fig. 1
France/England

This research began with a button. This button, at the collar of the elegant gentleman’s silk Coat, c.1808 (figs 1 & 9), in the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection, appeared odd, as it disrupted the symmetry of the coat and was not in keeping with the fashion of the day. Swiss costume dealer Martin Kamer1 Martin Kamer is a major costume dealer and collector who has sold to many museums around the world, including The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin. spotted traces of an old button hole in the collar opposite the miscellaneous button, hinting that the garment had been recut and reassembled. More clues were revealed and it was concluded that the coat’s fashionable silhouette had been remade from an earlier, larger version of itself.

In the ‘long eighteenth century’2 Historians’ definitions of the long eighteenth century extend from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the battle of Waterloo in 1815. This definition is used to cover a more natural historical period than the standard calendar definition of the eighteenth century. clothing was an incredibly valuable form of currency traded across classes at second-hand markets. Second-hand clothing was one of the first forms of ready-to-wear, and clothes were frequently traded in order to be re-tailored into contemporary styles for new clients. While textiles were costly, labour was inexpensive, so refashioning garments into updated styles was a practical solution for the fashion conscious. These remakes were so expertly executed that they can be difficult to identify.

Certain clues in this coat, however, reveal that it is a remake. Charting its transformations and those of the wider clothing trade provides a study of material culture, self-representation, and textiles and fashion in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Dating and redating

The acquisition submission written for Coat in 1975 by Rowena Clark, Curator of Costume and Textiles, NGV, dates it as 1790–1800, and the garment was displayed in the 2011 NGV exhibition ManStyle3 ManStyle, NGV International, 11 March – 30 Oct. 2011, and The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 11 March – 27 Nov. 2011. with the date c.1795. More recently Coat has been dated as late as the first decade of the nineteenth century.4 Thank you to Johannes Pietsch for this observation. There are several reasons to believe that this later date is correct, including the cut and height of the collar, the raised waistline and the narrowness through the back of the coat, all of which are consistent features of coats in the first decade of the nineteenth century.

Throughout the eighteenth century the line of coats was drawn progressively closer to the body. The close-fitting, elongated neoclassical silhouette of the 1790s to 1810s flaunted the heroic male body, while the backward sweep of coat tails and the prominence given to the chest recalled an assertive male bird of prey. The swift backward sweep of coat tails during this period may also be interpreted as a poetic representation of progress into a new modern era.

For these reasons, at first it seemed possible that the Coat was indeed from c.1795. Its back narrows considerably in comparison to the coats of the 1770s and 1780s, and it also features the characteristic stand collar of the 1790s. Works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, as well as others, seemed comparable. However, the cut of the NGV’s Coat narrows so dramatically at the waist back that a date as late as 1808 seems more likely. A fashion plate in the journal Costume Parisien from 18085 This fashion plate was reproduced in Cristina Barreto & Martin Lancaster, Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion: 1795–1815, Skira, Milan, 2010. gives an example of similar tailoring, showing a near identical coat – drawn perhaps a little closer to the body, but nevertheless a close evolution of the cut of the Gallery’s Coat (fig. 2). The precise tailoring characteristic of nineteenth-century fashion is evident in both the Costume Parisien plate and in Coat. Both coats also feature lace at their cuffs – although this was tucked away when the NGV’s Coat was displayed in ManStyle, as it was thought to have been a later addition. It is more likely that the lace was original, however, as Coat carries a silhouette closer to the Costume Parisien plate of 1808.

The value of textiles on the second-hand market

There was an active trade in second-hand clothing across eighteenth-century Europe. Cultural historians, such as Dr Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, Beverly Lemire, John Styles, Miles Lambert, Aileen Ribeiro and Daniel Roche, among others, write expansively on the redistribution of clothing across all classes due to the high value of textiles.6 See Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, ‘Fashioning (and refashioning) European fashion’, in Sharon Sadako Takeda et al., Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Delmonico Books, Prestel, 2011; Beverly Lemire, ‘Consumerism in preindustrial and early industrial England: the trade in secondhand clothes’, Journal of British Studies, vol. 27, no.  1, Jan. 1988; John Styles, The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007; Miles Lambert, ‘“Cast-off wearing apparell”: the consumption and distribution of second-hand clothing in northern England during the long eighteenth century’, Textile History, vol. 35, no. 1, 2004; Aileen Ribeiro, Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 1715–1789, B. T. Batsford, London, 1984; Daniel Roche, The Culture of Clothing: Dress and Fashion in the ‘Ancien Régime’, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994. As Lemire explains, ‘Much of the value in garments was founded on the quality of the fabrics used in their construction, the weight, weave, finish and substance of the cloth’,7 Beverly Lemire, ‘Shifting currency: the culture and economy of the second hand trade in England, c.1600–1850’, in Alexandra Palmer & Hazel Clark (eds), Old Clothes, New Looks: Second Hand Fashion, Berg, Oxford, 2005, p. 41. and garments were traded in exchange for other goods or remade into more fashionable silhouettes by those who could afford it.

All clothing was expensive, even on the second-hand market. For example, a good second-hand protective coat cost the average labourer one week’s wage.8 Ribeiro, p. 64. Fit was also an extravagance, as poorer classes had to make do with the size of garments in their original condition.9 ibid., p. 58. Therefore fashionable clothing was an extraordinary luxury.10 Chrisman-Campbell, p. 18. Because textiles were expensive and labour-intensive to produce, prolonging the life of garments through remaking was justified, even for the wealthier classes.

Relatively plain textiles easily remained fashionable from the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century by being remade. Aileen Ribeiro writes that it was more common to remake plain textiles in menswear, particularly later in the century when plainer silks were popular. When considering second-hand purchases, utility and convenience ranked higher than fashionability or attractiveness.11 See Roche, pp. 356–7.

The mauve-grey shot textile, woven with small silver rectangles, was more subtle and adaptable to remaking than the ostentatious, multicoloured floral designs and embroidery which fell out of fashion with the French Revolution. Natalie Rothstein writes that the lack of interest in woven patterns following general economic recession, the Revolution and the sudden loss of courts across France generally meant that designers no longer developed new designs season by season.12 Nathalie Rothstein, Woven Textile Design in Britain from 1750 to 1850, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1994, pp. 11–12. All that remained at the end of the century were the patterns with small motifs that had hardly changed for many years. Without major changes in textile designs it became possible to recut an existing coat into a more fashionable silhouette (fig. 3). In the nineteenth century, men would come to be defined by the fit of their coat and the cut of their cloth, as championed by figures such as Beau Brummell.13 Beau Brummell (1778–1840) was an iconic figure in Regency England and an arbiter of men’s fashion. He was known for his fastidious attention to every detail of his appearance, including his choice of cloth and the exacting fit and finish of his clothing.

Re-tailoring the eighteenth-century coat

There are several characteristics of the NGV’s Coat that suggest it was remade or made-over from an existing garment. The button on the collar was the first detail noted as being inconsistent with other coats of the era (fig. 4). Searches through museum collections, portraits and fashion plates of the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century have presented no other examples of a coat of this style with a button on its collar.14 I have found only one portrait which features a button on its collar. This is a portrait of Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) by Mason Chamberlin (1722–1787), made in 1754 or before, National Portrait Museum, London. It features a red coat with a very small button at the collar.This portrait is much too early to represent the jacket in question. Why then would a button appear on the collar of this coat? It could be that its collar, including the button, was cut from the upper portion of a larger, earlier coat. This may have occurred if the collar was cut from a 1760s or 1770s coat which did not feature the high upstanding collar.15 Thin collars were introduced in the 1760s, but were not common until the 1770s and 1780s.

On the opposite side of the collar is a diagonal line half hidden in the seam (fig. 5). This could have been the corresponding buttonhole – uncut, as it was not always customary to cut buttonholes. Buttons on men’s coats were often decorative; hooks and eyes actually fasten the coat at mid-chest at the centre front. Evidence of a button on one side and a buttonhole on the other supports the theory that the top of Coat was recut into the upstanding collar.

The button detail alone is not quite enough to prove that this coat is a remake. However, further details also support the argument. The collar is cut sparingly with front-angled edges in subservience to the increased size of the cravat, and presumably this was part of Coat’s refashioning. The limited fabric available within the original garment may have impacted the economic design of its front, and an extravagant cravat may have been intended to disguise its slightly awkward cut.

Triangular fabric insertions around the garment’s armholes and centre back are most telling. These would have been carefully inserted following the narrowing of Coat’s form and the widening of its armholes where the pleats of the sleeve heads were flattened out (fig. 6).16 Thanks again to Johannes Pietsch for this observation. It appears that the sleeve heads were pulled back and down in order to exaggerate the neoclassical posture. The relocation of a pattern piece would lead to absences in other places, so tailors would have to piece together new garments from fabric already present in the originals; often resulting in a subtle patchwork of fragments.

The cut through the waist at front and back of Coat also appears to be part of the alterations. In around 1800 it became necessary for tailors to incise pattern pieces to taper coats to the waist. This Coat, however, is cut all the way around, suggesting that the long vertical lengths of a 1770s or 1780s coat were cut horizontally and narrowed through the waist to make a clear delineation (fig. 7). This would have also had the effect of shortening the length of the coat, suggesting that its new wearer was shorter and slimmer. In the early nineteenth century coat tails were also significantly reduced. Marla R. Miller writes: ‘The tasks involved in mastering both new fashions and new fabrics were neither simple nor apparent’.17 Marla R. Miller, ‘Gownmaking as a trade for women in eighteenth-century rural New England’, Dress, vol. 30, 2003, p. 21–37. Rising waistlines in the 1790s challenged everyone in the clothing trades. This narrowing of the skirts then had the effect of creating the disrupted curved line at the side fronts.

The garment’s robust camel-coloured diagonal twill-weave lining has always raised questions, as it is inconsistent with other eighteenth-century coats in the NGV’s collection, which are lined with thinner, lighter silks (fig. 8). The sleeves and inside pocket have been relined in white cotton. Norah Waugh supports this theory when she writes that in the eighteenth century all coats, with the exception of great coats, were usually lined in silk, and she provides details of coats lined with cotton in her descriptions of nineteenth-century coats.18 Norah Waugh, The Cut of Men’s Clothes, 1600–1900, Faber and Faber, London, 1964. The lining may also be original. Coats from the 1780s in Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich, include cotton linings in their sleeves, suggesting that the original coat could also be dated to the 1780s.

The evidence of piecing in this garment, its lining, the long vertical lengths of fabric from a 1770s or 1780s coat cut horizontally and narrowed through the waist, the shape of the collar, the miscellaneous button, and the practices of the second-hand clothing trade in the eighteenth century all suggest that this coat was made from an earlier coat into a later silhouette. Its relatively plain silk textile also made it appealing for refashioning. But where did Coat come from and where was it refashioned? What conditions in the eighteenth century made this possible or likely?

Provenance

This coat has been catalogued as both French and English since it was purchased by the NGV in 1975. Examples in other museum collections suggest that it may be French. In the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, exhibition catalogue Revolution in Fashion: European Clothing, 1715–1815 a coat of similar cut, colour and textile is recorded as French, while the Metropolitan Museum of Art also features a French coat in a comparable textile and silhouette. The provenance of the NGV’s Coat, however, intimates that it may be English. The original acquisition submission states that it was purchased from Major E. J. Millett of Montrose Cottage, 111 Eureka Street,19 The name Montrose Cottage was given to the cottage by the builder. The original collateral advertising Montrose Cottage and Eureka Military Museum lists its address as 23 Eureka Street, Ballarat. However, council renumbered properties due to development sometime before 1975 so that on the acquisition submission the address is listed as 111 Eureka Street, Ballarat. Ballarat, who presumably gave the provenance to Rowena Clark as English.

Major Edward J. Millett (1911–1996) was a keen collector of military arms and objects related to colonial history. He and his wife Nancee founded Montrose Cottage as a private history museum of the Ballarat goldfields and operated it from 1967 until 2004. They also built Eureka Military Museum, adjacent to Montrose Cottage, to showcase Millett’s arms collection.20 The Eureka Military Museum was built from the bluestone of the former Ballarat Gaol. Millett started collecting military arms as a schoolboy, following the First World War, and worked as Honorary Curator of Arms and Armour at Museum Victoria from c.1938 to c.1989.21 Millett was one of the first military arms collectors in Australia. Many thanks to Deborah Tout-Smith and Benjamin Thomas at Museum Victoria for their assistance. To establish his initial collection for Montrose Museum, Millett gathered original furnishings and objects from the descendants of John Alexander, the Scottish stonemason who built Montrose cottage in c.1856. Once he became widely known in the area, Millett attracted many donations from local residents related to his interests in military arms, uniforms and colonial history. Other kinds of items were also donated, including books and possibly Coat.

Millett’s interests begged the question of whether Coat had an Australian colonial connection. Was it brought to Australia from England by an early settler or governor? This is unlikely, as if it had been brought to Australia this early it would probably have been brought to New South Wales or Victoria.22 The first European settlement in the area later known as Victoria was established in Oct. 1803 under Lieutenant-Governor David Collins at Sullivan Bay, on Port Phillip, Victoria. Ballarat was not established until 1851. Neil Speed, a fellow military arms collector and friend of Millett, noted that the Milletts were precise historians who often went to great lengths to represent their displays with the utmost accuracy.23 Telephone conversation between the author and Neil Speed,
17 Aug. 2012.
It therefore seems likely that they would have recorded any colonial connection, had they known of one, and passed on this information to the NGV. The acquisition submission makes no reference to this. It only states that Coat is from England.

It was also suggested that Coat could have been associated with the Ballarat gold rush and brought to Australia after 1851 with the influx of migrants. This is even less likely, as the coat carries a much earlier style.

What is most likely is that Coat was brought to Australia by Millett himself.24 This claim is also supported by Millett’s son, John Millett, in email correspondence with the author, 30 Oct. 2012. Between 1972 and 1973 Millett and his wife spent two years in the United Kingdom in a cottage just outside of London. From there they made many tours of the United Kingdom and Europe. Although Millet brought back many uniforms from his travels, his son, John Millett, suggests that it was Nancee who was more likely to have acquired Coat, as she was the more expert of the two in regards to civilian clothing, furniture, household items and social customs.25 ibid. In 1975 Coat was sold to the NGV following their return. The Milletts were collectors and may have recognised the coat’s value in the beauty of its cut, and known they would find a ready buyer for it. John Millett suggests his mother acquired Coat as an ‘interesting item’.26 ibid.

Based on Major Millett’s interests and his original statement that Coat was English, it does seem most likely that the garment was purchased in England. However, scholars Martin Kamer, Natalie Rothstein and Johannes Pietsch concur that it is difficult to be definite about the origins of Coat based on its style, as formal suits were cut more or less the same in England and France in that period. The materials used do not definitely point to one or the other, either.27 Thanks again to Johannes Pietsch for this observation.

At the same time, the proximity and continual trade between England and France does not guarantee that Coat was made and re-tailored in England, even if it was purchased there. Lemire writes that wholesale dealers in second-hand clothing actively sold across Europe in great volume.28 Beverly Lemire, ‘Consumerism in preindustrial and early industrial England’, pp. 16–17.

The exchange of second-hand clothing

Trade in second-hand clothing did not only occur internationally, but also locally in Europe. An extensive interwoven chain of clothes brokers, dealers, itinerant hawkers, local salesmen, hucksters, wholesalers, local shopkeepers, pawnbrokers, innkeepers, tailors, fripiers, deceased estate auctioneers and even criminals serviced the tens of thousands of people who depended on the second-hand clothing trade. Prices for garments weren’t fixed, but were negotiated between seller and customer or traded in exchange for other goods or services. There are a number of scenarios in which this coat may have been traded in Europe – in either large centres or regional areas.

Trade also occurred within families, with clothing bequeathed to heirs and worn as it was or re-tailored by the receiver. Garments were bought from deceased estates by family members or members of the public. Historians Ilja Van Damme and Reinoud Vermoesen write of public auctions held in Alost, Southern Netherlands, by relatives at the family premise. Items which had not been specifically bequeathed or about which there was some dispute were auctioned and descendants bid against one another for the same item. Motivations ranged from the sentimental to the entrepreneurial, and members of the public were also welcome to bid. Following the auction, profits were distributed among the heirs.

Auctions were also attended with commercial motivation. Damme and Vermoesen note that clients at a deceased estate auction included two second-hand dealers who were innkeepers. Shopkeepers or innkeepers often dealt in second-hand clothing as an additional trade, collecting old and unwanted textiles from their customers and reselling them to other patrons. Inns and taverns were instrumental in a myriad of semi-legal and illicit dealings, and inns were used as auction sites or places where buyers and sellers of all social orders could meet in relative privacy.29 Ilja Van Damme & Reinoud Vermoesen, ‘Second-hand consumption as a way of life: public auctions in the surroundings of Alost in the late eighteenth century’, Continuity and Change, vol. 24, no. 2, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, Aug. 2009, p. 292. Pawnbrokers could also serve a similar role, receiving goods which they would then resell. Sometimes these goods were acquired illegally, other times legitimately, and most pawnbrokers were expected to keep a record of their stock, which was regularly audited by the police to deter thieving.30 Roche, p. 348. The exchange of second-hand clothing was often rapid and widespread across a number of professions.

Garments were furthermore used as payment from employers to employees. Masters would pass clothing to their servants, who could in turn exchange the clothes for other goods or keep them to wear or to be re-tailored. This coat may either have been exchanged in one of these informal scenarios or been purchased in a more formal transaction from a tailor or fripier.

In France the fripier sold high-quality second-hand clothing through luxury retail boutiques. Fripiers were more educated than market sellers, generally well-housed, for the most part financially secure and lived comfortably from their trade.31 ibid., p. 362. The majority of fripiers sold old and new men’s clothes primarily, with some offering the service of re-tailoring existing garments.

Tailors also offered a universal service of altering clothes so that garments could be used for as long as possible; either being repaired after wear or damage, or altered to fit a changing or different figure. A 1789 etching of a tailor in Monmouth Street, London, from the Guildhall Library shows a tailor struggling to fit a customer with a second-hand overcoat.32 See Lambert, p. 12. Clients would also have their own existing garments altered and updated. Miller writes specifically about the altering of existing clothing into neoclassical silhouettes:

The radical change in silhouette that emerged … presented serious technical challenges as clothing producers contended with a gradual shortening of the waistline. To be sure, the large number of alterations undertaken during the 1790s and early 1800s in order to comply with the new fashion generated activity for gownmakers.33 Miller, pp. 21–37.

English tailoring manuals included detailed instructions for altering existing garments,34 Waugh, p. 91. and in France remaking constituted a significant component of tailors’ work.35 Roche, p. 298. Longstanding rivalries existed between tailors and fripiers due to their increasingly similar roles of offering customers the service of remaking, re-tailoring or refurbishing a garment to suit buyers’ tastes and physiques.36 As a result, the trades were amalgamated in 1776 to enable them to work together in greater harmony.

Surviving accounts illustrate how tailors pursued additional business altering second-hand garments to fit their new owners, as well as sometimes changing stolen clothes.37 The examples related to stolen clothing are drawn from Lambert,
pp. 10–11.
While the garments tailors received were largely cast-offs collected from existing clients, some were stolen and tailors were commissioned to render them unrecognisable. Miles Lambert recounts the case of Isaac Barker, a tailor’s apprentice from Crosthwaite, Cumberland, who gave evidence in a 1752 murder trial which revealed he and his master stole a murdered man’s clothes from his body and hid them. They then waited four years before Isaac remodelled the victim’s coat for himself to wear. Another case describes John Bentley:

Apprehended at Barton upon Irwell near Manchester on suspicion of stealing a hat, a coat and a pair of shoes from a house in Monton in 1791. He was wearing these same garments upon arrest, and although the hat was easily identified by a name written inside, the coat had been altered. This deliberate attempt to disguise the coat failed because the other clothing remained unaltered and identifiable, but it reveals the involvement of a tailor in altering stolen clothes for a new wearer.38 ibid., p. 11.

These two examples show that second-hand clothes often made their way to tailors to be altered for new lives and new owners.

Was our Coat stolen and re-tailored? Probably not – its alterations most likely occurred quite some time after it was originally made in the 1770s or 1780s. If it had been stolen, and the motivation was to disguise the coat, it is more likely that the re-tailoring would have occurred closer to its initial date. The motivation for the re-tailoring of this coat, however, was more likely for fashionability and attractiveness than it was for disguise.

Who wore the coat?

In the eighteenth century second-hand clothing in various conditions was redistributed for numerous reasons. Roche, Lemire, Damme and Vermoesen argue that at this time the second-hand clothing market began to enable social mobility. Damme and Vermoesen note ‘that buying second-hand goods is important, as it is their capacity to mark differences in, or emulate, higher socio-economic status’.39 Damme & Vermoesen, p. 290. Re-tailoring a silk coat provided someone the means to appear of a higher status. The French Revolution had destroyed the belief in the divine right of kings, and ‘in this new world, political authority would increasingly adhere to leaders who gained ascendancy by force of personality rather than by inheritance’.40 Elizabeth Wilson, ‘A note on glamour’, Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture, vol. 11, issue 1, 2007, p. 97. Dress became fundamental to the expression of personality, and later, during the Regency period, the glamour of the dandy became powerful. In the burgeoning cities, individuals were not only judged by their family, religion or name, but could also remain somewhat anonymous until judged on their appearance, manners and personality. A well-tailored silk coat helped to achieve this image.

Dress alone could not achieve an elevated perception, however – it needed to be combined with poise.41 Thank you to Matthew Martin for this observation. Mimi Hellman describes the importance of gracefully negotiating furniture, objects and interiors in order to achieve social seductiveness.42 Mimi Hellman, ‘Interior motives: seduction by decoration’, introduction to Harold Koda & Andrew Bolton, Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2006, p. 15. Interactions with others were monitored:

The socially adept individual demonstrated a bearing that was upright but not stiff, self-contained yet relaxed. Physical motion should be smooth and flowing, neither too rapid nor too slow. Gestures should be expressive without being too broad, abrupt or agitated. Similarly, facial expression should be animated without succumbing to such offenses as grinning, frowning, or staring.43 ibid., p. 17.

If a gentleman could master these movements, it was more likely that he could pass as a gentleman of the higher status.

Regardless of the manner in which the wearer of the NGV’s Coat conducted himself, the garment’s problem button shows that he was not a member of the social elite. If the button was glaringly obvious to Kamer, who knows the period so well, it would also have been obvious to the fashionable of the day. Although still highly fashionable in his very well-cut coat, it is therefore more likely that the wearer was not of high social standing.

In more middle-class circles in England, attention to fashion was judged differently and the subtleties of dress were highly coded. In the novels of Jane Austen characters are appraised on the appropriateness of their attention paid to fashion. For example, in Emma (1815), Frank Churchhill pays a little too much attention to fashion, lowering Emma’s ‘good opinion’ of him ‘by hearing that he had gone off to London, merely to have his hair cut’.44 Penelope Byrde, Jane Austen Fashion: Fashion and Needlework in the Works of Jane Austen, Excellent Press, Ludlow, 1999, p. 99.

Following fashion too faithfully could lower peers’ opinions. So a remade coat may have worked well in the English countryside. Middlemen like John Matthews, discussed in Lemire’s pioneering article on the second-hand trade, ‘Consumerism in preindustrial and early industrial England: the trade in secondhand clothes’, travelled throughout Britain buying up goods as they went; peddlers exchanged new items for old clothes and  tradesmen and pawnbrokers operated as buyers of second-hand clothing and sold it throughout the country.45 Lemire, ‘Consumerism in preindustrial and early industrial England’, p. 8.

Conclusion

While it may never be possible to know who wore Coat or where it was made, this garment – on the evidence that it was remade from an earlier coat into a later style – tells an evocative story of eighteenth-century material culture and the redistribution of clothing. The quality and subtly of its cloth would have made Coat attractive for remaking, executed with ease by an exceptional tailor. Refashioning existing garments was a recurring aspect of their trade. Miller notes that one fifth of dressmaker Ester Wright’s trade from the 1790s was the remaking of existing clothing.46 Miller, pp. 21–37. The coat’s silk textile provides a clue that it was worn at court or formal assemblies by a fairly well-to-do, fashion-conscious man. The tightly cut style perhaps dates from 1808, and was possibly worn in summer when lighter colours were favoured over darker shades. The jacket is lined with cotton, as opposed to wool, further supporting the suggestion that it was worn in summer. While its wearer may have been able to afford new clothing, it is evident that he wore a garment that had been re-tailored from an existing coat which may have been acquired for a number of means, or perhaps had even been his own. Perhaps he was frugal, had fallen on hard times or was merely practical about the expense of fashion.

The second-hand clothing market was an important aspect of commerce, trade, fashion and self-representation in the eighteenth century. This coat provides insight into the complicated structures in place that allowed the trade of material objects and possibilities for refashioning and self-representation in the long eighteenth century. Garments of the period likely had multiple lives, traded until they were threadbare or no longer able to be re-tailored. The coat’s slim fit, as well as the burgeoning preference for woollen coats, may have preserved it from further re-tailoring. The survival of this piece of material evidence makes it all the more precious.

Hints in Coat’s tailoring suggest it has led multiple lives: passing from the original wearer to a social climber or gentleman; then to the collection of military arms collector and colonial historian in Ballarat; and finally to the NGV’s collection where it was shown in the exhibition ManStyle, and will be shown in future contexts.

Paola Di Trocchio, Assistant Curator, International Fashion and Textiles, NGV (in 2013).

Notes

1        Martin Kamer is a major costume dealer and collector who has sold to many museums around the world, including The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Kunstgewerbemuseum, Berlin.

2        Historians’ definitions of the long eighteenth century extend from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to the battle of Waterloo in 1815. This definition is used to cover a more natural historical period than the standard calendar definition of the eighteenth century.

3        ManStyle, NGV International, 11 March – 30 Oct. 2011, and The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 11 March – 27 Nov. 2011.

4        Thank you to Johannes Pietsch for this observation.

5        This fashion plate was reproduced in Cristina Barreto & Martin Lancaster, Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion: 1795–1815, Skira, Milan, 2010.

6        See Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, ‘Fashioning (and refashioning) European fashion’, in Sharon Sadako Takeda et al., Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Delmonico Books, Prestel, 2011; Beverly Lemire, ‘Consumerism in preindustrial and early industrial England: the trade in secondhand clothes’, Journal of British Studies, vol. 27, no.  1, Jan. 1988; John Styles, The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007; Miles Lambert, ‘“Cast-off wearing apparell”: the consumption and distribution of second-hand clothing in northern England during the long eighteenth century’, Textile History, vol. 35, no. 1, 2004; Aileen Ribeiro, Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 1715–1789, B. T. Batsford, London, 1984; Daniel Roche, The Culture of Clothing: Dress and Fashion in the ‘Ancien Régime’, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1994.

7        Beverly Lemire, ‘Shifting currency: the culture and economy of the second hand trade in England, c.1600–1850’, in Alexandra Palmer & Hazel Clark (eds), Old Clothes, New Looks: Second Hand Fashion, Berg, Oxford, 2005, p. 41.

8        Ribeiro, p. 64.

9        ibid., p. 58.

10      Chrisman-Campbell, p. 18.

11      See Roche, pp. 356–7.

12      Nathalie Rothstein, Woven Textile Design in Britain from 1750 to 1850, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1994, pp. 11–12.

13      Beau Brummell (1778–1840) was an iconic figure in Regency England and an arbiter of men’s fashion. He was known for his fastidious attention to every detail of his appearance, including his choice of cloth and the exacting fit and finish of his clothing.

14      I have found only one portrait which features a button on its collar. This is a portrait of Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) by Mason Chamberlin (1722–1787), made in 1754 or before, National Portrait Museum, London. It features a red coat with a very small button at the collar.
This portrait is much too early to represent the jacket in question.

15      Thin collars were introduced in the 1760s, but were not common until the 1770s and 1780s.

16      Thanks again to Johannes Pietsch for this observation.

17      Marla R. Miller, ‘Gownmaking as a trade for women in eighteenth-century rural New England’, Dress, vol. 30, 2003, p. 21–37.

18      Norah Waugh, The Cut of Men’s Clothes, 1600–1900, Faber and Faber, London, 1964.

19      The name Montrose Cottage was given to the cottage by the builder. The original collateral advertising Montrose Cottage and Eureka Military Museum lists its address as 23 Eureka Street, Ballarat. However, council renumbered properties due to development sometime before 1975 so that on the acquisition submission the address is listed as 111 Eureka Street, Ballarat.

20      The Eureka Military Museum was built from the bluestone of the former Ballarat Gaol.

21      Millett was one of the first military arms collectors in Australia. Many thanks to Deborah Tout-Smith and Benjamin Thomas at Museum Victoria for their assistance.

22      The first European settlement in the area later known as Victoria was established in Oct. 1803 under Lieutenant-Governor David Collins at Sullivan Bay, on Port Phillip, Victoria.

23      Telephone conversation between the author and Neil Speed,
17 Aug. 2012.

24      This claim is also supported by Millett’s son, John Millett, in email correspondence with the author, 30 Oct. 2012.

25      ibid.

26      ibid.

27      Thanks again to Johannes Pietsch for this observation.

28      Beverly Lemire, ‘Consumerism in preindustrial and early industrial England’, pp. 16–17.

29      Ilja Van Damme & Reinoud Vermoesen, ‘Second-hand consumption as a way of life: public auctions in the surroundings of Alost in the late eighteenth century’, Continuity and Change, vol. 24, no. 2, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, Aug. 2009, p. 292.

30      Roche, p. 348.

31      ibid., p. 362.

32      See Lambert, p. 12.

33      Miller, pp. 21–37.

34      Waugh, p. 91.

35      Roche, p. 298.

36      As a result, the trades were amalgamated in 1776 to enable them to work together in greater harmony.

37      The examples related to stolen clothing are drawn from Lambert,
pp. 10–11.

38      ibid., p. 11. 

39      Damme &  Vermoesen, p. 290.

40      Elizabeth Wilson, ‘A note on glamour’, Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture, vol. 11, issue 1, 2007, p. 97.

41      Thank you to Matthew Martin for this observation.

42      Mimi Hellman, ‘Interior motives: seduction by decoration’, introduction to Harold Koda & Andrew Bolton, Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2006, p. 15.

43      ibid., p. 17.

44      Penelope Byrde, Jane Austen Fashion: Fashion and Needlework in the Works of Jane Austen, Excellent Press, Ludlow, 1999, p. 99.

45      Lemire, ‘Consumerism in preindustrial and early industrial England’, p. 8.

46      Miller, pp. 21–37.