19th Century, 20th Century

Terminology: What is a balmacaan?

We’ve looked at items of womenswear like swiss waists, and fabric for womenswear like aerophane.  I think it’s high time for a menswear terminology post.

How about a balmacaan?  A balmacaan is a single-breasted, unstructured calf-length overcoat with raglan sleeves and a Prussian collar, usually made of tweed or gabardine.

Brown and blue tartan balmacaan featured in “Fashions of the Quarter”, Apparel Arts, 1932 via Gentlemen’s Gazette

Balmacaans started as menswear in the mid-19th century, and were adopted for womenswear at the end of the century (sorry, can’t help it.  Pretty much every article of menswear has been incorporated into womenswear at some point).  They were particularly popular as motoring coats for women in the first few decades of the 20th century.

The ladies Balmacaan, The Blenheim coat and skirt, The Solent conduit coat 1911 Via the NYPL Digital Gallery

The name balmacaan comes from the Balmacaan estate which is near Inverness in Scotland.  Intriguingly, the term balmacaan for a coat does not seem to have been used in New Zealand, though one of the few New Zealand-born hereditary lords, the 11th Earl of Seaford, inherited the estate as part of his baronetcy.

Balmacaans are definitely meant as outerwear.  Their loose shape makes them eminently suitable for pulling over layers of clothing.

What makes a balmacaan distinctive is the simplicity of its cut and details: the collar, fastening, and pockets are all as subtle and subdued as possible, both on mens and women’s clothing.

English outing coats including a Balmacaan, 1914. Note the contrast of simplicity vs. elaboration with the two coats. Via the NYPL Digital Galleries

I have a couple of patterns from the late ’50s, early 1960s which are essentially balmacaans:

Simplicity 8591 – a classic balmacaan

Simplicity 6183 – a balmacaan variant without a collar


O’Hara, Georgina,  The Encyclopedia of Fashion: From 1840 to the 1980s.  London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.  1986


  1. Lynne says

    It’s a fine shape for a coat. I have had several over the years without knowing I was wearing balmacaans! Thank you for another new word.

  2. Great word, thankyou! And love that aqua version with the matching dress xx

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