Luxury and Splendour in the 18th Century Coats

By National Museum of Costume in Portugal

Dress and Men's suit (1770/1780) by Unknown authorNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

Men's Coats

During the Ancien Régime European courts lived in great luxury and pomp, where dress exhibited the richness and magnificence in the exuberant forms, luxury fabrics and lively colours. 

In the beginning of the 18th century, the strict and sober Baroque style was replaced by the more elegant, buoyant and frivolous Rocaille, along with exotic decorative motifs.

Throughout the 18th century men’s and women´s dress did not present significant changes in terms of composition. The formality and opulence of French fashions still assumed its preponderance in Europe until the last quarter of the century.

The prestige of the French court, housed in Versailles, influenced the remaining European courts. Portugal was not an exception, adopting the dress and the ceremonial of the French absolute monarchy during the reigns of the kings D. João V and D. José I.

Men's vest (1712/1720) by Unknown authorNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

The Vest

The silk brocades and patterned decoration with polychromatic floral motifs, especially used in vests, represent the luxury of fabrics in the 18th century.

The vest, an element of men’s attire worn under the coat, was tailored with luxurious fabrics. It became gradually shorter, simpler and sleeveless until it developed into a waistcoat in the 1760’s.

Brown tailcoat (1760/1770) by Unknown authorNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

Men’s dress

The basic form of men’s dress appeared in France in the late 17th century, during the reign of King Louis XIV and was composed of coat, waistcoat and breeches. 

The set prevailed during the Rocaille period, even though breeches narrowed and were richly embroidered. Breeches were tightly fitted and lengthened under the knees.

Tailcoat (front) (1760/1770) by Unknown authorNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

The Embroidery

Coats and waistcoats were luxuriously decorated in vivid coloured embroidery with floral motifs.

Motifs were embroidered in the fabric before coats or waistcoats were cut.

Tailcoat (back) (1760/1770) by Unknown authorNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

The most common materials were gold and silver metal threads and polychromatic silk threads.

These magnificently adorned garments granted an elegant pose to their wearer and could only be worn by court members.

Three-piece Men's Suit Three-piece Men's SuitNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

Jabots

Jabots, powdered wigs, laced cuffs, silk stockings and high-heeled shoes completed the whole apparel. 

The jabot was worn at the neck, usually made of pleated or ruffed lace or embroidered cambric.  The style and dimension underwent gradual changes, from long and curly wigs to plainer ones with a short ponytail tied with a black silk ribbon.

Three-piece Men's Suit (1780) by Unknown authorNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

During the 18th century the basic components of male’s dress prevailed with some minor changes in form, silhouette and fabrics. 

The collar’s and cuffs’ height, the cut and decoration are remarkable features in the evolution of coats.

Three-piece Men's Suit (1780) by Unknown authorNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

In the second half of the 18th century coats were richly embroidered in the front, back, pockets cuffs and buttons. 
They became gradually narrower and tailored to fit the body.

Tailcoat by Unknown authorNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

Coats were less wide and the front cut is round, especially after c.1760. 

Side and back folds and pleats became less voluminous than in the beginning of the century.

Men's Suit Men's SuitNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

Fashionable dress was a luxury dress, as seen in the aristocratic examples with vivid colours, rich embroidery, appliqué work and materials.

The Buttons

The 18th century was undoubtedly the golden age for buttons. This small accessory played an important decorative role in coats and waistcoats. These pieces of great artistic skill could be painted, made of embroidered fabric, mother of pearl or stone- encrusted gold or silver. 

After c.1780 buttons increased in size and were an extravagant element in the progressively simpler decoration of coats.

Traje masculino Traje masculinoNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

The most common material for formal and court dress was silk, in taffeta, velvet, plain or patterned fabrics.

The woolen fabrics were common for everyday dress and, thus, also appropriate for more informal occasions.

The Colours

Vivid colours were an original and significant feature in men’s dress, expressed in rose, red, blue, green and yellow tones.

Men's silk tailcoats (1800) by Unknown authorNational Museum of Costume in Portugal

By the 1780’s, men began to adopt more practical and simpler garments, under British influence.

However, from c.1800 onwards, despite the simplification of the fabric decoration and the abolition of accessories, such as the wig, men’s formal and court attire maintained its luxury appearance and men continued to wear the coat, waistcoat and breeches.

Credits: Story

Texts: Dina Caetano Dimas
           Xénia Flores Ribeiro
Translation: Xénia Flores Ribeiro
Online exhibition: Cândida Caldeira
Photos: ©DGPC/ADFAll rights belong to the National Museum of Costume in Portugal unless otherwise stated. For more click here.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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