- Frock coat
A frock coat is a man's coat characterised by knee-length skirts all around the base, popular during the Victorian and
Edwardianperiod. It is also known as the Prince Albert after Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, who helped popularise the style in the nineteenth century. The frock coat is a fitted, long-sleeved coat with a centre vent at the back, and some features unusual in post-Victorian dress. These include the revers collar and lapels, where the outer edge of the lapel is cut from a separate piece of cloth to the main body, and also a high degree of waist suppression, where the coat's diameter round the waist is much less than round the chest. This is achieved by a high horizontal waist seam with side bodies, which are extra panels of fabric above the waist used to pull in the naturally cylindrical drape.
The frock coat was widely worn in much the same situations as modern
lounge suits and formalwear, with different variations. One example is that a frock coat for formalwearwas always double-breastedwith peaked lapels; as informal wear, the single-breastedfrock coat often sported the step, or notched, lapel(the cause of its informality), and was more common in the early nineteenth century than the formal model. Dress coats and morning coats, the other main knee-length coats of the period, shared the waist seam of frock coats, making them all body coats, but differed in the cut of the skirt, as the frock coat does not have the cut away front which gives dress coats and morning coats tails at the back. As was usual with all coats in the nineteenth century, shoulder padding (called 'American shoulders') was rare or minimal. The formal frock coat only buttons down to the waist seam, which is decorated at the back with a pair of buttons. The frock coat that buttoned up to the neck, forming a high, stand-up collar, was worn only by clergymen.
Frock coats emerged around 1816 and were probably originally of military origin, worn buttoned to the neck with a standing 'Prussian' military collar. They were worn as informal wear during the early decades of the nineteenth century, and became increasingly popular from the 1830s onwards.
The earlier "frock"
Before the frock coat existed, there was another garment called the "
frock" in the eighteenth century, which was probably unrelated to the frock "coat", sharing only a similarity in name. The earlier frock was originally country clothing that became increasingly common around 1730. Formal dress was then so elaborate that it was impractical for everyday wear, so the frock became fashionable as half dress, a less formal alternative. By the 1780s the frock was worn widely as town wear, and, towards the end of the eighteenth century, started to be made with a single-breasted cut away front and tails. It was thus the precursor to the modern dress coatworn with white tie.
These relations can be seen in similar foreign terms. The modern word for a
dress coatin Italian, French and Spanish is "frac"; in German "Frack"; and the Portuguese "fraque" is even spelt the same as it was spelt in French, used in the late eighteenth century to describe a garment very similar to the frock, being a single or double-breasted garment with a diagonally cutaway front in the manner of a modern morning coat. Even coats with horizontally cut away skirts like a dress coatwere referred to as a "frock" in the late eighteenth and very early nineteenth century, before being renamed to " dress coat".
This suggests that the earlier frock from the eighteenth century is more the direct ancestor of the modern dress coat, whereas the frock "coat" in the nineteenth century, the subject under discussion here, is a different garment altogether with separate military origins in the nineteenth century, although a remote historical connection to the frock cannot entirely be excluded.
Other meanings of the term "frock" include clerical garb, and a type of woman's
dresscombining a skirt with a shirt–blouse top.
The origins and rise of the frock coat
When the frock coat was first worn, correct daytime full dress was a
dress coat. The frock coat began as a form of undress, the clothing worn instead of the dress coat in more informal situations. The coat itself was possibly of military origin. Towards the end of the 1820s, it started to be cut with a waist seam to make it more fitted, with an often marked waist suppression and exaggerated flair of the skirt. This hour-glassfigure persisted into the 1840s. As the frock coat became more widely established around the 1850s, it started to become accepted as formal day time full dress, thus relegating the dress coat exclusively to evening full dress, where it remains today as a component of white tie. At this period, the frock coat became the most standard form of coat for formal day time dress. Through most of the Victorian erait continued to be worn in similar situations those in which the lounge suitis worn today. Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, is usually credited with popularising the frock coat. During the Victorian era, the frock coat rapidly became universally worn in Britain, Europe and America as standard formal business dress, or for formal daytime events. It was considered the most correct form of morning dressfor the time.
The decline of the frock coat
Around the 1880s and increasingly through into the
Edwardian era, an adaptation of the riding coat called a Newmarket coat (now renamed to be our twentieth century morning coat) began to supplant the frock coat as daytime full dress. Once considered a casual equestrian sports coat, the morning coat started to slowly become both acceptable, and increasingly popular, as a standard day time full dress alternative to the frock coat, a position which the morning coat enjoys to this day.
The morning coat was particularly popular amongst fashionable younger men, and the frock coat increasingly came to be worn mostly by older conservative gentlemen. The morning coat gradually relegated the frock coat to only more formal situations, to the point that the frock coat eventually came to be worn only as court and diplomatic dress.
lounge suit(more commonly "business suit" in American English) was once only worn as smart leisure wear in the country or at the seaside, but in the middle of the nineteenth century started to rapidly rise in popularity. It took on the role of a more casual alternative to the morning coatfor town wear, moving the latter up in the scale of formality. The more the morning coat became fashionable as correct daytime full dress, the more the lounge suit became acceptable as an informal alternative, and finally the more the frock coat became relegated to the status of ultra-formal day wear, worn only by older men. At the most formal events during the signing of the Treaty of Versaillesin 1919, heads of government wore the frock coat, but at more informal meetings they wore morning coats or even a lounge suit. In 1926, George V hastened the demise of the frock coat when he shocked the public by appearing at the opening of the Chelsea flower show wearing a morning coat. The frock coat barely survived the 1930s only as an ultra-formal form of court dress, until being finally officially abolished in 1936 as official court dress by Edward VIII (who later abdicated to become the Duke of Windsor). It was replaced by the morning coat, thus consigning the frock coat to the status of historic dress.
Frock coats worn with
waistcoatand striped trousers are still very occasionally worn as daytime formal wear, especially to weddings, as an alternative to morning coats, in order to give the wedding attire a Victorian flavour. They are today usually only worn by the wedding party, where elements of historical costume are more acceptable, and even this practice is unusual, as its role as a formal ceremonial coat in daytime formal wear has been long supplanted in modern dress code by the morning coat. Like morning coats, frock coats are only worn for daytime formal events before 5 p.m. and no later than until around 7 p.m.
Standard fibres used for the frock coat included
wooland vicuña. The most common weave was known as broadcloth. The standard colour of a frock coat was solid black, but later, in the Victorian era, charcoal grey became an acceptable but less common alternative. Navy was an even rarer alternative colour. On more formal outings the coat was worn with a pair of Cashmere striped morning trousers. ("Cashmere stripes" refers to the muted design in black, silver and charcoal grey, not the fibres of the cloth.) However, trousers of muted checks were also worn in slightly more informal situations. For business and festive occasions the reverswas lined with black silk facings (either satin or grosgrain). A matching black waistcoatwas worn for more formal business or more solemn ceremonies. For funerals black frock coats without self faced revers were worn, still with a matching black waistcoat. During the earlier Victorian period, colourful fancy waistcoats of silk were noted as being worn by gentlemen such as Charles Dickens. In keeping with the rules set for modern morning dress, having trousers matching the coat was considered a somewhat less formal alternative. In summer a white or buff coloured linen waistcoat could be worn. For festive occasions a lighter coloured waistcoat such as light grey was permissible.
The length of the skirt of the frock coat varied during the
Victorian eraand Edwardian eraaccording to fashion. The most conservative length became established as being to the knees but fashion conscious men would follow the latest trends to wear them either longer or shorter. Similarly, the height of the waist - the point of maximal waist suppression - changed according to fashion. During its heyday, the frock coat was cut following the nineteenth century ideal of flattering the natural elegance of the naked figure, based on the ideals of Neoclassicismthat admired the depiction of the idealised nude in Classical Greco-Roman sculpture. The elegance of the form of the frock coat derived from its hourglassshape with a closely cut waist which at times around the 1830s-40's was reinforced further with padding to round out the chest. A cut with an ideal hourglass silhouette was achievable because coats during this era were all made bespoke, individually cut to the exact measurements of the customer. The nineteenth century aesthetics of tailoring contrasted markedly to the modern style of cutting suits which involves a greater degree of drape (fullness), as established by the great early twentieth century Savile Rowtailor Frederick Scholte. Caution needs to be exercised by modern tailors trained to create the drape cut style of modern lounge suits to minimise drape - particularly around the waist - when cutting an historically accurate frock coat. Sometimes, modern lounge suit coats with an unusually long skirt are referred to by ready-to-wearmakers as a 'frock coat' but these lack the waist seam, resulting in the fuller drape more typical of a modern overcoator a lounge suit jacket. The silhouette of the historically accurate frock coat has the waist seam precisely to permit the classical and elongating hourglass figure with the strong waist suppression.
Another characteristic of frock coats was their lack of any outer pockets. Only late in the Victorian and
Edwardian erawere they ever made with a chest pocket to sport a pocket square, a feature more typical of the modern lounge suit. Oscar Wilde, a famous dandyof his time, was often seen in portraits wearing just such a model, but this was rather rare on frock coats; while in keeping with the flamboyant nature of Wilde's dress, it was frowned upon by traditionalists. Side pockets were always absent from frock coats, but pockets were provided on the inside of the chest.
The buttons on a frock coat were always covered in cloth, often to match the silk on the revers, showing in the triangle of lining wrapped over the inside of the lapels. Another common feature was the use of fancy buttons with a snow-flake or check pattern woven over it.
Through most of the Victorian era until towards the end, the lapels were cut separately and sewn on later, apparently because it made the lapel roll more elegantly. While frock coats were always made with this detail, morning and dress coats, which had followed this practice, began to be made with attached lapels around the end of the Edwardian era. Through the Victorian era, a row of decorative button holes was created down the lapel edge. By the Edwardian era these were reduced down to just the one lapel
Turn back cuffs on the sleeves, similar to the turn ups (cuffs in American English) on modern trouser hems, were standard, with two buttons on the cuff.
Another rare feature was the use of decorative braiding around the sleeve cuffs and lapel edges.
Correct accessories to wear with the frock coat included a non-collapsible
top hatand a boutonnièrein the lapel. A Homburg hat was considered too informal to wear with proper formal morning dress. During the Victorian and Edwardian era, button bootswith a single row of punching across the cap toe were worn along with a cane. On cold days, it was common to wear a frock overcoat, a type of overcoatcut exactly the same as the frock coat, with the waist seam construction, only a little longer and fuller to permit it to be worn over the top of the frock coat. Patent leather dress boots were worn up until the Edwardian era with morning dress. The practice of wearing patent leather shoes is today reserved strictly for evening formalwear. Trousers are uncuffed and worn with braces (suspenders in American English) to avoid the top of the trousers from showing underneath the waistcoat. Only white shirts were worn with frock coats. The shirt was worn with a standing detachable collar. The most standard neckwear was a cravat(or Ascot in American English). The cravat was tied in the Ascot knot (the entire cravat is called an Ascot in American English) characterised by way the ends cross over in front, or alternatively in a Ruche knot, tied like a four-in-hand knot of a modern necktie. A decorative cravat pin often adorned with a precious stone or pearl was used to keep the cravat tidy. The cravat was usual with a frock coat when worn in more formal occasions through the Victorian and Edwardian eras, although the long necktie came to be worn increasingly after the turn of the century in the same manner as it is today with morning dress. The practice of wearing bow ties as an acceptable alternative with formalwear fell away after the late Victorian to early Edwardian eraand became relegated to eveningwear, as remains the case in the twenty-first century. As with a formal shirt for white tie, cuffs were single (rather than double) cuffed and made to close with cufflinks. The waistcoatwas usually double-breastedwith double-breasted style (or peaked) lapels. Formal gloves in light grey suede, chamois, or kid leather were also required.
Informal frock coat suits
The solid black garment described above was widely used, but before the
lounge suitbecame popular, there was a need for a more informal garment for smart casual wear. A version of the frock coat was used here too, with matching trousers and a more informal cloth, featuring stripes, or the check shown in the plate opposite. The waistcoat, instead of being black as in the formal version, was matching or odd. The other accessories and details were much the same.
The cut of a frock coat with a waist seam flatters a man's figure, as opposed to a sack coat, and such frock coats remain part of some
twentieth century military uniforms. They can either be single-breastedas in army uniforms, or double-breastedas in navy uniforms.
Orthodox Jewish wear
In the Lithuanian
yeshivaworld, many prominent figures wear a black frock coat also known as a "kapotteh" (accompanied by either a Homburg or fedora hat) as formal wear. Such garb is usually reserved for a rosh yeshiva, mashgiach, or prominent lecturer.
Most married male
Lubavitcher Hasidim also don frock coats on Shabbat. All Hasidim also wear a gartel(belt) over their outer coats during prayer services.
Most Hasidim wear long coats called
rekelekh during the week, which are often mistaken for frock coats but are really very long suitjackets. On Shabbat, Hasidim wear bekishes, which are usually silk or polyester as opposed to the woolen frock coat. The bekisheand the rekelboth lack the waist seam construction of the frock coat. Additionally, bekishes can be distinguished from frock coats by the additional two buttons on front and a lack of a slit in the back.
Part of the slit hem in the back of the frock coat is rounded so as to not require
In Yiddish, a frock is known as a "frak", a "sirtuk", or a "kapotteh".
*Antongiavanni, Nicholas: "The Suit", HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2006. ISBN 0-06-089186-6
*Ashelford, Jane: "The Art of Dress: Clothing and Society 1500-1914", Abrams, 1996. ISBN 0-8109-6317-5
*Baumgarten, Linda: "What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America", Yale University Press,2002. ISBN 0-300-09580-5
*Black, J. Anderson and Madge Garland: "A History of Fashion", Morrow, 1975. ISBN 0-688-02893-4
*Byrd, Penelope: The Male Image, Men's Fashion in England 1300-1970. B.T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1979. ISBN 0 7134 0860
*Croonborg, Frederick: The Blue Book of Men's Tailoring; Croonborg Sartorial Co. New York and Chicago, 1907
*Cunnington, C Willet and Cunnington, Phyllis: "Handbook of English Costume", 3rd Ed. Plays Inc. Boston, 1970.ISBN 0-8238-0080-6
*Devere, Louis: "The Handbook of Practical Cutting on the Centre Point System" (London, 1866) revised and edited by RL Shep. RL Shep, Medocino, California, 1986. ISBN 0-914046-03-9
*Doyle, Robert: "The Art of the Tailor". Sartorial Press Publications, Stratford, Ontario; 2005. ISBN 0-9683039-2-7
*Druessedow, Jean L. (editor): "Men's Fashion Illustration from the Turn of the Century" Reprint. Originally Published: New York: Jno J Mitchell Co. 1910. Dover Publications, 1990 ISBN 0-486-26353-3
*Ettinger, Roseann: "Men's Clothes and Fabrics". Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1998. ISBN 0-7643-0616-2
*Laver, James: "Costume and Fashion — A Concise History", Thames and Hudson Ltd, 1969. ISBN 0500202664
*de Marly, Diana: "Working Dress: A History of Occupational Clothing", Batsford (UK), 1986; Holmes & Meier (US), 1987. ISBN 0-8419-1111-8
*Minister, Edward: "The Complete Guide to Practical Cutting (1853) - Second Edition Vol 1 and 2". Edited R.L. Shep. R.L. Shep, 1993. ISBN 0-914046-17-9
*Peacock, John: "Men's Fashion - the Complete Sourcebook", Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1996. ISBN 0500017255
*Salisbury, WS: "Salisbury’s System of Actual Measurement and Drafting for all Styles of Coats upon Geometric Principles". New York 1866. Reprinted in Civil War Gentlemen: 1860 Apparel Arts and Uniforms by RL Shep, Mendicino, California, 1994. ISBN 0-914046-22-5
*Tozer, Jane and Sarah Levitt, "Fabric of Society: A Century of People and their Clothes" 1770-1870, Laura Ashley Press, ISBN 0-9508913-0-4
*Unknown author: "The Standard Work on Cutting Men’s Garments". 4th ed. Originally pub. 1886 by Jno J Mitchell, New York. ISBN 0-916896-33-1
*Vincent, WDF: "The Cutter’s Practical Guide. Vol II "All kinds of body coats". The John Williamson Company, London, circa 1893.
*Waugh, Norah: "The Cut of Men's Clothes 1600-1900", Routledge, 1964. ISBN 0-87830-025-2
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.