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More terminology: What is a pardessus?

Continuing on from my post about guimpes, I’ve been noticing all sorts of costuming words that I see, and can guess what they mean, but never properly research.

My latest word is pardessus.  V&E posted a gorgeous 1874 pardessus pattern that started my research.

Pardessus, unglamorously enough, just means ‘overcoat’, from the French ‘passed over’.

We can see the term, or variants of it, used in early French fashion magazines.

Fashions from Gezsler Mode, 1814

The notes for this fashion magazine from 1814 described the garments as

 1. Robe de Levantine et fichu-canezou garni en broderie. Chapeau en Gros de Naples garni dune ruche de gaze.
2. Canezou de velours. Jape de reps garnie en rouleaux. Chapeau en velours epingle garni de plumes d’Autruche.
3. Par-dessus four-6 en merinos garni de chinchilla. Toque de velours plein garni de roses.

The term pardessus gained popularity in English in the 1840s as a term to describe a mantle, along with pelisses, paletots, camails, and crespins.  Mentions of pardessus are most common in English fashion magazines in the ’40s & ’50s, and American in the ’60s.

At first the term was used almost interchangeably with paletot for a short to half-length coat, though there seems to be a quirky distinction in that pardessus was often, though not always, trimmed with fur or velvet.  Occasionally an almost full-length coat-cape was called a pardessus.

A pardessus could be either quite loose, or fitted at the waist, depending on the wearer and the fashions of the season.  A June 1848 fashion article describes

The pardessus were never prettier than this winter; the forms are various, whether in velvet, satin de chine, casimir or drap cachemir; those for young ladies, of satin a la reine, are with sleeves and made close to the waist.

The design of the pardessus would also depend on the inspiration, with pardessus inspired by seasons, historical & mythological figures, such as Madame de Maintenon, as well as exotic cultures, such as the Turkish inspired ‘pardessus bizantin‘.

Here are some examples of 1850s & 60s pardessuses (pardessi? pardessusen?  or is the name plural itself?).

An unfitted late 1850s pardessus with cunning zig-zagged and tasseled faux-hood:

The Victorian Pardessus, Godey's Ladies Book, Feb 1859

And it comes with a pattern!

The Victorian Pardessus, pattern, Godey's Ladies Book, Feb 1859

The caption for these two pardessuses from 1861 reads “We illustrate two styles of Spring Pardessus, which are among the most pleasing of the season. They are made of silk of two colors, and ornamented with passamenterie and lace”.

"Spring Pardessus, No. 1", fashion plate from Harper's Monthly Magazine, 1861

"Spring Pardessus, No. 2", fashion plate from Harper's Monthly Magazine, 1861

Like the Spring Pardessus No 2, this pardessus from 1861 is almost floor-length.

Pardessus, Harpers, Summer 1861

In 1863 we see another, unfitted pardessus.  The pattern for this one is given here.  As you can see from the pattern, unfitted they are a very easy, basic shape.

Pardessus Danoise, Peterson's Magazine. August, 1863

Want to some real woman in a pardessus?

The Viscountess Somerton’s unfitted pardessus has the classic fur trim, though she may also have called her coat a paletot.  (on a side note, does anyone else look at her hat and want to start singing “Whip it”?)

Viscountess Somerton, May 24 1861

And to make things even more obscure, here is the famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) Countess de Castiglione posing in a photograph titled “Le pardessus dècoré”, though we can’t be sure if the title indicates the exact garment, or just that she was covered.

Le pardessus dècoré (feat. the Countess de Castiglione), 1860s, Pierre-Louis Pierson

In the 1870s the pardessus changed.  An 1875 fashion article describes the change:

The new pardessus…is made rather full, long in front, falling at the sides, but short behind; the sleeves are wide.  When the pardessus is in malatesse it is generally trimmed with feathers or fur, but when in cashmere or sicilienne; lace, beads or spangles are preferred.

You know what that sounds like?  Long in front, short behind, wide sleeves?  That sounds like the infamous Pingat mantle.

Yep, that’s what pardessus became after the 1870s!

Three mantles (pardessus), 1870-75, French, Met

By the 1880s pardessus as a name for a specific garment (as opposed to a general term for an outer wrap) seems to have fallen off.  An article from 1887 describes how changing fashions make extra outergarments superfluous, and how “the redingote has taken the place of the pardessus.

And so ended the fashion


Spring shoes

Spring has come to New Zealand.

In fact, it’s almost summer.  My spring flowers are almost finished (and I managed to not inflict a single post with macro images of them on you this year), and I heard the first cicada of the year last week.

To celebrate, here are a rainbow of pretty, pastel-y, spring-y shoes.

There are pink ones:

Pink kid shoes, Early 20th c, American (Boston), MFA Boston 53.1063

And purple ones:

Light purple suede shoes, Early 10th Century, American (Boston), MFA Boston, 53.1064

And green ones:

Green silk half-boots, 1818, MFA Boston

And blue ones:

Blue slippers, 1835-40, Met

And yellow ones:

Yellow silk brocade shoes, England or US, 1782-83, LACMA

And some that have a whole garden of colours:

Pumps lined with blue silk, Russia, 1890s, Met


Australia: or, How blogging helped me overcome my fears.

From tomorrow the blog will be on autopilot while Mr Dreamy and I take a well deserved holiday and spend a week on the beach in Australia.

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of posts, and even a ‘Rate the Dress’, but it will all happen without me.

late '60s psychedelic novelty print fabric with Australian kangaroos

This holiday is interesting, because I’ve lived in New Zealand for six years (seven if you count the non-continuous times) and I’ve never once been to Oz.  I’ve even refused to stopover in Oz on my way to Hawaii and the US.

For someone living in New Zealand who travels a lot, this is very unusual.  Oz is where Kiwi’s go on holiday, and for a bit of big-city, big-world right on their doorstep.  There is a stunning Baha’i temple in Sydney that I would love to visit.  People rave about Melbourne as a vibrant, artistic ‘Australian Wellington.’ There have been amazing costume exhibitions in Oz while I’ve lived here; great stage shows; once -in-a-lifetime concerts; but I haven’t gone.


I’m afraid of Australia.  Really, really, afraid.  I have Aussaphobia.

OK, that probably isn’t a real thing, but if it is, I have it.

It started when I was a child.  I would have been 10 or 11 when I saw Walkabout.  It’s a film about the Australian Outback, with stunning cinematography which dwells lovingly on the painted rocks, the vivid red earth, the limpid waterholes, and the  peculiar wildlife.  It’s also a really strange, twisted tale where adults go mad and attack and abandon children, and where cultural interaction results in death and destruction.  All told with no dialog whatsoever.

It freaked the bejeezes out of me!

I inherited this fabric shortly after I saw Walkabout

Everything good I have seen about Australia since then: The Castle (LOVE that film), Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, etc have not dimmer my horror of the place.

To add to that, Australia is full of things that kill you.  The fresh water is full of crocodiles, the salt water is full of jellyfish and sharks and on land, to paraphrase Pratchett, the snakes are deadly but you don’t have to worry about them because the spiders ate them all.

And yes, I’ve been told that you don’t really encounter these animals in the cities, but I’m from Hawaii.  I don’t expect anything to be able to kill me!

To add further horror, New Zealand TV is laden with shows about Australian crime, from ‘based-on-history’ dramas with names like Underbelly (yeah, like that’s ever going to be a good thing!), to true-crime documentaries that seem to feature an endless supply of psychopathic serial killers.  I think they have those (the serial killers) in America too, but the last time I watched an American true-crime documentary they spend an hour figuring out that the deadly wildfire wasn’t set by an insane pyromaniac, but by two trees rubbing together.  I’m the girl who doesn’t like Downton Abbey because too many of the characters are mean to each other.  I really can’t handle shows that are all about morally bankrupt criminals!

Not surprisingly, these kangaroos did nothing to ease my distrust of the big red continent down under

But yet I’m going to Australia.

Why?  Well, at first I suggested we holiday in every possible Pacific island.  Mr D wanted Oz.  He mentioned Melbourne and Sydney and I turned them down.  Then his parents suggested a place near Brisbane.

Now, Brisbane is not commonly held to be one of the nicer, more enjoyable Australian cities, but when it was mentioned it rang a bell.  Steph is from Brisbane!  Steph of 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World!  I adore Steph!  She’s such an amazing inspiration as a seamstress and blogger.

If we went to Brisbane, I could see Steph!  How fabulous!  And so, for just long enough for the commitment to be made, the thought of meeting someone who I have read and corresponded with and learned from and been inspired by was more than the phobia.

Now of course, I’m about to board the plane (which I don’t like, but am not afraid of) and I’m a little less cheerful.  But most fears are fine once faced, so I’m off to conquer my demons (or crocodiles) and to meet Steph, who unwittingly emboldened me to face this fear.

And that’s what the blogging world has been to me: people who teach and inspire, and support, and cheer you on, and just once in a while actually give you enough of a push, whether they know it or not, to be more than you thought you were.

There are so many places in the world I would now like to travel too, not because they are necessarily interesting or fabulous or famous places on their own (though some of them are), but because of the people I have connected with from those places.  Needless to say, the people are so interesting and fabulous that they would make the visit worth it, no matter the location!

So next week I’ll report back on the trip, and tell you if I was just a silly wimp, or a wimp who knew what they were on about!