Monday, October 7, 2013

Early Tail Coats: How They Were Different

The period from ca. 1790-1820 is a unique and frequently misunderstood period in the evolution of men's fashion.  There were dramatic departures from general formulas that had been in place since the ca. 1680s but the innovations that ultimately lead to the fashions that would create the vastly different male image of the 1820s forward had not yet been conceived.  The 1790s saw the birth of the tailcoat but the form in which they existed until the 1820s had much more to with the coats of the 18th Century than anything post 1820.

When laid flat, the pieces of the typical pre-1820 tail coat are shaped basically the same as a coat of the late 18th Century but with growth across the front and cutaways in the lower front bodies to form tails (plus various other evolutions). The diagram of this coat on the attached link shows the beginnings of the evolution- the front body has barely been formed into tails in this 1790-95 example:


Click for flat diagram: http://www.lacma.org/sites/default/files/FF_Patterns_Manscoat.pdf

The diagram of this coat from ca. 1812-14 shows how the coat body typically evolved from there; the basic form lasted through the first two decades (and sometimes beyond) of the 19th Century:


Diagram by Betsy Bashore:


The body was still cut in one piece as it had been since it took hold as the typical male top layer in the 1680s (elaborated on nicely in Part 2 of Noah Waugh's The Cut of Men's Clothes 1600-1900).


1817

This remained the case until about 1818 when modifications began to be made to tighten the fit of the body, which would ultimately lead to the pinched waist, flared bottom look that would take hold in the 1820s and last (in changing forms over time) through the 1840s, into the 1850s. 


1827


1839-40


ca. 1840s- MET Museum

The first step toward this was the introduction of a "fish" at the waist, which began the "tightening trend" (first appearing in 1818 according to Waugh, 113; indeed, a thorough survey of reliably dated period images corroborate that there is no evidence of change before then). 

In the 1820s, waist seams and body darts began the process of being introduced (although not universally) to aid in the image created by coats such as those in the images above. The Tailor's Friendly Instructor by J. Wyatt from 1822 is an interesting look at this evolution in progress: the structure of the front body of his tail coat diagram is still cut in one piece with only the frock coat possessing a seam at the waist and dart in the body.

Tail coats seem to be misunderstood by those attempting to recreate the Regency/Federal period today most commonly because of a "projecting backward" of what has been understood to "be" a tailcoat since just prior to the Victorian era: waist seams and body darts will creep in on garments intended to represent an era when they did not exist, creating a fit and silhouette that also did not exist (an error which I made, myself, for years).  The tailors of the Regency/Federal period only had knowledge of the developments that had been made to that therefore only had that to work with. It is also important to keep in mind that over the 30 or so years that are often lumped into the label "Regency," many trends came and went within the time frame, so limiting research for a coat to no more than a five year span is important.

I am often asked what pattern on the market is best for making a "Regency" coat. The best solution I have found is to take this pattern and "boil it down" to its basic shape (eliminate all of the military details).  You will then have a basic template to work from; the front edges as is will meet along your center front (overlap for buttons/holes must be added).  You can then build the civilian details onto the basic shape too create the specific civilian look you desire (the sleeves ARE supposed to reach the knuckles; fiddling with where the body cuts across to form the tails will likely be necessary):


I know more than one person (myself included) that had to take an inch or more out of the side seems to achieve a good snug fit for their size but, other than that, it works out beautifully. It is important to keep in mind that items representing later periods are often mislabeled "Regency" and even assigned a date range that literally would include the Regency era. This is an example that applies the term "Regency" and recommends it for recreating the years 1810-30 but, when the fit, details, and diagram are checked against primary sources and the evolution outlined here, it is actually not correct until the 1820s are well under way and would actually be a very useful resource for recreating fashions into the 1830s (rather than cutting it off at 1830).


Recreating early tailcoats can be a tricky question but understanding how they evolved and doing your own research based in primary sources limited to a five year span or so before making any purchases, it can be done. My most recent attempt, ca. 1805-10, based on the process I recommended above:


Yours, &c.

The Victorian Man (Looking Backwards)

18 comments:

  1. that Laughing Moon coat pattern seems to have the best small back piece I've seen to date...all the other patterns make that piece too wide.

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    1. I'm sure the tailoring is good but that is a pretty quick tweak on the Past Patterns coat and all of the rest of the pieces are correct for prior to 1820.

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    2. I notice that Laughing Moon has just added a new pattern which is supposed to be more suited to 1805-1815.

      http://www.lafnmoon.com/product_p/p122.htm

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    3. Have been looking at that- everything looks to be in good order there. I would recommend giving it a try!

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  2. Yes, I have acknowledged the difference in opinions on the waist seam. I have even sent the question to the curators at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The only agreement between scholars about this period is that is "murky". I am not an historian. Just a patternmaker. So I use museum collections and books to date items. I really don't think this makes me criminal. :D I have cited the references I used and if one thinks they are mistaken, that is very fine with me. It is always up to the individual to decide whether a garment would be true to their impression. We are coming out with several men's garments for the early years of the 19th century over the next year. The next one has been published and may help with those who feel that the waist seam version is not for them. You can find it here.
    http://www.lafnmoon.com/product_p/p122.htm
    Once again I used a book to date this garment. The book is a reprint of several tailoring books called Federalist & Regency Costume: 1790 - 1819.
    We have always welcomed feedback about our patterns. We go through a beta testing just exactly for that reason. I want to thank you for featuring our coat in your article. This controversy has created quick the buzz for our company. Because of this discussion we have gained many new customers. I hope you will review and try out our new pattern, #122.
    Thanking you sincerely,
    JoAnn Peterson
    Laughing Moon Mercantile

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    1. It's really not all that murky if come at from the stand point of examination of as many primary sources as possible from across the period rather than relying on what has been written down in narrative form; you are right- it really has not been well documented in that way and does come across as unclear with details from broad periods being put together where they do not belong. You are also correct about changes occurring in the 1830s but the same systems that were being used in the 20s were still in use and coats of the 30s have quite a bit in common as far as basic form (even though there were significant stylistic changes); there is no primary evidence to suggest that this system has any application to the 1810s.

      I am trained and practiced in responsible historical research which I have applied and continue to apply rigorously to men's clothing throughout the 19th Century. It has been an especial up hill battle to bring authentic interpretation of men's clothes during the 1800-20 period, specifically, to my area and I work in a public history setting where I am responsible for ensuring that male first person interpreters are correctly presented to patrons to an even narrower time frame within that. The coat that would result from this pattern would be beautiful and I, personally, consider the 1820s a very attractive decade, but when my interpreters approached me with this pattern that was labeled as being within our time frame yet containing details that all of my research points to several years away from existing and therefore cannot be presented in a museum setting, I felt the need to clear the air as a part of this presentation with a general explanation as to why. It really is not possible to have a coat that would be up to date for a twenty year span within the 19th century- things changed too quickly.

      Like I said- the 1820s-30s were incredible and revolutionary decades for male fashion. They have been on my agenda to recreate for quite a while and as soon as I have the time, I will do my best to put this pattern to use. Also looking forward to reviewing future products. Best of luck.

      Brian Cushing

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  3. I forgot to mention that the reason I cut it off at 1830 is that my books tell me that about then, give or take, a side seam was introduced. But if you think it could go into the 1830s, that's is even better.
    Thanks,
    JoAnn

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    1. Sorry, I promise this will be my last post! Brian, would you consent to be a Beta Tester for me? I can't find you on facebook. If interested, tell me how I can contact you.
      JoAnn

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    2. I am very flattered- unfortunately, I am pretty slammed on the sewing side of things and likely would not be able to complete projects in a timely manner. Always happy to advise on period details on the front end, though.

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    4. cushing *dot* brian *at* gmail.com

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  4. Replies
    1. Thank you so much sir! Have been enjoying looking through your work just now!

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  5. Sir, I dont know you, but I would have followed you based on your name alone..... ;-)

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  7. Quick question for you: prior to the introduction of darts and fishes for suppression, do you have any info on how much stretching and fulling was done to the fabric itself for shaping? Were coats pre-1800 made up 'plain,' or was a certain degree of shaping worked into the stuff?

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    1. I may not be the one to answer this question most in depth but the answer seems to be certainly yes. In Norah Waugh describes this as having been an integral part in 18th Century tailoring on page 88 of The Cut of Men's Clothes 1600-1900, which would make the practice well established by the period in question here. Her work is general and basic in some places but well backed up with primary sources. Definitely a question worth digging into further! You bring up an good point about the absence of fish and darts causing flaws in a finished tail coat, though- a certain degree of wrinkling in the sides as a result appears to have been common.

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  8. It’s really an amazing blog about Best menswear tailoring . Thanks for sharing with us great information about this lovely topic. I really get benefit from this.

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