To Cut a Regency Coat

by Suzi Clarke

As a costumer in England, I frequently get asked to make clothes for characters from English history, as there are many costumed guides or interpreters in the palaces and stately homes all over the country. Recently, I was asked to costume a “Prince Regent” of about 1815, and as I had been helping a colleague with some research at the Museum of London, I thought it was the ideal opportunity to do some research on my own behalf.
I was particularly interested in looking at men’s coats; I am a self-taught tailor, and wanted to find out exactly how the coats of the Regency were constructed. I use patterns from The Cut of Men’s Clothes by Nancy Bradfield, but these do not give details of how the padding or lining is applied, for example.


The Museum has a large collection of men’s clothes, currently in storage and not accessible due to rebuilding. I was fortunate to be able to study three coats, and also a top coat of a slightly earlier period. None of the coats were fully lined, which meant I could examine the insides without having to poke around and make educated guesses. The construction details were much the same on each coat, all of which were made of very fine-quality wool.


The basic man’s coat for the first twenty-five years of the 19th century changed very little. It was cut to fit very firmly across the shoulders, with a shoulder seam that sloped into the back armscye. There was a center back seam, and the side seams curved toward the center back from the same armscye, narrowing in towards the waist. The center back continued on into the skirt, although occasionally there was a waist seam. The two front skirts were cut in one piece with the body, usually with a “fish” or dart at waist level early in the century. (Later this became a seam, and at the very end of the Regency period, the underarm panel was also cut separately.) The coat skirts were narrow, in four pieces as they were in the 18th century, but only the center back was open during the Regency period. At each side, the two pieces of the skirt were joined, in a different way for each coat. The sleeves were quite tight, fitting well onto the shoulders, sometimes with a little puff in the sleeve head. This became more exaggerated toward the end of the Regency period. The sleeve was cut in two pieces, fairly tight fitting, with a cuff (sometimes closed, sometimes open) that was long over the wrist. The coats could be single or double breasted, but always had a deep, turned-over collar, often with an “M” notch at the join of the collar and lapel.

 

I have described the general cut, but I did not bother to check this on each coat when I was doing my museum research. Due to the limited time I had in the costume storage facilities, I was more interested in the the details that would ensure I made an accurate reproduction. I was particularly interested in the finish on all the edges of the coats, the collars, cuffs, and back pleats. English wool was well made during the Regency, and I had heard that many of the edges were left raw, so I wanted to see if this was true.


Each of the coats did, indeed, have all the edges left raw, and there was no fraying. The very narrow inside seam allowances were not even whipped. However, the treatment of the center front edges was different for each coat. The neatest finish had a fine piping, 1/8" wide, inserted between the front edge and the facing, which was made from the same fine wool; the edges were sewn together with a fine stab stitch, enclosing the piping. The second coat had the raw edges of the facing and the outer fabric oversewn together with a very small stitch, about 1/16" deep. The third had the outer edge turned in, and the facing was stitched over it (raw edge to the fold) and stab stitched 1/16" from the edge. The final coat, a dark blue top coat, dated from before 1805, when it was deposited at a bank for safe-keeping, had the two raw edges of the outer and facing fabrics stab stitched together about 1/16" from the raw edge. From a very short distance, none of the raw edges could be seen.

             

LEFT: Back of a Regency coat. CENTER: The "M" notch collar of one of the Regency-era coats in the museum. RIGHT: A diagram of the complicated structure of a Regency coat. (Click on the thumbnail for a larger view.)

The body of each coat was unlined, but the front facings were cut to reach under the arm and down to the waist. The back facing was cut to fit across the back, was stitched into the armhole and down to just below the armscye. There was a thin layer of wadding or batting over the shoulder, but nothing like the broad, Armani-type padding we see in modern coats. Even the top coat had only a thin layer. The pocket flaps were sewn into the waist seam, or in to the dart or fish. There was no pocket hole underneath.
    

The sleeves were all tight fitting, with various styles of cuffs. They were lined with a thin cotton or silk and oversewn to cover the raw edges of the sleeve/armhole seam. I only noted details of the brown wool coat cuff, as this was the one I had chosen to copy. The cuff was 4" deep, with three buttons set 1" apart. It appeared to overlap, although this was in fact an illusion, and the overlap edge and all round the top was trimmed with 1/8" piping. Inside, the lining did not quite reach the cuff end, which was turned up inside the sleeve; the gap was covered with a 2" strip of black silk velvet ribbon, which would have prevented rubbing and could be easily replaced. All the sleeves were finished this way.

The collars of all the coats had some variation of the “M” notch (see photo, below and right, from the black coat dated 1825-30). The collars were high-higher than in the pattern I was using, and two had black velvet or plush on the upper collar.


The coat skirts were finished and joined in different ways, but again I only took notes of one. The pocket bags were attached to the waist seam or fish dart, reaching to about 6" above the hem, and almost the full width of the front skirt. The skirt facing covered this and was also attached at the waist. The front edge was finished a couple of inches short of the hem, in the same way as the body of the coat. A pleat was made on the back edge of the front skirt, with the raw edge on top, facing the back. The raw edge of the back skirt was stitched over this, and was joined with a running stitch. The raw edge of the facing was then oversewn to the back pleat. This is very difficult to describe, so a colleague drew a diagram, below, not originally meant for publication. The centre back raw edges were turned to the inside and oversewn down. A small piece of material was placed across the inside top of the back pleats, also covering the stitching of the back buttons. The pockets were accessed through holes in the side/back skirt seams and were of glazed white cotton. There were buttons at the bottom of the side/back skirts, simulating those used in an earlier period, when the skirts were buttoned together.


All these coats were beautifully cut and sewn together, the stitching being very neat and small. English tailoring at this time was the envy of the fashionable world, and these coats were of the time of the famous George “Beau” Brummell. The top coat belonged to a banker, Mr. Coutts, and was made by the famous tailor, “Weston” of Savile Row, mentioned in Georgette Heyer, and possibly Jane Austen. It was lodged at Coutts Bank, together with other items of clothing, in 1805, and donated to the Museum of London many years later.


I have used the information I gathered at the Museum to make a coat, worn by a customer in Germany, and two wedding suits, one for a Finnish groom. The coat I made for the “Prince Regent” was worn at the Brighton Pavilion, home of the real Prince Regent, and in a TV documentary celebrating the opening of the new Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace earlier this year.

 

 

Suzi Clarke has been working with costumes for over thirty years, and makes many different styles of clothes for all kinds of occasions. These range from garments for re–enactors to museum replicas for education departments, static displays, weddings, films and television costumes. Further information and photos of Suzi’s work can be seen on her web site at www.suziclarke.co.uk


(c) Copyright 2002 by Suzi Clarke. All Rights Reserved.

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04/22/2006