This week, we’re going to test your spacial-temporal abilities and see if you can visualize the gentleman’s coat from the pattern pieces below and match it to one of the coats below:
A. A two-piece fitted doublet with lower tabs worn with “bag breeches” from 1630, Flanders.
B. Men’s frock coat with deep back pleats from the 1830s.
C. The Justaucorps, a French coat from the early 18th century.
If you chose C, you’re correct! The Justaucorps, an excessively pleated, stiffened, and decorated coat of French origin, worn during the late 17th and early 18th century period when aristocratic men were at their fanciest and most extravagant. This period for well-to-do men was completely over-the-top, putting women’s costume to shame in Europe.
This coat was collarless and heavily trimmed in ribbon, braid, and embroidery, and covered with dozens buttons connecting the back skirts, a line in front to fasten the coat, and useless buttons adorned the pocket flaps. The enormous cuffs, running the length the wrist to the elbow, into place on the “pagoda” sleeve.
This heavily-adorned, deeply-pleated coat topped a long, stiffened, skirted sleeveless waistcoat – the first three-piece suit! Shirts made of linen or silk had showy lace cuffs, worn with a loosely knotted 7 -8′ long neck cloth (forerunner of the tie). Sometimes a sash tied around the waist. Breeches and hose covered the trunk and on the gent’s feet were heeled shoes or boots with red soles and heels. Men wore long, curly wigs and carried tricorne hats (with three points) under their arms because the tall, curly wigs prevented the hat from sitting firmly on the head.
Men carried ribboned walking sticks and took to wearing fur muffs to keep their hands warm in cold weather, often with little pockets inside to carry their snuff boxes. Colours of the period were bright – yellow, green, and red, getting away from the dark, dull colours of the Commonwealth era.
Both men and women painted their faces with powdered lead and/or arsenic to make their skin white, and applied rouge and lipstick – sometimes a false beauty spot was applied to the face for ornamentation and in some cases, to cover facial scars from ailments like small pox. Whitening the skin signified the class of the wearer – the aristocracy didn’t work / didn’t outside where his skin would have become darkened by the sun’s rays. However, a pristine, lily-white face didn’t come without a price.
Although this era was known as the Age of Enlightenment, most fashionable men and women poisoned themselves with red and white lead make-up and powder. The make-up they used caused the eyes to swell and become inflamed, attacked the enamel on the teeth and changed the texture of the skin causing it to blacken, it was also not uncommon to suffer baldness… It was known that heavy use of lead could cause death. (Source.)
The simple two-button suit that modern men wear is an extremely boiled-down version of the grossly elaborate 300-year old suit that required assistance to put on. Attendants dressed the gentry in coats and waistcoats made of heavy satin, silk, and velvets which I imagine must have weighed a ton and no doubt affected the joints of the wearer.
In the modern era, we might have our wardrobe problems, though they’re miniscule compared to the lengths that men of the early 18th century went to in showing themselves and their wealth off. The excessiveness of this period is a shining example of the human ego knowing no bounds.
Note – Immediately following this post, In the Key of He is scaling back posts to release every two weeks.