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#1 Sator

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 07:34 PM

The Frock Overcoat

Overcoats and Undercoats

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the frock coat established itself as the correct form of day wear full dress coat, displacing the dress coat to the status of evening wear.

It should also be made explicit that the word ‘coat’ does not traditionally denote outwear or an overcoat for outdoor wear. Tailcoats such as the morning coat (day wear tail coat) and the dress coat (evening wear tail coat) are both coats, but are not outerwear. Coats can therefore be distinguished as either overcoats or ‘undercoats’ – although the latter archaic expression became obsolete some time in the early 19th century. Undercoats are worn under the overcoat, and overcoats are worn over the undercoat! The frock coat is an ‘undercoat’, and the top frock is an overcoat.

Origins of the Frock Overcoat


It is interesting that the frock coat may have evolved from a hybrid of overcoat and undercoat. In the earlier part of the 19th century, a particular subtype of frock coat existed called the surtout, that was half undercoat and half overcoat. Here is an example:



Notice that the wearer is wearing only a waistcoat under the coat, which is nonetheless three quarter length in the manner of an undercoat and worn without an overcoat ie it has features of both an undercoat and an overcoat.

As the frock coat became established as the Prince Albert for wear with daytime full dress, an overcoat known as either a “top frock”, or the “frock overcoat” emerged, cut to be worn over the frock coat. Cutting manuals state that a little measure should be added to the proportions of the client’s frock coat to make this overcoat.

The Frock Overcoat

It should be made clear that the frock coat is not an overcoat or outerwear. When outerwear was worn, the frock overcoat served this role:



As you can see, the wearer has on a shirt, a waistcoat, a frock coat and over that he wears his final outer layer, the frock overcoat. The fact that it is an overcoat is further highlighted by the fact that the garment has a velvet collar in a manner still commonly seen on Chesterfield coats today. Other characteristic features of the frock overcoat were that it often (but not always) had outer side pockets. In other respects, the basic cut and proportion of the frock overcoat are usually largely identical to that of the frock coat, although it is always cut to be a little longer than the frock coat underneath so as to fully cover the undercoat.

In this plate, it takes a little careful study of the coat to determine if it is an undercoat or an overcoat:



The things that give it away as an Albert top frock are that it has a velvet collar and the sleeves lengths are longer. Although the chest welt could occasionally be found on frock coats, it is much more common on top frocks. It is also notable that the construction of the vent is identical to that of standard body coats worn as undercoats such as dress coats or morning coats.

In this illustration, the overcoat has side pockets, and velvet lined sleeve cuffs – a feature never found on frock coats:



Alternative Construction Method for the Vents

Often, the frock overcoat had vents constructed differently to that of the undercoat:



The fashion plate also shows the wearer from the front in the centre of the three figures:



The centre figure wears both a frock coat and frock overcoat. This makes it clear that the figure on the right shows a method of construction unique to the frock overcoat from behind.

This old German text describes in detail the construction of what it calls a Gehrock-Paletot or frock overcoat:



Notice the way that the back panel is cut without a centre seam, and how the waist seam has been extended all the way around to meet at the centre back. Further details of this alternative method of construction can be found here:




The Frock Overcoat and the Paddock Coat

One Apparel Arts/Esquire illustration that has engendered enormous confusion is this one. The wearers are in morning dress, and the overcoat of the figure on the right is incorrectly described as a “paddock coat”.



Let us examine in detail as to whether an error has been committed in calling this overcoat a “paddock coat”. The only detailed reference that explains what a paddock coat is can be found in Cunnington. The Cunningtons explain that some people in the late 19th century differentiated between the paletot and the paddock coat. The paletot properly had a side body, whereas the paddock coat lacks it. Cunnington states that the paddock coat is:

A long overcoat without a seam at the waist, made D-B or S-B and fly front


However, in common usage the term “paletot” was used for both. The important point is that the paddock coat (and paletot) lacked a waist seam.



Let us look carefully at the illustration in concern:



It is quite clear that this is a body coat. The button three/show six construction is identical to a frock coat except for the outer pockets – just as would be expected from a frock overcoat. Also, a frock coat is worn with morning dress – and morning dress is depicted in the illustration. The velvet collar is another typical feature of a frock overcoat.

It there was finally one thing that must cast grave doubts on the term “paddock coat” as used in that Apparel Arts/Esquire text, it must surely be the fact that a “paddock” would be a most peculiar place to wear such a formal full dress garment. The name automatically implies a country styled casual garment rather than a formal city garment.

The only logical conclusion is that the writers have committed a grave error in calling a frock overcoat a paddock coat. It is perhaps related to the fact that the garment had become increasingly rare at the time of printing, and the writers were unfamiliar with the correct terminology. The American writers in Apparel Arts/Esquire should have called it a surtout.

British English vs American English

The next question is whether there could be a difference in the usage of British and American English. The Cunnington’s always use British English. However, examination of texts from Croonborg (New York-Chicago, 1907) reveals no mention of a paddock coat. However, he does call an overcoat with a body coat construction like a frock overcoat a “double-breasted surtout”.



In British English, the word surtout became just another name for a frock coat in the later 19th century. Salisbury (New York, 1865) also calls such an overcoat with a body coat construction a double-breasted surtout:



(Notice that Salisbury’s pattern has separately cut lapels, whereas Croonborg shows a one piece front, as was becoming fashionable around this time. Also, note the presence of the centre back seam and that the waist seam does not extend all the way to the centre back)

It seems that in American English the word surtout was restricted to describing a frock overcoat, whereas surtout became an alternative phrase for a frock undercoat in British English. The divergence in the usage of the term “surtout” argues for the origin of the later Victorian frock coat from a coat that was half overcoat and half undercoat. Nonetheless, it is clear that there is no historical precedent in American English to call a double-breasted body overcoat a “paddock coat”.

Dress Etiquette

The next question is where such a garment could be worn. Originally, the frock overcoat was strictly worn only with daytime full dress and could not be worn in the evening, when an opera cape or Inverness cloak was required. However, this 1902 British dress chart makes it clear that it increasingly became acceptable to wear a top frock with evening full dress:



Purists would have likely objected to this detail on this chart, insisting instead that a proper overcoat devoted to evening dress be worn such as an Inverness cloak.

A Modern Revival

Those interesting in cutting an Albert top frock should consider cutting a morning coat first – or perhaps even a frock coat. Once satisfied with the fit of the coat, a small measure can be added to the bodice pattern to cut the overcoat. The vents may be finished in the above discussed manner with a back panel lacking a centre seam, and the waist seam extended to meet at the centre back, according to taste.

A particularly striking variant of the frock overcoat was published by Croonsborg (who calls this variant a Newmarket coat):



The striking feature of this pattern is the way the waist seam goes only part way around the waist. The lapel is of the semi-cut on type with the dart at top centre.

Here is a modernised version made by Thomas Mahon:

http://www.englishcu...ves/000178.html

#2 I.Brackley

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 05:28 PM

I have recently obtained a copy of The Blue Book (Croonsborg) and am scheeming to make a frock overcoat as a summer project in time for next fall. Providing of course I can get the current Price Albert experiment finished...... ermm.png
"The possibilities that exist in the portrayal of personality constitute the strongest, and in fact the only unanswerable argument for the supremacy of Custom Tailoring"

-F.T. Croonborg, c. 1917

#3 yachtie

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 07:07 AM




What is the function of the waist seam on these coats? It appears that the same silhouette could be achieved with the side seams only.

#4 Terri

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 07:47 AM

Posted Image


What is the function of the waist seam on these coats? It appears that the same silhouette could be achieved with the side seams only.


The waist seam allows for a better fit through the body and more importantly, allows for a lot of leeway in shaping the skirt of the coat.
For instance, if you wanted more fullness at the skirt hem, and did not have a waist seam, you would have to have vertical seams that suppress the waist and then they would have to flare out to get the required fullness at the hem. So you would have one or more seams vertically through the skirt.
If you need to fit over a full belly, the waist seam is, in essence, a horizontal dart, controlling the hang of the skirt over the belly, and the fullness of the hem right below the belly.

Waist seams in coats really came into widespread use at the end of the eighteenth century, early nineteenth century. When coats became more like what we recognize today, they did just have a side seam. That seam, which was the only vertical seam other than the CB, moved from the side, more toward the back in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, and that is where it has remained. The problem there is that you are limited in the quality of body fit with only that seam to work with- hence the introduction of the waist seam, and then the addition of a side body panel as well as the waist seam.

There are so many variations of styles of these coats, that it is interesting to see different variations of waistline and CB treatments. I think that we often come to think of details being rigid but really there were many variations, we often are just missing research or actual garments to look at, don't you think?

#5 jcsprowls

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 08:30 AM

Actually, it's foremost, a matter of allocation. By creating a seam, the fabric can be used more efficiently. And, as a result of that business decision, the seam also allows for more technical design options (e.g. fuller, slimmer skirt).
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#6 Sator

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 09:52 AM

Waistseams on body coats were introduced around the late 1820s. At the time the fashion was for a much tighter fit than is seen today. When they tried to get the waist to fit very closely, tailors found that this caused unsightly wrinkles around the waistline, which could be avoided if a coat was cut without a waist seam. It also gave the cutter a great deal of control over the style of waist suppression and the spring of the skirt. The first cutters used it to create a marked pinch-and-flare that looked like this:



Notice that the waist suppression looks like this:

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...whereas since the 1840s we mostly have mostly had this:

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While the pinch-and-flare style of coat went out of fashion after about a decade, the waistseam remained a feature of body coats because it allowed a tailor a great deal of control eg with a corpulent cut, that otherwise is lacking. Body coats have a much more finely sculptured type of architecture, and it is not for nothing that lounge coats were called "sac coats" early on in their history. The main reason I suspect that lounge-Chester type of non-body coats have largely ecclipsed body coats is because they are easy to manufacture on a large scale, are sack-like enough to fit a wider number of customers, and can be much more readily altered when they don't. For example, to add waist suppression to a body coat you just about have to dismantle half the coat eg remove and recut the skirt. Body coats are very much a bespoke style of coat, and RTW examples look very strange on the wearer.



#7 Sator

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Posted 23 May 2009 - 09:55 AM

By creating a seam, the fabric can be used more efficiently.


Yes, it's remarkable how efficiently a body coat uses up cloth. These days the extra cost of labour to make up a body coat far outweighs cost savings in cloth.

#8 A. A

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Posted 28 October 2010 - 12:04 PM

Yes, it's remarkable how efficiently a body coat uses up cloth. These days the extra cost of labour to make up a body coat far outweighs cost savings in cloth.


Dear Sator or anyone who can answer this

I am about to attempt making this coat with some help of other tailoring students. I need some help with the drafting / pattern aspect of it. Are there any steps as to how to draft this pattern?

Posted Image


Can anyone please identify the exact pattern prices in this picture above? I am having a hard time visualizing this shape of this. The dashed lines (slanted) from waist to hem are pleats right? Also the waist seam does not extend all the way to center front? or perhaps I am reading it wrong?

any help is greatly appreciated

P.S if this is explained fully in blue book I can see if a local library has it. Any pictures of this coat?

thanks

Edited by A. A, 28 October 2010 - 12:13 PM.


#9 Terri

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Posted 28 October 2010 - 10:31 PM

The dashed lines show the flare that has been added in the skirt to change the shape from a standard frock coat skirt to the style seen here in the darker lines.

You should read through the instructions in the blue book for a basic frock coat construction to familiarise yourself with the system and that may help you to understand how this one is derived from it.

I just checked my copy and yes you have to start with the basic frock coat construction draft and apply the modifications.

Edited by Terri, 28 October 2010 - 10:31 PM.


#10 A. A

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 03:07 AM

I just checked my copy and yes you have to start with the basic frock coat construction draft and apply the modifications.



Thank you. I will look into the blue book today and post my questions.

#11 Sator

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 07:15 AM

BTW I would strongly advise against drafting according to Croonborg's system unless you are a very experienced cutter and tailor experimenting with ancient systems. You are much better off applying the stylistic changes to a modern system. Modern working methods do not work with antiquated cutting systems.

Apologies if you are an experienced teacher trying to instruct your students, but please keep in mind the rule discouraging beginners from starting with coats:

http://www.cutterand...p?showtopic=426

This is especially true when it comes to body coats.

#12 A. A

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 11:38 AM

BTW I would strongly advise against drafting according to Croonborg's system unless you are a very experienced cutter and tailor experimenting with ancient systems.


I am not a very experienced cutter but not a complete beginer either. I was planning on making multiple muslin and trial wool coats before getting to actual one. Plus helping me with this will be my Italian tailor instructor with 45 years of tailoring experience and a professional patternmaker with 25 years of experience. However, both have never attempted anything like this either so they are interested to see the process.

In any case I shall refrain my self from posting patternmaking questions here. I was not aware of the no body coat rule.

You are much better off applying the stylistic changes to a modern system. Modern working methods do not work with antiquated cutting systems.


well if modern system do not work with antiquated system then how will applying "stylistic changes" work? I would like to try the coat in its authetic silhouette rather than just a DB overcoat with added flare and such. The reason why I am interested in this is because it is a very unique coat or at least in current times is never seen.

P.S Why would drafting dircetly using Croonborg system not work? You suspect complications in patternmaking aspect or tailoring?

Edited by A. A, 29 October 2010 - 11:55 AM.


#13 greger

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 01:58 PM

A.A didn't say how advanced the class is.

Be sure to leave inlays for fittings When you look in front ot X (neck point) you may want to add some inlay in front of that. It does have a big cut into the roll line. How much you can push with the iron for shaping and your wits to do it and how much the cloth is shapeable the rest becomes inlays usage and darts. After all, some of these guys probably made silk coats with this pattern once in a while. The end result should be the general theme and any changes you want no matter how you go about getting there to the finished garment. I highly recommend a medium to loose woven wool. Most patterns by tailors are general, and when cutting it is up to the cutter to decide how to cut the cloth according to the properties of the cloth. For example a sleeve pattern he may add more to the circmmference or subtract from it depending on how much he can shrink to fit. Tight weaves don't shrink much, but a loose weave.... And with silk do you add pleats for ease? Anyway, add all the odds to your favor.

Edited by greger, 29 October 2010 - 02:02 PM.


#14 Sator

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 04:27 PM

Why would drafting directly using Croonborg system not work?


Because the system is antiquated. You want to limit your experiments to look at one thing at a time, or else if it goes wrong, it is easier to isolate what went wrong. The Blue Book cut is already novel enough, so you don't want to unintentionally run another experiment at the same time to rediscover outdated methods of working the coat up at the same time.

Also you want to make something fashionable and wearable - assuming your aim is to learn to make garments that are marketable (and I don't mean to Steam Punkers and Goths). It's fine to get ideas off old books, but then you need to breath life into them, or else you risk ending up with a Nosferatu costume for Halloween. One thing that helps to do this is a modern system. I find all coats you cut straight off systems of the Blue Book vintage have a Nosferatu look to them, irrespective of the style of coat.

Sorry to be rather paranoid about beginners wanting to make body coats. Unfortunately these are usually Goth and Steam Punk types with little sewing experience wanting to make home made Nosferatu frock coats - certainly not serious garment makers. :pinch: There have been enough of these types to make me consider an instant on-the-spot ban for every beginner who even mentions the words "frock coat" in their first couple of posts. :Black Eye: Once you get one of these threads going, you get a whole hoard of this type coming here. I even have reservations about this thread and have more than once considered deleting it from the forum to discourage these types from coming here.

#15 A. A

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 05:51 PM

Also you want to make something fashionable and wearable - assuming your aim is to learn to make garments that are marketable (and I don't mean to Steam Punkers and Goths). It's fine to get ideas off old books, but then you need to breath life into them, or else you risk ending up with a Nosferatu costume for Halloween. One thing that helps to do this is a modern system. I find all coats you cut straight off systems of the Blue Book vintage have a Nosferatu look to them, irrespective of the style of coat.


Isn't "frock coat" in its true form dated and old already? And I mean not just like 10-15 years but dead for like well over 70 years! So how can such a dated garment become current or fashionably wearable with slight modifications? Plus why modify something that was beautiful and died a dignified death? Unlike what is happening to black-tie these days.

This project is not for a marketable coat, just something that I am creating for my self only.

Sorry to be rather paranoid about beginners wanting to make body coats. Unfortunately these are usually Goth and Steam Punk types with little sewing experience wanting to make home made Nosferatu frock coats - certainly not serious garment makers. :pinch: There have been enough of these types to make me consider an instant on-the-spot ban for every beginner who even mentions the words "frock coat" in their first couple of posts. :Black Eye: Once you get one of these threads going, you get a whole hoard of this type coming here. I even have reservations about this thread and have more than once considered deleting it from the forum to discourage these types from coming here.


Wow! I didn't realized you had such strong feelings towards Top-frock and "goths/steam punkers". I am neither one of them but a mens tailoring student :) Either way I will refrain from asking questions here about this coat.

Edited by A. A, 29 October 2010 - 05:59 PM.


#16 Sator

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Posted 29 October 2010 - 07:01 PM

The trouble is that they aren't serious professional makers of quality garments. It drags things down to the level of cheap Halloween rental costume, and it opens the floodgates to the huge amount of interest in the Cosplay type of costume making that exists out there, that risks drowning the tiny and ever dwindling interest in serious high-end fashion tailoring.

Isn't "frock coat" in its true form dated and old already? And I mean not just like 10-15 years but dead for like well over 70 years! So how can such a dated garment become current or fashionably wearable with slight modifications?


The frock OVERCOAT (as opposed to "frock coats", which are not overcoats) discussed in this thread is still in fashion - mostly as ladies' wear. I see this type of cut even on cheaply manufactured ladies' overcoats all the time. The next example is a fine garment but comes from 1956:

Posted Image

The lounge coat started out in the mid 19th century. No serious cutter today strives to eternally stick to the original 19th version of the lounge, but rather continuously updates their cut to keep it alive and fashionable. A cutter should do the same with any garment that is to have contemporary relevance. Any garment whose style is stuck in the past is as dead as a dodo.




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