Coats and Capes

Men and women could choose from among numerous different outer garments during the eighteenth century. In general people wore a cape or a coat over their clothes to keep warm or to repel rain.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, men wore justaucorps, collarless coats that reached the calf. By the end of the century, the coat was shortened to just below the hips. Reproduced by permission of © .

Women wore a variety of large circular capes or cloaks over their long, full dresses. Made of velvet or taffeta, these outer garments were often decorated with ruffles and ribbons or trimmed with fur. Cloaks often had hoods large enough to cover women's huge hairstyles. These large coverings were worn for formal occasions. Other, less formal coats were also available to women. The spencer was a short-waisted jacket with long, tight-fitting sleeves. The casaquin was a hip-length jacket that fit closely in the front but hung more loosely in the back.

Men had a similar selection of outer garments. The most common outfit for a man included breeches, a waistcoat, and a longer jacket called a justaucorps. At the beginning of the century, the justaucorps was a collarless coat that buttoned in the front and reached the calf, but it gradually shortened to just below the hips by the end of the century. The fit of the justaucorps also changed dramatically over the century. During the early part of the century the skirt, or portion below the waist, flared outward, aided by stiffening provided by whale-bone or horsehair. It was similar in profile to women's skirts that were supported with panniers, metal and wooden supports used to hold the skirt out away from the legs. As the century continued justaucorps became more formfitting, with the sleeves and skirt becoming tighter. However, the cuffs of the justaucorps became larger by the end of the century. The justaucorps eventually developed into the pourpoint, a jacket with a large collar, by the end of the century.

The justaucorps and the pourpoint were both formal jackets. Some men adopted a more relaxed style during the eighteenth century and began to wear a frock coat. The frock coat had a looser fit and collars. Fastened with buttons in the front, it could be double-or single-breasted, two rows or one row of buttons. English men had worn the more casual frock coat made of plain dark cloth when they were in the country. (Many wealthy English men had large country estates that they visited when they wanted to relax.) The frock coat soon became a very fashionable coat for men, even in towns and cities.

Men also wore heavier outdoor coats and cloaks over the justaucorps. The surtout was a large woolen calf-length coat with a rounded collar. It also could have one or two cape-like collars to protect against the rain. The roquelaure was a large cloak worn on the coldest days. The redingote was a large coat that fit closely along the upper body and had large cuffs and a full skirt. By the end of the century military men and academics were the only men who wore cloaks, while all others wore large coats, such as the redingote.


Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Batterberry. Fashion: The Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1977.

Bigelow, Marybelle S. Fashion in History: Apparel in the Western World. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing, 1970.

Cunnington, Phillis. Costumes of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century. Boston, MA: Plays, 1970.

[ See also Volume 3, Seventeenth Century: Justaucorps ]

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