Tag Archives: velvet


12 Sep


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.

Teddy Boys

Teddy Boy, John aka Rockin' Nidge,  in Manchester.

John aka Rockin’ Nidge pictured next to the Horsforth Hotel near Leeds wearing a blue mohair three piece Drape suit made by the late Peter Smithard of Holbeck, Leeds.

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.”

Teddy Boy Drape Coat

Teddy Boy Drape Coat

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.”

Paul Smith Chesterfield coat with velvet collar, fall 2013 collection

Paul Smith Chesterfield coat with velvet collar, fall 2013 collection – click for a closer look

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”:


29 Aug
16th C Italian velvet

16th Century Italian velvet

With lots of clothing choices for this fall, gents, you’ll be happy to see cloth coats in interesting fabrics for sale, among them, velvet, a textile that has influenced world economics and differentiated social classes.

Velvet, a term that comes from the Latin “vellus” – fleece or tufted hair, can be woven from many textiles, but the first was made of silk. “It is now a general belief [that silk velvet] arrived in Italy for the first time from the Far East, transported by Arab merchants, and was then spread throughout Europe… by the merchants from Lucca, Venice, Florence, and Genoa.” (Source)

Wool and linen were the most common fabrics in Europe but the introduction of silk and other fancy stuffs gave more variety to clothing. During the Middle Ages, men’s clothing was fairly uniform across society, but what divided the classes was fabric. Velvet was such a special textile that sometimes the number of velvet garments was limited and regulated by state and church laws. Silk  velvet created enormous fortunes for bankers and merchants of Italian city states, it clothed armies, and drove a wedge between classes. 

“The enormous Italian output of satins, velvets, taffetas and other silk textiles satisfied the taste for luxury in costume of a considerable class, composed at first of patrician and feudal noble society, then all for the wealthy throughout Europe,” wrote Francois Boucher in 20,000 Years of Fashion.

Velvet Usage

Velvet may not hold paint well, but that didn’t stop artists to paint Elvis on starting in the 70s.

Velvet has been worn for centuries by royalty and the nobility, by operatic stars in Verdi and Rossini works, it is the curtain that has risen in every theatre,  it has adorned modern artists like Liberace and even Rod Stewart who said, “Carrying 200 pounds of velvet and satin around a stage for 90 minutes – that’s man’s work, let me tell you.” Velvet can be made into home furnishings like pillows, drapes, upholstery, and rugs, and velvet has even been used as a painting surface.

Velvet became more common place with textile technologies to be consumed by people of good taste in all economic groups. Original velvets were made of silk, but velvet can be made of virtually any textile, including synthetics. Probably the most common velvet found today is cotton, including all of the wonderful velvet jackets available this fall for men.

Velvet Care

If you already own velvet or if you plan to purchase a velvet garment, think of velvet as the suede of textiles – it is something of a challenge to clean and maintain, so handle it gently.

Velvet is velvet not because of its content, but because of its weave. Velvet is considered a pile weave, similar to corduroys or velveteens, and even the terry cloth that your bath towels are made of. All of these fabrics have looped threads – your towel’s threads are uncut loops, but the pile fabrics like velvet are cut.

There are lots of fancy velvets like Cisele velvet, a fabric woven with cut and uncut loops that form a pattern, Faconne  has velvet patterns woven into a flat base, and Panne is a pressed velvet. Plush velvet, used in upholstery, won’t crush as easily under our weight, but velvet typically used for modern clothing is going to be a soft cotton velvet with longer cut loops (known as “transparent” velvet).

Though velvet is a rich, gorgeous fabric, it should be worn with care. In the modern era, we don’t have the luxury of lolling about on thrones and court couches in our velvets, so we generally wear velvet in the evening when there is less wear and tear. The longer the cut loops, the more susceptible the velvet is to crushing – this is the danger of wearing velvet and why it is usually worn at night when things like heavy laptop cases aren’t slung over the shoulder to ruin the shoulder of your jacket – it is very difficult to raise the pile of the velvet once it has been flattened. More expensive velvets will have crush-proof finishes added to them, but generally, the pieces you find in stores will not be made of a high-end finished fabric, so wear with care.

The best way to care for velvet is to not put any pressure on it, but if it has been crushed, there are a couple of ways to try to resurrect the pile (but there are no guarantees):

  • Hang in a steamy bathroom and brush pile with a soft brush (a soft toothbrush may work if you don’t lean into it – brush lightly to raise the pile);
  • For small areas, lay the fabric face down over the bristles of a clean, flat hairbrush or an unused shoe brush and steam (the trick is to keep the pile “suspended” and not pressing into any surface);
  • Lastly, remember that velvet is dry clean only.

Now that I’ve put the fear into you, wear your velvets in high style but keep a bubble of air around you so as not to damage your pile!