A brief history of coats: everything you need to know

Paradoxically, the historical record says that coats could only be worn by men until almost the 18th century. Men’s coats appeared and were used decades before this kind of toilet appeared in women’s wardrobe.
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Hugo Boss

Single- or double-breasted coats originated from the Spanish provinces in the 18th century, where it was considered a workers‘/peasants‘ version of clothing. Back then, similar clothes were called palletoque — that is made of two words: pallium "spacious cloak" and toque "headwear".

Over the years, this comfortable and functional item has gradually garnered attention in other European countries — France, England, Russia. Interestingly, in each of these countries this kind of clothing pursued its own development path. Thus, it was the English who brought diversity, aristocracy, and elegance to the Spanish commoners’ clothing.

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The Gazette of Fashion, 1872

In the East, coats (also called robes at the time) were not only a wearable item of clothing, but also a status indicator. Subordinates were given a robe as a gift and a sign of promotion. It was decorated with embroidery, fur, and other various details.

In China, embroidery on a coat made people understand who was standing before them. For example, a stork meant it was a person of the highest rank among civil servants, whereas an embroidered magpie was worn only by the peasants.

The nomads who travelled all over the world along the famous "Silk Road", earlier laid by Marco Polo through Mongolia, Africa, South Asia and to the countries of the Middle East, created the trend of decorating outerwear. The designs and embroidery were always symbolic and helped the wearer in their mission, brought good luck, defended and protected them.

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A pair of Chinese late Qing dynasty ancestor portraits showing a senior official of the third rank and his wife, China, late 19th century, Chui Xuchong © RICHARD REDDING ANTIQUES LTD
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© @valyagry

In Russia, one could hear the word "coat" very rarely. This kind of men’s clothes were named after its creators — Spencer, Carrick, Chesterfield. Alexander Pushkin did not know the word "coat", since the first prototype of such kind of outerwear appeared in rainy Petersburg only a year after the death of the classic, that is in 1838.

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Double-breasted, velvet-collared Chesterfield topcoat, 1937; Anthony Eden wearing a chesterfield coat © Crawford Clothes, Inc./The New York Public Library
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Carrik coat, 1812 © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Amsterdam Museum

Once upon a time a Scottish man got wet in the rain coming back home from work. One of the sleeves of his cloak was smeared with rubber. He saw that the dirty sleeve wasn’t wet at all, and that made him think of creating a cloth that wouldn’t let the water get through. Like this Charles Macintosh created a cloak which goes by his name since then. He received a patent for his invention and began to produce impermeable "macintosh" cloaks. Back in the 18th century, coats were very long, so a button was sewn on the back to clutch the hem and avoid it getting dirty.

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Macintosh coat, 1893 © Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. catalogue,
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SS 2020 collection Jil Sander x Mackintosh

Here are some interesting facts about the origin of a coat:

  • Few people know that when British Marshal Raglan lost his upper limb in a battle, he requested to create a unique design of an outer garment for him. As a result, we got raglans with an interesting cut of the sleeves.
  • An item resembling a frock was created by Lord Chesterfield.

  • The short models of coats were made popular by the politician George Spencer.

  • "Kaftan" is considered to be the cater-cousin of a coat. It was popular among various segments of the population. Peasant models were sewn of baize, while boyars — of brocade.

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Field Marshal Fitzroy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, 1855
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Max Mara’s 101801 Icon raglan sleeve coat

At the end of the 19th century, women began replicating men’s clothes. Padded jackets (telogreikas) and sleeveless jackets (dushegreis) were what women usually wore. But even then, fashionable outerwear made of high-quality natural fabrics in Europe began to be divided into original cuts.

So the three options of its silhouette emerged — straight, trapezoidal, and slim-fitted. As well as two lengths — the commonly used long, and the short one, that was traditional for sports models. The midi length and the flared silhouette emerged on the runways much later.

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Prada FW 2013 collection © Marcus Tondo, GoRunway

P.S. The coat for a round-the-world trip

Nellie Bly was a journalist from Pittsburgh who decided to break the record of Jules Verne‘s novel hero and circumnavigate the Earth in less than 80 days. Such an imprudent sass for 1889!

So the crazy race began on November 14, 1889, at 9:30 in the morning. All the woman took with her was nothing but a beloved road coat, a watch, a wool dress, a set of pencils, and 200 pounds given by Joseph Pulitzer, editor of the New York World (the future founder of the Pulitzer Prize).

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Nellie Bly © McLoughlin Bros.

It is interesting that the popular magazine Cosmopolitan sent its employee on the same trip at the same time. The difference was that Elizabeth Bisland was supposed to be moving in the opposite direction. Bookmakers  accepted the bets in rush: "Which of the ladies will manage to get the task done faster?" Most people believed it was not possible to accomplish such a thing at all.

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J. W. Brown & Co., High Grade Canned Goods, No. 103 Arch Street, Phila. / Wilson Biscuit Co., Manufacturers of Faultless Biscuit, Cakes, and Crackers, 210, 212, 214 N. Front Street, Philadelphia / W. Brown & Co., High Grade Canned Goods, No. 103 Arch Street, Phila. / (Philadelphia, ca. 1890).

Почему Нелли Блай выбрала для путешествия именно клетчатое пальто до сих пор неизвестно. Она обогнула Землю за 72 дня 6 часов, 10 минут и 11 секунд. А Элизабет Бислэенд из Cosmopolitan финишировала на четыре дня позже, опоздав в Саутгемптоне на пароход. Только представьте масштаб популярности клетчатых пальто в тот период.

И, кстати, PRADA зимой 2013 года, явно вдохновились Нелли Блай.

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Giovanna Battaglia wearing Prada Plaid coat ©

Valentina Grishchenko



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