Sunday, November 6, 2011

Redingotes and Riding Habits

For a while now, I've been wanting to make a redingote. I know I have some unfinished projects (i.e. that chintz gown), but after delving deeper into how to accurately reproduce and sew garments, I'm really itching to make something sewn in a historically accurate way. Now that I've learned more, I don't have the excuse that "I don't know how, so I'll just machine sew it." This kind of takes all the fun out of the chintz gown, because now it feels like a waste of time. I'll think I'll force myself to finish up the hem and then forgo the trim. The organdy I bought for it is far to fine a quality to be used on something I don't really like... So that's a bit of a bummer, but now I'm really, really excited to create something more worthwhile, if more time consuming. But the doing is the fun isn't it? Once a piece is done, if it's not done right, it's kind of a let down. My halloween costume however, I'm still happy with. It was never meant to be accurate, just fun, so I can still feel good about that. Joy.

And let me say, I actually packed up the sewing machine and put it away so I wont be tempted. Ooo. Big step.

So back to the redingote. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term, "redingote" is a corruption of the term "riding coat." I read, in Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber, that "redingote" came about by the French pronouncing "riding coat," with an accent, and then the English readopting it back. Apparently things sound better a la francaise...

Redingotes and riding habits were adopted by ladies, from men's apparel, in the later 1600's. They were worn for hunting, riding, traveling, and also as informal daily wear. I am not 100% sure how the two terms are correctly used, since one often hears them used interchangeably (and maybe they are). There does seem to be two styles however, which might account for the two terms. Mostly, riding costumes seem to fall into two categories: exposed waistcoat (often referred to as "weskit") or no waistcoat.

Earlier in the century, up until about the 1760's, they were often worn with hoops. Post 1760's the profile changed, and much like other styles of gown, they seem to be worn over a false rump or just petticoats. According to the folks in the milliner shop in Williamsburg, riding habits from the first half (or so) of the century, generally buttoned to the top of the chest and had a dart across the bust for fitting. By the later half of the century, this style was replaced by open lapels or a loose jacket over a waistcoat. By the 1770's, military motifs became very popular because of the wars. During this time you start to see a lot of red being used, probably because of the English military colors. Throughout the rest of the century, greens, blues and yellow were most common for the style. They were mostly made of wool, though there is an example at the LACMA that is silk.

Silk and cotton satin with plainweave, 1790. LACMA.

With riding costumes being styled after men's clothing, they were usually made by a tailor instead of a mantua maker, and because of this, they generally buttoned left over right, like men's clothing. And why do men's clothes button left over right, while women's are opposite, you ask? It seems that men's clothing goes left over right for protection. In battle, men would fight with their left side being their defensive side. The open part of the garment was made to face away from an opponent, so if a pointy sword came your way, it would deflect off the armor/leather/fabric, instead of catching and going though. A common theory for why women's clothing buttons right over left is that ladies often had the help of a maid dressing them, and this made it easier for a lady facing you to dress you. Or maybe for a gentleman to undress you... Hmm...

And some various styles though the years:

After the Hunt, Nicolas Lancret. 1740.

Prinzessin Amalia von Pruessen, Antoine Pesne. 1740's - 50's.

Sophie Marie Grafin Voss, Antoine Pesne. 1746.

1750 - 1759, V&A.

1750 - 1759. V&A.

Back of the above jacket.

1760, Met Museum.

1770 - 1775, V&A.

The Sudden Explosion in Fording the Brook, 1770 - 1780's

Marie Antoinette in Hunting Attire, Joseph Krantzinger. 1771.

John and Sophia Musters Out Riding at Colwick Hall, George Stubbs. 1777.

Marie Antoinette Wearing Riding Dress, Antoine Vestier. 1778.

Lady Worsley, Joshua Reynolds. 1780.

If you read my post about the bathing dress, I
mentioned an interesting, if scandalous, story
about the above Lady Worsley and an incident
at a bath house. Check out this article by the
Isle of Wight History Center for the trial details!  

Mrs. William Mosely, Ralph Earl. 1781.

Possibly 1780s. Image from Flickr.

Mrs. Stevens, Francis Wheatley. 1795.

For the riding costume I will make, I'm debating between one like Lady Worsley's and the one from the LACMA. I have a ton of red wool I ordered a while back, but I also have a fair bit of silk, though none with that pattern. I'm kind of leaning toward Lady Worsley's. She has a bit of style, in my opinion... 


  1. OMG! I want one! I love the blue 1750-59 V&A. I'd even wear it with jeans.

  2. And no one would ever know it wasn't just a jacket... :D

  3. The brown and blue riding coats from 1760 are from the Met, not the V&A. The brown one is my absolute favorite historical piece of costume ever.

  4. Thank you! I will go change that! Looking at too many websites at once. Aren't the cuffs on the brown one awesome!?

  5. Has anyone noticed that Princess Amailia has popped a button? :)