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The Coatdress: Its Aesthetics and Its Current Rareness


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#1 Testudo_Aubreii

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:52 AM

Given this forum's interest in women's and mens tailoring, as well as dress-making, I thought that since it seems to speak to all of those interests, it might be worthwhile to invite a discussion of the coatdress, and to post some images.

The coatdress, coat-dress, or coat dress is an interesting garment. In some ways, it could fairly be called the woman's frock (under)coat. Defining it is a bit tricky, since there are some difficult borderline cases, but I think a dress or gown with full shoulders and a coat-like closure on the bodice is a good starting point.

Tailors, do they seem easier or harder to cut, fit, and make up than a woman’s tailored jacket?

On to examples. My discussion will inevitably contain some terminological mistakes. I'm pretty ignorant of the technical terms for women's cuts. The former Kate Middleton wears coatdresses, both what I would call "real coatdresses," with a coat-like opening and fastening all the way up and down the front:
Posted Image
(http://www.dressity....der-Mcqueen.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://media.zenfs.c...blue-coat-1.jpg)
(Is that a skirt or a lining beneath the dress? This is one of the tricky aspects of coatdresses whose skirts don't fasten all the way to the hem.)

Posted Image
(http://www.graziadai...atricks_Day.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://www.vitydaily...-khaki-coat.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://www.princess-...295581_orig.jpg)

And "coat-dress" hybrids, with a coat-like bodice but no coat-like closure or no fastening below the waist (and often, the skirt has no front opening all the way to the hem):
Posted Image
(http://www.winterfas...rla-Kiely_6.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://www.shefinds..../02/katemid.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://redcfa.wpengi...ne-In-Reiss.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://i4.mirror.co....y-525723768.jpg)
(This last seems more like a topcoat than an undercoat: it probably has a separate skirt beneath. Perhaps we should distinguish between “undercoat-dresses” and “topcoat-dresses.”)

Similarly, the Duchess of Cornwall wears them, both genuine coatdresses:
Posted Image
(http://nowmagazine.m...The-Queen-2.jpg)
(Note the Queen in a coat-dress hybrid)

And ones without much of a coat-like closure on the bodice:
Posted Image
http://stylebinge.oc...herCamilla2.jpg
(Note the Queen and Ms. Middleton in more genuine coatdresses with full opening down to the hem. But perhaps the Queen's is really just a topcoat?)

This side-by-side compares the hybrid to Princess Ann’s conventionally-cut topcoat:
Posted Image
(http://ris.fashion.t...FP_1884224a.jpg)

And then Camilla also wears things that look to be cut exactly like a topcoat, but made of fabric intended for a dress ("topcoat-worn-as-a-dress"?):
Posted Image
(http://chexydecimal....ss-beatrice.jpg)
(With Princess Beatrice wearing a coat-dress, perhaps with a separate skirt underneath.)

It is interesting to compare the two Duchesses' silhouettes in coat-dresses to their silhouettes in conventional dresses: even though their shoulders and arms are fully covered in the dresses below, the figures they cut do somehow look more feminine than they do in the coat-dresses.
Posted Image
(http://www.themorton...May-29-2012.jpg)
(They were apparently attending a garden party.)
Compare them to Princess Anne, who wore a jacket atop a black dress:
Posted Image
(http://kates-wardrob...arden-party.jpg)
She definitely looks less feminine, more authoritative, and more kitted-out-for-sober-activities, in my opinion.
And here are some older coat-dresses:
Posted Image
(http://img3.etsystat...l.322945499.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://img2.etsystat...l.306547050.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://img1.etsystat...l.280218045.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://images2.wikia...340px-V2606.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://image0-rubyla...BE110909.1L.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://images.wikia....nce_3139_62.jpg)

Posted Image
(http://img0.etsystat...N.340966404.jpg)

Whew! That's enough. From this, I draw the following conclusion: on the continuum from the most sober and authoritative to the least, we put combinations of tailored jackets with skirt-pant-or-dress higher than coat-dresses, which in turn we put higher than conventional dresses. Tailored-jacket combinations look the most authoritative and sober (except perhaps when combined with shorts) and conventional dresses the least, with coatdresses in the middle.

It also raises questions: I can't recall ever seeing a post-1995 photo of a coat-dress on a real person who wasn’t either a royal, elderly, or at some self-consciously traditional event like Royal Ascot. Yet they seem to have been popular for businesswear in the 1980s. Why their decline in use and popularity? Did women just decide they’d wear a tailored jacket when they wanted to look elegant and authoritative, and a conventional dress when they wanted to look elegant and feminine? Did the coat-dress fall into desuetude between those two stools? Will they ever make a come-back? For what purpose?

Edited by Testudo_Aubreii, 20 June 2012 - 04:13 AM.

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#2 Der Zuschneider

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 05:21 AM

I like those coat dresses.

Coat dresses are made for outdoor. Regular women wear jeans, rich women get their coat dress from an expensive tailor.
The precariate women checking in at night clubs where it is too hot for a coat dress though they would love to have one to walk around in the streets looking nice.
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#3 Testudo_Aubreii

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 08:51 AM

Thanks, Der Zuschneider. I like them too. Do you think Kate's tan jacquard coat dress or the blue jacquard topcoat-cum-dress are custom-made? The collars seem to gape off her shoulders in a way I can't think a competent tailor or dressmaker would like.

Camilla's seem to fit her quite well.

Anyone have any thoughts about why they're so rare today among non-royals, but were common in the 1980s? (By which time women's custom clothing was near-dead.)

#4 tailleuse

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 01:09 PM

I once owned several Tahari petite-sized coat dresses. They were easy to wear, but there were flaws in the fit and a lot of problems with gaping at the bust and in the front of the skirt.

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#5 Nishijin

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 05:06 PM

Do you think Kate's tan jacquard coat dress or the blue jacquard topcoat-cum-dress are custom-made? The collars seem to gape off her shoulders in a way I can't think a competent tailor or dressmaker would like.


If you mean this one :
Posted Image

Then I hope it is not custom-made (bespoke). The collar is way off indeed.

On the jacquard blue one, since the collar is obviously much, much larger than her neck, I think it is a style attempt to make an "open" collar". I like this coat a lot, BTW.

Anyone have any thoughts about why they're so rare today among non-royals, but were common in the 1980s? (By which time women's custom clothing was near-dead.)

No idea at all.
Maybe it's just that since they were so common in the 1980s, people got sick of it and they came out of fashion.
Plus they are tailored garments, while today's fashion is all for easy, flowing garments, one-size nearly fit anybody. The fabric of choice is knit, then lycra-based stretch fabrics, things that can sell easily. A "coat-dress" needs to be right on spot so as not to gape everywhere. Though it can be made RTW, it would fit much less customers. It would be a nightmare for today's international businesses (body proportions of "mean" customer are not the same in America, North Europe, South Europe, Japan, China, India, Dubai...).
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#6 zokiTzar

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 06:00 PM

i like these coat dresses need to make one :)

#7 rs232

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 07:23 PM

Thanks for taking the time to put together than compilation of images. I agree that they are interesting to look at. I also can't help but think of them as a winter garment due to the resemblance of an overcoat.

#8 Testudo_Aubreii

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 03:25 AM

Plus they are tailored garments, while today's fashion is all for easy, flowing garments, one-size nearly fit anybody. The fabric of choice is knit, then lycra-based stretch fabrics, things that can sell easily. A "coat-dress" needs to be right on spot so as not to gape everywhere. Though it can be made RTW, it would fit much less customers. It would be a nightmare for today's international businesses (body proportions of "mean" customer are not the same in America, North Europe, South Europe, Japan, China, India, Dubai...).


Thanks, Nishijin. You may be right. Though of course tailored jackets are highly popular today. So do you think it's harder to get a good fit in a coatdress than in a tailored jacket? I suppose that a suit is a bit easier to fit than a coatdress, since with the suit you have separate garments, each of whose fit you can work on individually.

But then again, coatdresses were popular in the 1980s, when women's custom clothing was already practically dead. So should we conclude that women have become more demanding about fit in tailored clothing since then, and that was what caused the coatdress to decline? Maybe: the current slim silhouette for tailored garments puts more of a premium on fit than does 1980s drape/droop, I suppose.

Here's a 1950s' model with a waist seam that I imagine would be trickier to fit than a 1980s' droop model.
Posted Image
(http://circavintagec...ess-size-12.jpg)

And here are two more at Kate and William's wedding:
Posted Image
(http://outercourttal...-14.ss_full.jpg)

Another question this raises: why, in this age of fluid gender roles and gender-crossing dress, do no brides wear coatdresses? A bride in a coatdress seems as rare as hen's teeth. Brides frequently wear boleros, and often wear tailored jackets. But coatdresses on brides seem vanishingly rare. Camilla wore one, though hers didn't have much of a coatlike fastening, and of course she wears a sheath underdress:
Posted Image
(http://media.tumblr....gLhs1qd8bxp.jpg)

And here is a designer's idea:
Posted Image
(http://1.bp.blogspot...0/s640/NY13.jpg)

And here is a vintage one:
Posted Image
(http://www.queenofho...HY DIVA W3A.jpg)

I rather like the bridal coatdress look. I wonder why it's so much less fashionable than conventional gowns?


An interesting one here. I'm tempted to draw the line, though, and say it's really just a coat.
Posted Image
(http://thenewlyengag...bridal-coat.jpg)

Same for this one on Princess Mathilde of Belgium:
Posted Image
(http://estilo-tendan...lotendances.jpg)

Edited by Testudo_Aubreii, 21 June 2012 - 04:21 AM.


#9 Nishijin

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 04:04 AM

Thanks, Nishijin. You may be right. Though of course tailored jackets are highly popular today. So do you think it's harder to get a good fit in a coatdress than in a tailored jacket? I suppose that a suit is a bit easier to fit than a coatdress, since with the suit you have separate garments, each of whose fit you can work on individually.


A suit (jacket with trousers or skirt) is 2 garments. It is indeed easier to fit : on a coatdress, the fit needs to be good both on the chest and on the hips. Quite a challenge for RTW.


But then again, coatdresses were popular in the 1980s, when women's custom clothing was already practically dead. So should we conclude that women have become more demanding about fit in tailored clothing since then, and that was what caused the coatdress to decline? Maybe: the current slim silhouette for tailored garments puts more of a premium on fit than does 1980s drape/droop, I suppose.


I sincerely have no real clue on this. But I think the major change since the 1980s is the globalisation of the industry. 25 years ago, a RTW brand had a main customer base in a local area, and a targeted a limited portion of the population. Today, though the price range still means that only a portion of the population is targeted, brands are frequently global. All the more for luxury brands. The same designer dress would have to sell in California, Massachussetts, Florida, England, France, Italy, Germany, Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tôkyô. I'm actually amazed that they found a way to do so. The exercise for a coatdress would be very, very difficult I think.

In a nutshell : including a coatdress in a RTW collection would be a big risk of poor international sales. Not the kind of idea the money people in the luxury companies like a lot...


Here's a 1950s' model with a waist seam that I imagine would be trickier to fit than a 1980s' droop model.


Bespoke ?

And here are two more at Kate and William's wedding:


Clearly bespoke.

Another question this raises: why, in this age of fluid gender roles and gender-crossing dress, do no brides wear coatdresses?



Maybe because even in this age, people are still attached to the image of the "classical bride", or what they think it is.

Maybe too because when a bride wants to get her dress, she can go to :
- a special RTW shop, where there would only be gowns, usually with a fitted bodice and an easygoing skirt, so that only the bodice needs a good fit
- a MTM shop, and all garments I've seen available are gown, or sometimes a suit, for same reasons as RTW
- a dressmaker, usually specialising in bridal gowns. Who knows how the dressmaker would react to a question about coatdress ? This is lady tailoring, not "couture flou". Not the same skills. Maybe the dressmaker has very little experience in cutting and fitting a coat.

I'm sure that if we look for it, we can find examples of brides in coatdress. There are brides in any kind of garment. I'm sure someone must have chosen to get wed in bikini. But it's a choice implying a lot of struggle from the bride, since the market is not there to provide an easy answer.
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#10 Testudo_Aubreii

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 04:40 AM

I suppose it was inevitable. A swallowtail bridal coat, purportedly from Vera Wang:
Posted Image
(http://www.drclean.c...es/WithCoat.jpg)

And a Wang bridal frock coatdress:
Posted Image
(http://0.tqn.com/d/w.../73925500_8.jpg)

And for the mother of the bride or groom, an alternative to the two-piece ensemble:
Posted Image
(http://www.ccfashion...57cxpl890_1.jpg)

Edited by Testudo_Aubreii, 21 June 2012 - 04:45 AM.


#11 Todd Hudson

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 05:53 AM

Re: Camilla's marriage outfit shown above is for her second marriage and she is an older women. For first marriage, women wear the big, one-tome-only costume gown to help reinforce the heteronormitive and patriarchal nature of marriage; for second marriage women choose something more practical to wear. Camilla is a conservative, older lady so she wore the coatdress.

#12 Testudo_Aubreii

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 06:11 AM

Re: Camilla's marriage outfit shown above is for her second marriage and she is an older women. For first marriage, women wear the big, one-tome-only costume gown to help reinforce the heteronormitive and patriarchal nature of marriage; for second marriage women choose something more practical to wear. Camilla is a conservative, older lady so she wore the coatdress.


Well, sure. But a white bride's coatdress like most of the above is almost as one-time-only and costumeish as the standard white gown, isn't it? As for signaling deference to patriarchy: it doesn't seem to me that coatdresses are all that much less symbolically feminine in cut and silhouette than conventional gowns, though I grant that they are less feminine. That is: I don't think that a bride's coatdress like most of the white ones above would be much less effective than a bridal gown at highlighting and symbolizing respect for sharp gender differences.

Also, if it's all about showing deference for patriarchy, why do royal and aristocratic brides wear coatdresses at their first weddings at higher rates than non-aristocrats? Prima facie, it would seem that aristocrats are more likely to be deferential to patriarchy and conservative values than non-aristocrats.

But you may be right: current wedding norms for non-aristocrats do encourage the utmost femininity in (first-time) bridal dress, and the gown ultimately delivers more femininity than the coatdress.

Edited by Testudo_Aubreii, 21 June 2012 - 06:14 AM.


#13 ct3d

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 02:49 PM

One reason why coatdresses (and dresses in general) aren't worn that much may simply be the amount of work (ironing) that you have to put into a full dress. As in: Not only will you have to wash and iron the bodice part (that may be sweaty and need a good wash), you also have to wash and iron the skirt part (that takes a lot more wear before the *need* for care).

I know that care for the finished dress is an important part in my decisions if it will be a one-piece dress or a blouse/blazer and skirt combination. I simply don't have the time for all that ironing!

Also, the working place for women has drastically changed over the years, certainly since the eighties. These days, there is almost no job without a computer, and working with a computer results in a hunched-over posture (both men and women) which is a lot harder to fit. Common wisdom says that for women the front should be longer than the back, but with the hunched posture the back needs to be a lot longer. If not, the garment becomes uncomfortable (one feels like one gets choked), especially if one sits on the skirt of that dress(coat) so it doesn't 'give'. RTW doesn't take that into account. And who has the money for bespoke? Certainly not the general public.

#14 Nishijin

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 09:22 PM

CT3D : very, very good points indeed. Much better than mine.
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#15 zokiTzar

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 02:52 AM

i love them almost all
ont he typical closed buttoned one I am not sure what is worn underneath
and what materials to use for undergarments?

#16 tailleuse

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Posted 24 June 2012 - 03:36 AM

If you mean this one :
Posted Image

Then I hope it is not custom-made (bespoke). The collar is way off indeed.

On the jacquard blue one, since the collar is obviously much, much larger than her neck, I think it is a style attempt to make an "open" collar". I like this coat a lot, BTW.


No idea at all.
Maybe it's just that since they were so common in the 1980s, people got sick of it and they came out of fashion.
Plus they are tailored garments, while today's fashion is all for easy, flowing garments, one-size nearly fit anybody. The fabric of choice is knit, then lycra-based stretch fabrics, things that can sell easily. A "coat-dress" needs to be right on spot so as not to gape everywhere. Though it can be made RTW, it would fit much less customers. It would be a nightmare for today's international businesses (body proportions of "mean" customer are not the same in America, North Europe, South Europe, Japan, China, India, Dubai...).


I think your assessment is accurate. I had five or six Tahari coatdresses in the 1990s. Part of the reason was that as a petite woman looking for conservative but not completely boring business clothing, there weren't that many choices, so if I found something I half-way liked, I bought several.

Tahari Petites was my go-to brand. I also owned several jackets with matching skirts and sheath dresses. My main problem was that the fabric was rayon, not something better like wool crepe. The colors were limited and I usually would only buy black or navy because rayon didn't take dye very well. Many colors had a grayish cast to me.

I recently had to buy some tailored suits and found some better quality pieces on J. Crew.com. They don't carry petite sizes in the stores, so there's an element of risk. The skirt size suggested was too big. But at leas they're not rayon.


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#17 tailleuse

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Posted 24 June 2012 - 03:45 AM

One reason why coatdresses (and dresses in general) aren't worn that much may simply be the amount of work (ironing) that you have to put into a full dress. As in: Not only will you have to wash and iron the bodice part (that may be sweaty and need a good wash), you also have to wash and iron the skirt part (that takes a lot more wear before the *need* for care).


My Tahari coatdresses were structured and had to be dry cleaned. I prefer to hand launder nice clothes, but rayon, wool crepe, super 120s jackets and skirts have to be dry cleaned. I might touch them up a little bit with my steamer in between visits, but I would never iron them. The added cost of dry cleaning is something I think about.

Jackets are versatile: they usually can be worn with skirts, dresses, and jeans. A coat dress does only one thing. It looks silly outside of a business context. It's reasonably comfortable, but not as comfortable as a wool crepe sheath dress, which can be dressed up with a jacket and scarf or dressed down with a cardigan sweater. Unlike a man who can take off his jacket at work, there's no way to make a coat dress more comfortable, it's all or nothing.
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#18 tailleuse

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Posted 24 June 2012 - 03:50 AM

I rather like the bridal coatdress look. I wonder why it's so much less fashionable than conventional gowns?



1) Some, nay, many women would find them matronly;



2) There's a trend in U.S. bridal wear and formal gowns to be as exhibitionistic as possible, taste be damned.


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