Calamanco (also spelled callimanco, calimanco, and kalamink) is a thin fabric of worsted wool yarn which could come in a number of weaves: plain, satin, damasked, and was even brocaded in floral, striped and checked designs. The surface was glazed or calendered (pressed through hot rollers).
References to calamanco go back to the late 16th century, but calamanco’s heyday was from the end of the 17th century to the end of the 18th century. It was a popular fabric for women’s gowns and petticoats and men’s waistcoats, though it was gradually replaced by cotton and linen calico as a dress fabric.
Open gown with a petticoat of quilted silk, lined with calamanco, mid-late 18th century, Liverpool Museum
Daniel Defoe mentions a petticoat of black calamanco in 1720, and they remained popular among the rural populace until the early 19th century. He also describes the wardrobe of the ‘poorest countryman’ in England and notes his ‘waistcoat of calimanco from Norwich.’
At least in the beginning of the century, calamanco wasn’t confined to the common man’s waistcoat. The Tatler in 1709 describes the wardrobe of the ‘Dapper’.
The habit of a Dapper when he is at home, is light broadcloth, with calamanca or red waistcoat and breeches and it is remarkable that their wigs seldom hide the collar of their coats.
Since the Dapper is also described at being most at home in the country, we can assume that the Tattler is describing more of a casual country gentleman than the type of man that we envision as a modern day dapper.
Most calamanco was produced in Norwich in England, and exported from there throughout England, and to the Colonies.
Unfortunately, because calamanco was often used for simple petticoats and working clothes, there aren’t very many extant garments. The Norfolk Museum has at least two pieces, a blue brocade calamanco from ca. 1765, and a striped piece from between 1750-1800, but alas, does not have images of them online. Meg Andrews has a striped petticoat that she describes as being similar to the ones at the Norfolk Museum, but it’s not entirely clear if her petticoat is also calamanco. The Manchester Galleries have a petticoat with a calamanco hem, but their photograph doesn’t show that part of the petticoat.
Most extent calamanco pieces are either quilts, or the linings of quilted silk petticoats, where the cheaper calamanco fabric would provide warmth beneath the more fashionable silk exterior.
Quilted petticoat, 1770-1780s, silk satin with cream calamanco lining, Augusta Auctions
As the century progressed, not only did calamanco become less and less fashionable, even among the working classes, its definition became less and less defined. The glazed surface was such a common characteristic of calamanco fabrics that ‘calamanco’ eventually referred to a range of wool and wool blend fabrics with glazed surfaces. These fabrics were often used in quilts, particularly in North America.
Calamanco quilt, New England, 1775-1800, Wool, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Apparently, because calamanco was so often striped, striped tabby cats were sometimes called calamanco cats, though this may also have been a confused regional variant based on the similarities between the words ‘calico’ and ‘calimanco’ and the term for a calico cat. Construction finishes with plaster and timber alternating were also called calamanco-work.
For a bit of a history of the use of calamanco in quilts check out this article.
Andrews, Meg. Norwich Woollens or Stuffs. Retrieved from http://www.meg-andrews.com/articles/norwich-woollens/
Buck, Anne. Dress in 18th Century England, B.T. Batsford Ltd: London. 1979
Cunnington, C. Willet and Cunnington, Phyllis. Handbook of English Costume in the 18th Century. Faber and Faber Ltsd: London. 1957
This page is a work-in-progress. Its aim is to provide a brief definition of vintage and historical fashion and textile terms, with links to articles which explore and illustrate the history of the term in more depth.
The dates at the end of each definition are the dates in which the term was most commonly used.
Have a term you think needs to be included? Or a better definition, or more information? Please leave a comment!
Portrait of Princess Mathilde of Bavaria, late 1890s in a dress with a swiss waist/swiss belt/corselet/corselet waist.
Aerophane - a fine, slightly crisp, silk gauze, sometimes with a slightly crinkled, crepe appearance, possibly from a silk worm that is now extinct OR a type of ribbon embroidery, where wide, crisp silk strips (originally probably of aerophane) are used to create three dimensional ornamentation, OR any fine, light gauzy fabric. 1830s-50s (fabric),
Alamode - a thin, plain tabby weave, lustred silk, usually black. Used mainly for morning attire, cloaks, and linings. Also spelled allamode, elamond, ali-mod, olamod, alemod, arlimode, and ellimod, and sometimes called mode. 1670s-1800
Agnello di Persia - the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb. It can also refer to the fleece of fetal or newborn lambs from other species, or a knitted or woven fabric that imitates the distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with its slight sheen. See also astrakhan.
Antimacassar – a small, usually decorative, piece of fabric placed over the back of chairs, or on the arms, to keep it from soiling. 1800 onwards
Apron dress – the name usually applied to a simple rectangular over-dress, the most common known garment worn by women in Northern Europe during the Migration period and Early Middle Ages. Also called “hängerock”, “pinafore” or “apron dress”. Some scholars believe the name used by the wearers was “smokkr”. 6,000-12,000 CE
Astrachan – alternative spelling for astrakhan. the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb. It can also refer to the fleece of fetal or newborn lambs from other species, or a knitted or woven fabric that imitates the distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with its slight sheen.
Astrakhan - the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb. It can also refer to the fleece of fetal or newborn lambs from other species, or a knitted or woven fabric that imitates the distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with its slight sheen.
Bagheera - fine, uncut pile velvet with a rough ‘crepe’ pile. It was originally made of silk, but after the introduction of cellulose fabrics it could be made of rayon. 1930s-40s.
Balmacaan - A single-breasted, unstructured calf-length overcoat with raglan sleeves and a Prussian collar, usually made of tweed or gabardine. Originally menswear, by the early 19th century they were popular for women, particularly as motoring coats. Mid-19th century – present
Balmoral petticoat - a coloured petticoat, frequently decorated with stripes and sometimes with a built in hoops or crinoline, that was intended to show at the hem of a drawn-up skirt for walking and sportswear in the 1860s and 1870s.
Batiste - A fine, soft, opaque plain tabby-weave fabric. Similar to organza, but without the acid finish. These days, it can be made in cotton, wool, polyester or a blend.
Bengaline silk – Bengaline is sometimes considered to be a silk blend, but can be of pure silk. It has a crosswise ribbed effect. Particularly common at the turn of the 19th century.
Blonde lace - Originally a specific style of continuous bobbin lace made in France from natural, undyed (blonde) silk thread imported from China, later lace of any colour made in that style. Early 18th century – 1940s
Bosom friend - a shaped tippet of wool, flannel, or fur, and later a knitted scarf, which kept the chest warm and served as a bust enhancer for less well endowed women. 1780s-1830s
Botany wool – an early name for merino wool produced in the Southern Hemisphere. 1870s-1950s
Boutonniére – French for buttonhole. A flower worn in a man’s jacket buttonhole, or pinned to his lapel. American and French usage. 1880s – present. See also corsage and buttonhole.
Breitschwanz - the German name for the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb, and occasionally that of lambs of other varieties. It has a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with its slight sheen. See also astrakhan.
Broadtail - the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb. It can also refer to the fleece of fetal or newborn lambs from other species. See also astrakhan.
‘Brown’ linen – unbleached linen. Linen was sold unbleached, and higher quality linen would be bleached, which cheaper, coarser linen would be left ‘brown’ and used for undergarments and summer clothes by the poor. 1720s-1900 See also osnaburg
Burnous – (also burnoose and bournouse) a full, hooded cloak, often decorated with embroidery and tassels and inspired by the burnous worn as part of the uniform of the Spahi. 1850s-1930s, with periodic returns to fashion since then.
Buttonhole - a flower worn in a man’s jacket buttonhole, or pinned to his lapel. British usage. 1820s – present See also corsage and boutonniére.
Calamanco - a thin fabric of worsted wool yarn which could come in a number of weaves: plain, satin, damasked, and was even brocaded in floral, striped and checked designs. The surface was glazed or calendered (pressed through hot rollers). Also spelled callimanco, calimanco, and kalamink. 1680s-1800.
Calico - The name comes from Calicut, the European name for the Indian city of Kozhikode. In modern use it is a simple, cheap equal weft and warp plain weave fabric in white, cream or unbleached cotton (UK, NZ, AU) or a plain tabby-weave cotton fabric with a small, all-over floral print (North America). 17th century onwards.
Caracul lamb – an alternative spelling for karakul: the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb. See also astrakhan.
Chesterfield coat - an overcoat with simple vertical seams, no side-back piece, and a velvet collar, usually in grey with black. Before 1890 a Chesterfield coat was exclusively a male garment, but in the 20th century women’s coats and jackets have also been done with Chesterfield styling. 1840-present.
Chinchilla – a pale grey (when undyed) and extremely soft and plush fur from the chinchilla rodent of South America. Also applied to the fur of the ‘chinchilla rabbit’, which was bred to imitate real chinchilla fur in softness. Chinchillas are now endangered, and hunting them is illegal. Introduced to European fashion in the 17th century, and particularly popular from 1860-1910. Uncommon since the 1930s.
Chintz - The name comes from the Hindi “chint or “chitta” meaning “spotted”, referring to the speckled backgrounds on 17th and 18th century Indian equal weft and warp plain tabby weave cotton fabric block-printed in multicoloured floral designs. The term now usually refers to floral designs, rather than to the fabric itself.
Cloche - a tight fitting hat which comes low over the forehead and at the nape of the neck. It can have a brim or be brimless. 1882-present.
Colonial shoe – an 18th century inspired heeled shoe with a tongued vamp and an ornamental metal buckle on the front of the shoe. See also Cromwell shoes and Moliére shoes. 1860s-1930s
Corsage – The bodice of a garment, usually, but not exclusively, tight fitting, and usually, but not exclusively, applied to women’s bodices. The modern term corsage for a small cluster of flowers is taken from this, as a shortening of ‘corsage bouquet’ (a bouquet to be worn on a corsage). 1900s-1940s, with corsage being used equally for bodice and flowers from the 1890s onward. See also buttonhole and boutonniéres
Corselet - a garment with waist-emphasising midriff section. Used almost interchangeably with ‘swiss waist’ or ‘swiss belt’ to describe a fitted, shaped belt or sash at the end of the 19th century, and in the 20th century described pointed waistbands or midriffs. 1890s-1940s. See also swiss waist, underbust corset, swiss belt, and waist cincher.
Cromwell buckle or Cromwell shoe – a shoe with a medium to high heel, usually with some 18th century influence, with an ornamental metal buckle on the front of the shoe (the buckle being the Cromwell buckle). See also Moliére shoes and Colonial shoes. 1860s-1930s
Doily (also doilie,doyley, doiley, d’oyley and d’oilie) an ornamental mat usually of crocheted or knitted lace.
Flame – Louis XIV favourite colour, a brilliant orange- red. 1640-1715
Froufrou – the characteristic rustling sound of silk. See also scroop.
Garaköli bagana - the Central Asian term for the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb. It has a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen. See also astrakhan.
Gauze - lightweight, sheer fabric, usually in plain very open tabby-weave.
Granny Squares - crocheted blocks, usually worked in bits of leftover yarn, that can be joined together to form throws or clothes. 1890s-present
Grosgrain – a fabric with a distinctive rib, now used almost exclusively for ribbons, and men’s formalwear lapels. 1860s-present.
Guimpe – A short blouse to be worn under a jumper, or a fill for a low cut dress. Similar to a dickey or chemisette. 1810-1920
Holland - Plain tabby weave, fine yarn, linen fabric. Very similar to lawn, but always made of linen. Like lawn it can be treated with a glazed finished, which is referred to as a ‘holland’ finish. Historically holland referred to lawn from continental Europe, and was sometimes called ‘holland lawn’. Modern holland is not as fine as lawn.
Indienne ordinaire – Chintz/18th century calico fabric patterned in orange-red, black and cream. This was the cheapest and most common type of chintz/calico, and gives its name to the coloration on calico cats.
Karakul lambskin – the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb. It has a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen. See also astrakhan.
Karakulcha - the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb. It has a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen. See also astrakhan.
Krimmer - the Russian term for the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb. It has a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen. See also astrakhan.
Lawn – a lightweight, slightly sheer, tightly woven, plain tabby weave fabric, with fine, glossy threads and no surface texture.
Marquisette - sheer, lightweight mesh or net fabric with a leno weave, made from almost any fibre: silk, cotton, wool, rayon, nylon, polyester or a blend of any of the above. 1907-1950s
Moliére shoes - an 18th century inspired shoe with a small heel and an ornamental metal buckle on the front of the shoe. See also Cromwell shoes and Colonial shoes. 1860s-1930s
Muslin - lightweight, slightly sheer plain tabby weave fabric, with a balanced, slightly open weave (except in NA, where it is called muslin-gauze, or gauze, and muslin means a cheap plain weave cotton fabric).
Nainsook Just like lawn it is a lightweight, slightly sheer, tightly woven, plain tabby weave fabric with fine glossy threads and no surface texture, but made with combed (prepared with a comb) yarns rather than carded (prepared with a brush). This gives it a slightly more lustrous finish.
Net: Refer to soft fabrics with mesh patterns, irregardless of their fibre makeup. Sometimes used to refer to fabric very similar to voile, but only in white and cream colours. Soft tulles are a kind of net (so all soft tulle is a net, but not all net is tulle).
Organdy/Organza - Extremely sheer and crisp plain tabby weave fabrics made with fine, even yarns. These yarns have been combed rather than carded (like nainsook) and are treated with acid in a process that adds to the sheerness and crispness of the finished project. Organdy is made of cotton, organza is made of silk or other filament yarns.
Osnaburg - a heavy, coarse, unbleached plain-weave fabric having approximately 20-36 threads per inch, originally of unbleached linen, and then of unbleached or dyed cotton once cotton became a cheaper fibre than linen in the early 19th century. Widely used for heavy work clothing, and particularly slaves clothing. 1720s-present. See also ‘brown’ linen.
Pardessus – a woman’s overcoat or mantle. 1820s-1900.
Persian lamb - the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb. Characterised by a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen. See also astrakhan.
Peu de soie - used interchangeably with duchesse satin in modern terminology, but may have describes a slightly softer, lighter fabric with a rib at the end of the 19th century.
Picot – a decorative or function loop of thread or yarn on knitting, crocheting, or lace.
Picot edge - a series of looped threads along the edge of knitting, crocheting or ribbon, which can be used for functional or decorative purposes. A ‘picot’ is a single one of these loops.
Picot hem - a rolled hem or edging with a zig zag stitch sewn over the hem to hold it. It is usually worked on very fine, lightweight fabrics such as chiffon. 1910-1940s
Picture hat – Large, broad brimmed hat. 1887-1930s
Pierrot jacket – A jacket with a ruffled ‘tail’ in back. 1770s-1790s
Poult, or poult de soie - a silk taffeta with heavy ribs. Today it is sometimes called faille taffeta. Historically it may have had finer ribs. 1870s-present
Radzimir - A silk fabric with a fine rib, softer than taffeta, but still sculptable. At different times radzimir has been used to describe fabric with lengthwise, crosswise, or broken twill ribs. It was particularly common in black as a mourning fabric, but was seen for evening and formal wear. 19th century-present
Roshanara - the trade name for a silk or silk-worsted wool blend fabric with a rough crepe texture. 1920s-30s
Sabot sleeve/sabot cuff -
18th century: a tight, usually 3/4 length sleeve with a curve at the elbow to allow movement, often with ruched cuffs (sabot cuffs) 1700-1770 or, ruched or puffed sleeves. 1770-1800
19th century: a sleeve with one or two puffs above the elbow, or to the puffs themselves. 1820-1840
Scroop - the characteristic rustling sound that taffeta and other stiff silks or imitation silks make, created with a special acid treatment, which hardens the fibres of the fabric, making them rustle more. See also froufrou. 1890s - present
Slink - the glossy, tightly curled fleece of a fetal or newborn lamb, usually one that has died of natural causes (rather than being harvested for its skin). See also astrakhan.
Swakara - the glossy, tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul lamb, specifically one from South West Africa. Characterised by a distinctive tight, whorled, loopy surface with a slight sheen. See also astrakhan.
Swiss belt - an almost interchangeable term for a swiss waist, though a a swiss waist was higher and more corset-y, and a Swiss belt was shorter and might have attached streamers and bows that imitated a sash. Also a garment with a pointed belt/midriff effect, even if the garment is loose fitting (20th century) 1850s-1920s. See also corselet, underbust corset, swiss waist, and waist cincher.
Swiss waist - a boned, pointed underbust garment worn over skirts and blouses or dresses. Swiss waists could have shoulder straps (particularly in the 1860s) and were sometimes beaded or otherwise decorated (particularly in the 1890s) Swiss waists differ from corsets in that they have hand-worked eyelets, no emphasis on the boning, and never have metal busks to fasten at front. 1850s-1900. See also corselet, underbust corset, swiss belt, and waist cincher.
Symmetricals - knit tights worn primarily by actors and chorus girls with padding on the calves and thighs to create a voluptuous figure. 1880s-1920
Tea Gown - An elegant but informal garment worn around the house and to receive close friends. Described as “a cross between a wrapper (robe) and a ball gown” tea gowns often have elements of exoticism and/or historicism, and were frequently worn without corsets. Popular from the 1870s-1930s, when they were replaced by house gowns.
Terry Velvet - velvet where the pile threads are left as loops (like toweling and terrycloth) rather than being trimmed into discreet strands. Usually called uncut velvet.
Uncut Velvet – velvet where the pile threads are left as loops (like toweling and terrycloth) rather than being trimmed into discreet strands. Sometimes called terry velvet.
Underbust corset - a boned undergarment ending under the bust, sometimes pointed at top and bottom. Unlike a swiss waist, underbust corsets sometimes had metal front busks, metal eyelets, and visible boning channels. 1850-1910. See also corselet, swiss waist, and waist cincher.
Voile - A lightweight fabric with a soft drapey hand, with some surface texture and a weave that is neither particularly fine or loose. Plain tabby weave, may have woven-in stripes or texture.
Waist cincher - a modern term for a corselet, underbust corset, or other short garment that emphasises the waist. Not used historically (pre-1950).
Witches britches - tight mid-thigh knit knickers with lace trimmed hems worn under short skirts. The term is probably exclusively an Antipodean one. mid 1960s.