From the waist up it is covered with the appliqué from edge to edge to mimic a stomacher. A hook and eye fastens the inside of the left lapel to the flap, pulling in the lapel along the curve of the waist. The hook and eye appear modern, but are perhaps replacements for the original fasteners since the stomacher piece would otherwise gape open without it. The underside of the lapel is faced with a strip of the same satin, which has shredded with age.
The left side of the stomacher flap is open and faced on both edges to feature a buttoned placket that attatches it to the coat body underneath the lapel. The buttons and buttonholes extend all the way up underneath the very top of the lapel while following the same angle, becoming further away from the center front and virtually impossible to fasten in such a cramped and inaccessible space. Some of the facing is machined at the edge, but the majority is applied by hand. The stitching fastening the faced edges has come loose, revealing more of the broadcloth interlining.
The buttons appear to be flat metal disks covered with a light brown grosgrain-like material, with a small basic shank. The corded buttonholes seem to be done by hand, and are in a keyhole-style with a rounded end.
The stomacher piece unbuttons to reveal the hooks and eyes that fasten the center front together from the neck to the upper thigh. Though originally stitched with care between facings, many of the fasteners are missing or dangling by a thread since the facings are in a state of disrepair. The center fronts of the coat have been turned under and topstitched by machine, then faced underneath with a strip of the light brown satin.
Underneath the bottom of the stomacher flap are two appliquéd tabs that fasten with hidden hooks and eyes. They are also faced with the same satin and sewn into the seam of the false skirt piece and the coat body.
The high standing collar closes at the throat with two hidden hooks and eyes, and the satin facing appears to be heavily damaged from wear rather than age.
The coat fastening is a rather straightforward design of a center front opening and a flap that buttons over to hide it. The coat is completely unlined, and aside from the hem and sleeves, every edge has been faced with a strip of satin hand sewn on.
The two-piece sleeves are curved to follow the arm and flare at the wrist. The upper sleeve portion is appliquéd while the back is seamed to the elbow then left open as a faced flap with a large button and false buttonhole.
The flap is topstitched by machine in a microscopic stitch length, and is then tacked to the sleeve body with a few stitches.
A decorative pocket flap is sewn on each hip, faced underneath with the light brown satin applied by hand and basted onto the body of the coat.
The pockets are in excellent condition, and though I am unable to see inside them they are quite thick and I would guess they also contain a layer or two of the broadcloth interlining.
There are several very large round buttons on the cuffs and placed symmetrically at the front and back in classic redingote style. Upon closer inspection, they are not true buttons at all but silk-wrapped rings with a length of cord coiled in the middle to fill the space. A narrow cord is wrapped again around the ring, and another length of cord is used to outline the button when basted on, creating a more three dimensional appearance.
The back of the coat is just as impressive as the front, and features a center back vent. The center back seam features an inverted box pleat at the waist, and the edges are turned under and machine topstitched from the waist down, faced underneath with strips of satin. The seam is whip stitched by hand to mid-thigh level, and allows for the coat to hang properly and greater ease of movement since the fullness of the skirts have somewhere to go rather than bunching underneath. As the Directoire style of dress features skirts with smooth, rounded backs the vent need only extend up to the thigh. Dresses with large, bustled poufs require coats that are either vented to the waist or with a short back that stops at the waist entirely.
The two center back panels are appliquéd continuously from neck to hem, and the side backs extend into partial flaps that ‘button’ over them in the same style as the sleeves. The flaps are faced with satin that extends down to the hem.
The false buttonholes are created with the same thick cord used to make the buttons, but seem to be a separate cut piece folded in half and tucked under the button rather than merely the outlining cord extending into a twist.
Unlike mantles of this era, the coat has no inner waistband. The facing strips are readily apparent when turned inside out, and all seam allowances are bound with bias strips of a heavy brown cotton with a twill weave. While the outside of the coat is smooth with a felt-like finish, the inside is rough with soft bristles.
The cut seems deceivingly simple from this angle, but in actuality is quite complicated since you are actually viewing the underside of the false front center section that has been bound along the edges with bias, and then flawlessly basted-on by hand under the lapels.
Part of the stitching has come loose on the shoulder and the original color and texture of the fabric can be seen in this section that has been protected from the sun and elements for over 100 years. Originally a pinkish brown, the wool has faded into more of a tan color.
The side seam is actually only a dart that stops at the waist, underneath the pocket flap. The bias edging is doubled and continuous, indicating the raw edge was bound before the dart was seamed.
The majority of the collar’s satin lining has worn away to reveal a stiff yet flexible interlining - almost like a burlap but thicker, with a twill weave.
The sleeve seams are not bound with bias but left raw aside from hand-sewn satin facing strips inside the buttoned flap and the inside edge of the cuff.
The back vent of the coat is faced from the waist to the hem. The satin has water stains near the bottom… maybe the owner was caught in a rain storm?
The inverted box pleat is bound with bias at the top edge, then hand-basted flat. The whip-stitching at the center back seam is neat but appears hastily done. Perhaps the vent originally opened to the waist and it was a later alteration?
The hem of the coat is nearly perfect, and not reinforced in any way - merely turned under and machine topstitched. Since the collar lining indicates the coat did see a fair amount of wear, it is likely the coat was worn by someone 5’3” or taller and was intended to stop several inches short of the ground.
The appliqué has been machined on in the most curious fashion—a wide zigzag stitch of almost zero length used around the edges of the appliqué yet the bobbin is a straight stitch. I have seen this type of application on one other garment from the 1890s, and am at a total loss as to how it was done. The zigzag stitch is not decorative, it is how the appliqué was applied. The back seams of the coat also appear to have been individually bound with bias before seaming, probably to limit fraying while the cut pieces were handled during the appliqué process. The ghostly outline of the design can be seen on the inside, along with the tails of the threads used—regular tan cotton for the bobbin and the dark brown thick thread, almost like thin cording but silky.
Since I eventually plan on creating a pattern for this coat in the near future, I thought you would like a preview you could try yourself. Though the appliqué was machine-stitched on with heavy thread around the edges, you can recreate the same look by using soutache or satin cording to outline the design.
Please note that I retain the rights to this pattern and it is meant for personal use only, rather than commercial use/mass distribution for profit.
|My first attempt with tracing paper failed in 30 seconds, as the paper was too opaque to see through with the brown wool background underneath. My second attempt with clear plastic was more successful - I cut up a gallons-sized ‘sandwich’ bag with a sliding seal top used to store blankets. I pinned on a large piece to keep it from shifting as I traced.|
|Since the stomacher piece was sewn in place underneath the coat lapel and I really didn’t want to snip any of the original stitching, it was a little tricky to maneuver and get my hand in there. I trimmed the plastic and notched it a little around the edge closest to where the lapel was tacked in place. I was very careful with the marker and took breaks, so my hand wouldn’t shake and write on the wool by accident.|
|Once the entire front appliqué was traced, I checked it to make sure I hadn’t missed any spots before removing the pins. Once the plastic piece was unpinned, I trimmed it down and laid it on a white sheet of paper and used the marker to fill in any gaps and even out some lines.|
I then took a piece of gridded paper that had 1 inch squares, and pinned the plastic piece to the back of it, facing up. I pinned at the top, bottom and both sides, to prevent any shifting while I traced. I then held up both pieces pinned together and placed it flat on the glass of a sunny window. The bright light shone through the plastic and made the graph paper sheer enough for me to trace the design through it in pencil. I used rough strokes that were enough to get all the details, and made sure to check that I’d traced every little area before I unpinned it. I then laid the gridded paper piece flat on a table and manually touched up the lines with a pencil and eraser, smoothing and evening them out. The final step was carefully going over the pencil lines with a fine tip black marker in short, smooth strokes.
(**If a sunny window is not available, you can make an impromptu light box out of a plastic storage bin with a clear lid and several lit strings of holiday lights placed inside.)
I’d love to see your versions! I have created a Flickr group for people to post photos of what they create with the appliqué pattern.
Ageless Patterns –
1889 Cloth Costume w/Feather Trimming, 1889 Brown Cloth & Velvet Costume, 1889 Bordered Wool Dress w/Jacket, 1889 Red Matineé (Morning Gown), 1889 Dress w/Handkerchief Borders, 1889 Surprise Dress, 1889 Henrietta Cloth and Crape Mourning Dress
Revival Fashions 1888-1889: 57 Patterns with Fashion Plates and Suggestions for Adaptation , Frances Grimble– Lavolta Press – 2010