One of the most glorious pieces I got to see at the Honolulu Museum of Art was a formal 18th century man’s suit, complete with breeches, waistcoat and coat. I suspect the outfit is French, and dates from about 1760, but menswear isn’t my area of expertise, so if you have a better idea, please let me know!
The coat is of a three-dimensional pile fabric, probably a type of cisele velvet, with wine coloured velvet areas surrounding indented corded rectangles in muted gold. This type of fabric seems to have been very common in mid-late 18th century menswear. There is a similar but slightly later jacket here, an earlier jacket and waistcoat at the LACMA, another full suit at LAD, and a suit with a slightly confused dating was sold by Augusta Auctions in 2011.
The embroidery is worked mainly in satin stitch with highlights in stem stitch and french knots. The silk embroidery threads are in shades of pale green, pale peach pink, sky blue, cream, aqua & yellow. It features roses, cornflowers, and sprays of white flowers that I haven’t identified.
The inside of the coat is lined in a combination of ivory silk-satin (the same fabric as the waistcoat), and a mix of linen fabrics. Some of the interior stitching is rather rough: the focus was clearly on making the outside of the coat look beautiful – the inside would never be seen.
The breeches are made of the same fabric as the coat. They feature a flap-front closure – usually the sign of an earlier garment, or one made for an older, more conservative man. After 1775 single placket breeches with a closure similar to modern button-front pants became more common.
The cuffs of the breeches are decorated with a simple form of the coat embroidery.
The breeches are the only part of the outfit that show obvious signs of later alterations. A triangle of heavy silk has been added to the centre back of the breeches, making the breeches larger and covering the earlier fastenings which would have closed the back of the breeches. The addition is quite roughly done. Silver buttons, probably to fasten to suspenders, have also been added to the breeches.
The fabric used, and the techniques used to make the alteration, both point to a late Victorian alteration. The breeches were probably adapted either for fancy dress wear, or for theatre use. A number of items in the Honolulu Museum of Art were given by local theatre groups.
The waistcoat of the suit is made of ivory silk satin – lighter, softer & more supple than a modern duchesse satin, but much heavier than a silk charmeuse. It’s a very similar weight to most of my silk obi, or to the ivory satin I used for my tea gown.
The embroidery on the waistcoat coordinates with that on the jacket and breeches, but it isn’t the same embroidery. The shades of green and pink anre similar, but there are more shades of pink, additional touches of brown, there is no blue, and the flowers are much more stylized. The rounded, controlled roses provide a nice counterpoint to the more flowing, naturalistic embroidery on the coat.
Like the coat, the waistcoat is a mix of silk and linen.
I took some images of the hand-stitching for reference in my own sewing.