Last post was an examination of velvet and its inclusion into fall 2013 men’s collections. I discussed velvet’s history, influence on world economics, usage, and care, explaining the difficulty of keeping velvet in good shape. This post offers an alternative for men who want to include velvet in their wardrobe without the stress and high maintenance of owning a velvet jacket – it’s all in the details, as you shall see.
As we move into fall and cooler temperatures, it is your dress coat that can take on the sumptuousness of velvet. A simple velvet upper collar adds a touch of richness, style, and magnificence. But velvet shouldn’t be added to just any coat – it is a dressy feature best worn on the garment of its origin – the Chesterfield.
This timeless single or double-breasted topcoat is said to have been invented by George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield in the mid 1800s. It is a straight cut coat with no waist seam, a full piece back, side pockets (usually flapped or jetted), and a velvet collar. (For more information on Chesterfield coats, see this excellent resource.)
Chesterfield’s Chesterfield evolved from the Regency Period’s “Tweedside” lounge suit that consisted of a long jacket with a matching waistcoat and trousers, jacket pockets and sleeves decorated with ribbon.
The coat changed to something called a Covert coat during the 1880s, which was popular for riding and/or hunting in the English countryside. The Covert’s cut is similar to the Chesterfield, but with side vents for easy movement, several lines of stitching at the hem, made in specific Covert fabric in earthy tones, perhaps to conceal the rider and have him blend into the natural environment. As with the Chesterfield, the Covert coat featured a velvet collar.
The Chesterfield, now a mainstay in menswear, has taken a few styling turns over the years, lengthening, shortening, and tapering, but the most interesting group to embrace and interpret the coat mixed American rock and roll and Edwardian style to create a very interesting and very British look.
UK site, The Edwardian Teddy Boy, is an excellent resource for Teddy Boy history, done by an original Ted from the Teddy Boy revival of the 1970s (Nidge, shown here). The site author says that in 1953, “the major newspapers reported on the sweeping trend in men’s fashion across Britain, towards what was termed the New Edwardian look. However the working class Edwardian style had been on the street since at least 1951, because the style had been created on the street by the street and by working class teenagers and not by Saville Row or the fashion designers.”
Worn with drain pipe trousers, waistcoats, and thick-soled brothel creeper shoes, the Teddy Boys created their own version of the Chesterfield, calling it a Drape coat because of the full cut that allowed the fabric to drape down the back.
The plainness of the coat, like a blank canvas, leaves it open to decoration, and the Drapes often had a traditional Chesterfield velvet collar and notched lapel, but some preferred to have their coats made with a long, shawl (rounded, unnotched) velvet collars. Some Teds got really fancy and added velvet to any bit of the coat they could, including collars, sleeves, and pockets.
Teddy Boy historian, Eddie Adams, explains Ted culture and the importance of clothing: “I was in a gang called the Moorhouse boys. Our gang philosophy was to have the latest suits… I can remember having a dark blue one with herringbone material. Some people had a bit of velvet on the collar. Suits cost between £30 and £40, they were quite expensive and it used to take about 6 weeks before you got the suit. We used to wear bootlace ties, suede shoes with crepe soles… and quite a lot of hair we used to bring round the back in a DA*.”
*Duck’s Arse, more politely known in North America as the Duck Tail
It’s hard to believe that gangs of these well-dressed, style-conscious working class young men roamed the streets looking for trouble, causing fights, riots, and even murder. According to the Teddy Boy site, “When teenager John Beckley was murdered by a Teddy Boy gang known as the Plough Boys in July 1953 after a fight that started on Clapham Common, the Daily Mirror‘s headline “Flick Knives, Dance Music and Edwardian Suits” linked criminality to clothes.”
To the doubtless delight of the modern gent, the Chesterfield is no longer synonymous with crime. Our beautiful Chesterfield is a classic in its own right, and will remain with us in some form or another. Recently, while wandering around Holt Renfrew, I was happy to see a beautiful Paul Smith Chesterfield with a velvet collar included in his fall 2013 collection.
A piece like a velvet-collared topcoat is a keeper for years to come, so think of it as an investment and take care of it. To add a bit of simple but powerful style to an existing topcoat, visit your tailor and ask to have a velvet collar added to your coat, and don’t be afraid of colour to bring out the shimmer of your velvet collar. I mean, if you’re wearing velvet, darling, wear it!
PS – For those interested to learn more about Teddy Boys, have a look at this video, “Here Come The Teds”: