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Historical Notes on Pattern #136 - Greatcoat and Garrick

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

This pattern was copied from an extant Garrick. For a Pinterest page that has many photos of this extant Garrick:

There seem to be many names for this type of coat. The greatcoat can also be called an overcoat, topcoat, surtout, and redingoat. When you add the capes the names can be Carrick, Garrick, Box Coat, Driving Coat, or Coachman’s Coat. Made for ladies, this coat was called a Levett or Great Coat.With the capes added it was called a Carrick or Phaeton coat. And not everyone agrees on exactly which is which. Later in the 19th century it was called an Inverness or Ulster coat. Some costuming sites might also call it a French Highwayman’s coat. This type of coat has found fan’s in many costuming genres, such as Regency, Late Georgian, Napoleonic, Old American West, Pirate, Cosplay, Victorian, Goth, Steampunk, Military, and Futuristic. A version of it even became famous as the coat worn by Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) in the movie Tombstone (1993). This type of coat is so famous it has its own place in as the “Badass Longcoat”.

There isn’t as much written in textile history books about Great Coats and Carricks as other types of garments. Perhaps because they were considered a utilitarian and not a fashion garment, there is less discussion in period periodicals or drawings of patterns in tailoring manuals. But there are a few clues along the way, in addition to a very limited number of extant garments. I am fortunate enough to own one of these Carricks, which was copied for this pattern. The early date of 1750 that I have used for this garment should probably be questioned. There is more evidence after 1780 as to it being appropriate. A good place to see overcoats in this early period is here:

One of the most famous garments of this type is the coat favored by Napoleon Bonaparte himself.There are several paintings of him wearing his gray great coat and a few extant coats in collections. In the book “The Age of Napoleon” this is written near a photograph of one of his coats: “After the uniform and hat, the calf-length Redingote was the third essential part of the ensemble, chosen by the emperor to make himself readily recognizable. A capote* (or great coat), as it was called by the emperor himself, it was made of wool cloth from Louviers, France. The armholes were ample enough to fit easily over a uniform with the epaulettes folded back.The collar was open and the comfort was provided by two folds in the back. Most of the capotes* were gray, but starting in 1811, blue or green ones were ordered as well. When on winter campaign, the emperor wore a fur-lined, velvet greatcoat that was longer and more generous than the average capote*.” There is an extant coat owned by Napoleon in the collections of Musee Napoleon I, in Foutainebleau.

*In my opinion using the word “capote” is confusing. In English the word capote is often used to describe a blanket coat. I think that perhaps Napoleon was using the Italian word “cappotto”, which means overcoat.

The earliest mention I can find is in the “The Cut of Men’s Clothes” by Norah Waugh. On page 95 she includes a drawing of a pattern in “L’Art du Tailleur” published in 1769. It is figure II and is called “Great-coat”. The drawing can be said to look a great deal like the coat in this pattern but without measurements nothing can be determined for sure. On page 97 she includes a drawing titled c. 1678 French Engraving Great-coat. This drawing shows a garment that looks very different in scale to the design elements of this pattern. For instance, compared to this pattern it is much shorter and has enormous sleeves. In the section 1680-1800 on page 54 she writes about a garment that is like this pattern: “The great coat, or surtout, was a long loose overcoat, with just two side seams, slit up the centre back for riding, a standing or turned-down collar with sometimes a small cape as well. It was worn single- or double-breasted. When driving (carriages) became the fashionable craze the sporting fraternity took over the coachman’s great-coat with its multiple capes – the box coat. By the end of the century (1800) these great-coats were becoming fashionable town wear.” In the section 1800-1900 she writes, “During the first half of the nineteenth century great-coats were much in evidence and worn in town irrespective of weather conditions. The two main styles were, first the great-coat, or surtout, which was a double-breasted coat with the fronts cut straight but the side seams and shoulder seams towards the back like the dress-coat. There was a pleat in the front skirt where it was stitched to the back and sometimes flap pockets were inserted at hip level into the side seams, the centre back skirt being open with a slight lap over. It was worn very long—down to the ankles—with a collar and sometimes a cape. The other style was the looser box coat whose side seams swung out from under the arms; it might have a belt or just the back fullness held in by a strap. It fastened with buttons or more usually with tabs.Its chief characteristic was still the layers of shoulder capes.”

Also in “The Cut of Men’s Clothes” she includes two different drawings of patterns for Great Coats.On pages 122 and 123 there is a pattern for a Great-coat dated 1810. Near the back of the book on page 134 she includes a drawing of a pattern for a box coat from the “The Tailor’s Friendly Instructor” published in 1822.

In the book “Fitting and Proper” by Sharon Ann Burnston there is a garment that is very similar to this pattern. It is listed beginning on page 63 and is called “21. Man’s Greatcoat, c. 1780-1800”.There are many similarities, down to the green “shag” wool lining. The book describes the coat: “Greatcoats were widely worn by men for winter warmth from about the mid-eighteenth century well into the nineteenth century. The stand-fall collar of this coat is the distinguishing feature that dates it to after circa 1780; otherwise it is difficult to date. Such coats were constructed to last and were worn for many years, even by more than one generation. This coat has two shoulder capes and two false shoulder capes, giving it the appearance of a four-caped coat.”… “The greatcoat was worn as an outer garment over all other garments in winter.”

This very same great coat is referenced in the book, Cloth and Costume 1750-1800, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, by Tandy and Charles Hersh. There is a photograph of the Chester County Greatcoat on page 107.Regarding greatcoats in general they write, “Outer Garments. Men wore special outside garments to combat the elements, rain, cold and snow. Their felt hats had wide brims. Their main overcoats – the great coat, or big coat as some inventory taker recorded them, and the surtout – were calf and ankle length and made of stout material. Inventories also listed six men’s cloaks, a garment with a hood, and eight blanket coats.Fifty-eight percent of the inventories with men’s clothing had a great coat, a surtout or one of the other outside coats.”

“The great coat was the outer garment most frequently worn throughout the period. It was made of felted woolen cloth or other heavy cloth.It has a collar and one or more attached capes falling well over the shoulders to shed rain and snow. The lining of the cape and the cloth covered buttons provided an option to add cloth contrasting in color with the coat itself. Colors for the great coats in Cumberland County inventories were blue, white and brown.Newspaper advertisements for runaways add great coat with the colors grey, drab and “spotted with a reddish ground.”One had a velvet cape on a drab coat.One runaway in 1791 was wearing “a stolen new great coat-a kind of bottle green with a yellow cape and red silk buttons”.

“The great coat was worn as the outer garment of choice from 1745 to 1799 in Cumberland County; 227 were reported in inventories. It was followed in number by the surtout, in fifty-seven inventories, from 1760 to 1790.Surtouts were most numerous in the years from 1770 to 1779 when over half of them were listed. None of the surtouts was described. Gehret refers to the surtout as an overcoat of heavy wool without a collar, associated by some authors with Quaker costume of the 19th century.”

In the book Federalist & Regency Costume: 1790-1819 by R. L. Shep there is a reprint of the tailoring manuals “The Taylor’s complete Guide” published in 1796, and a reissue of the same manual retitled and updated to “The Taylor’s Instructor” published in 1809. There are no plates for Great Coats showing the patterns.This is what is written about them:“A great coat is the very exterior of all dress, and though it is only used against the inclemency of the weather, has notwithstanding its merits as well as conveniences; for what ever merit your inner dress may possess, if there is the least defect in the surtout, your whole body will be deformed; therefore we propound the few following observations as a guide to the pupil’s genius, and beg he may not slight the advice, as they are of more value than he may imagine, for we know that many of the Trade too wantonly sport with the maxims of making a top coat. In the first place we would advise them to cut it full and large to answer the intended purpose, the fore part must be somewhat longer in the shoulder than a strait coat, to facilitate its putting on; the sleeve to be cut three quarters of an inch wide in the double than a small coat, and also longer by an inch and wider in the arm-hole, and easier in every part by three quarters of an inch, both in the back, across the shoulders, and in the width of the body. There is often a great error in not being cut long enough before, this is chiefly owing to the cloth going straight along the bottom, and not taking three inches off at the wealpiece (wheelpiece); and begin cutting from that point to the front to nothing. This method will make the coat hang neat and straight round the bottom. Cut the shoulder as straight as you can, for fear the coat should fly back; for all great coats buttoned or unbuttoned should hang neat and straight down before, and with width to lap over, which is the intended purpose, and the end is answered.”

It is mentioned again in the book Federalist & Regency Costume: 1790-1819 by R. L. Shep in the section that reprints the magazine “Le Beau Monde”. In the section “General Observations for December 1806” the author writes, “As to the great-coats, the mildness of the season has prevented much occasion for them; and electioneering business having lately kept gentlemen too actively employed to give them time to think of fashion in those articles, we can say only, that so far as they have come under our observation, they do not seem to have suffered any alterations since the last winter, being generally made of dark-colored cloths, and entirely plain, handing three or four inches longer than the close coats.” In General Observations for April 1807, “… indeed the severity of the weather renders a great coat more and more necessary, which does away the opportunity of displaying any particular taste in the close coat. Olive brown greatcoats, are still the most in favour, and the silk skirt lining is generally adopted. Velvet collars and lapel facings do not, however, keep pace with the silk skirts, as every great coat sports that ornament, which, we believe, arises principally from the velvet being soon deprived of its appearance after suffering a few showers of rain, and also as it so soon changes its colour.”In Gentlemen’s Dress for February 1808, “Dark blue great coats trimmed with fur, or darkish olive brown cloth great coats are generally worn.” In Gentlemen’s Dresses for April 1808, “Morning Dress – In this we are scarcely at present able to point out any variety, as the coldness of the weather still renders a good great coat indispensable, and this far precludes the opportunity of exhibiting the motley changes of fashion and taste, to any advantage.”

In the book “History of Men’s Fashion” by Farid Chenoune, this is found on page 37, “This style of overcoat was known in France as a carrick, apparently name after English actor David Garrick. It became fashionable during the Napoleonic era and finally went out of fashion around 1850 when it became associate with ‘mountebanks, coachmen and (livery worn in) private residences.’”

In the book “Handbook of English Costume in the 19th Century” by C. Willett Cunnington, he writes in the section 1800-1810, “The Great Coat – This was all-enveloping to the knees or ankles; either single-breasted, the more usual, or double-breasted. Buttoned to just below the waistline, the buttons either covered or mother-of-pearl.The collar, high behand and moderately low in front, had an M or V step to the lapel. The full skirt covered the wearer completely but; ‘if the weather permits the coat to be worn flying loose it certainly has a very dashing appearance.’ 1807, Beau Monde. The back had a deep vent with tackover and hip buttons. Flapped pockets on the hips just below waist level might be worn but breast pockets, outside or more often inside, were more usual. THE BOX COAT was a very large and loose great coat with one or more capes. Originally a driving-coat for wearing on the box of a coach this came to be worn, in cold weather, even on foot.” In the section 1810-1820 he writes, “THE GREAT COAT, usually single breasted, was sometimes fastened with 3 or 4 straps in front instead of—or as well as—buttons.Calf-length with side-edges in the back pleats, together with 3 buttons. Collar, lapels and cuffs often covered with fur, or a stand collar, lined with fur, was made to turn down at will, without lapels. Pockets usually outside under flaps. Variations: (a) The Box Coat, as previously described, with multiple capes.”…”(d) The Polish Great Coat of 1810 was closed with loops and frogs; the collar, lapels, and cuffs were of Russian lambskin and it was close-fitting, very long, and lined throughout with silk serge. It could be worn with evening dress: ‘leaders of the haut ton appear (at the Opera) in great coats made after the Polish fashion.’ 1810, Ackermann’s Repository.”

I am fortunate to have a copy of the book “Goldings Tailors Assistant” by J. Golding published in 1817.This book does have a drawing of the pattern for both of what he calls a Surtout and a Box Coat. In his illustration he shows that the front is the same for both types of coat, but the backs are a little different. The Surtout is pleated, like this pattern, but the Box Coat back is not. This definition is not universal, as my extant example shows. He writes this: “On Great Coats. The surtout may be cut upon similar principles with the straight coat, with this difference, viz, the side seam of the fore-part of the straight coat is placed to the straight edge of the cloth, whereas when cutting a Great Coat, you will reverse it by making the straight edge of the cloth the front edge of the forepart as A plate 5. The principal thing to be observed, is to give sufficient compass to the skirt to admit of its well covering the knees (a most desirable thing in a great Coat) the want of which, renders the coat totally unfit for the purpose for which it is intended.” “The Box, or Driving Coat. This garment of all others, requires great freedom and ease in every part, being sometimes drawn on over two or three under coats. Be careful not to cut the back too short upwards, not the scye too low, neither hollow the scye of fore-part much under the arm, or it will confine the wearer when sitting to drive. The points are found in the same manner as the surtout, with an allowance for wrapping over it. The fore-gauge must not be hollowed too much, but should be cut wide enough to allows for drawing in under the capes, in order to give ease upon the shoulders.”

And what of the ladies?There is even less written about this garment for women. Most of what is written about any garment vaguely looking like a coat for ladies in the Regency period gets lumped into calling it a “Pelisse”. Fortunately, we have a tailor that addresses the issue directly and one French fashion plate that seem to show that Carrick and Great Coat are terms for ladies’ garments as well. The first is in the book “Federalist and Regency Costume” in the section that reprints a tailoring manual. Chapter VII (1796) begins, “Of a Lady’s Levett, or Great Coat. Those dresses are worn by some instead of habits, but they are mostly out of fashion by people of rank, **and have only their admirers in the country amongst the farmers’ wives and daughters. There is much neatness attached to them when they are well made, and require as much delicacy in cutting and making as a habit; the principal difference is, that the skirt of the Levett is fastened to the body, and the jacket and Petticoat of the Riding Habit are two abstract matters.(I interpret this to mean the Habit has a waist seam and the Coat does not.) If you please to have recourse to the Plate, you will find the turns of the same nature as the Habit. Chapter VIII.Of a Lady’s Phaeton Coat. This is made after the manner of a coachman’s Box Coat, with as many capes, etc, and the only difficulty attending this business is in fitting the capes …”

**The later version of this tailor’s manual dated 1809 deletes “and have only their admirers” and substitutes “and the substitute for some time back, has been police [pelisse] coats, made of cloth for that purpose; or velvet which looks very rich, more so then it is not tabby but silk. Of those there is various shapes and diversities. –But they are principally executed by mantua makers; and so much the better for the trade, as we need not covet any thing in their garments, but in the woolen line.” In other words, seamstresses make pelisses out of different types of fabrics and tailors only want to make garments that are made of wool.

The fashion plate I refer to describes the lady’s coat as a “Carrick of wool”. It was printed in Le Bon Genre as #58 in 1813. Therefore, my definition (corroborated by no one) is that a Pelisse has a waist seam and a ladies’ great coat or carrick do not.

Perhaps the most famous lady’s Carrick is the one held in the Snowshill Collection, National Trust, item number NT 1349181. Besides being a star on Pinterest and the internet, this garment has been described in two textile books, “Costume in Detail” on pages 97 and 98, and Period Costume for Stage & Screen, Outer Garments Book II, on pages 78-81. The back of this garment is plain and does not have the back pleats that this pattern has.

There is another ladies garment that is very interesting in the collection of the New York Met Museum, Accession Number 2012.387. It is dated 1790 and has a single cape. The back shows a similar type of pleating as this pattern with a few differences, and the pleats are positioned fashionably higher than those of this pattern.

For photographs and drawing of other greatcoats and Carricks you can look at the pinterest board

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