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Frock Coat

A frock coat is a man’s coat characterised by knee-length skirts all around the base, unlike the dress coat and the morning coat. It is also known as the Prince Albert after Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, who helped popularise the style in the nineteenth century. The frock coat is fitted, long-sleeved, of knee-length, with a collar and lapels (revers), a centre vent, plus a waist seam and side bodies for optimal waist suppression. As formalwear the frock coat always is double-breasted with peaked lapels. As informal wear, the single-breasted frock coat often sported the notched lapel (hence its informality), and was more common in the early nineteenth century than the formal model.

lazy”>http://www.himfr.com/buy-lazy_lace/”>lazy laceThe difference in construction between frock coats, dress coats, and morning coats, all of which share the waist seam is in the cut of the skirt. This type of construction makes all three coats a type of body coat. However, unlike dress coats and morning coats, the frock coat has no cut away front creating the appearance of tails at the back. As was usual with all coats in the nineteenth century, shoulder padding (called ‘American shoulders’) was rare or minimal. The formal frock coat only buttons to the waist, and its back waist is decorated with a pair of buttons. The frock coat that buttoned to the neck, forming a high, stand-up collar, was worn only by clergymen.

Linguistically, frock coat derives from the Middle English froke, from the Old French froc, from the Old High German hroc. Moreover, frock denotes both clerical garb, and a type of woman’s dress combining a skirt with a shirt-blouse top. The French and Italian word for a frock coat is redingote; the German is Gehrock (or a Bratenrock).

Frock coats emerged around as early as 1816 and were probably originally of military origin worn buttoned to the neck with a standing ‘Prussian’ military collar. It was worn as informal wear during the early decades of the nineteenth century. It became increasingly popular from the 1830s onwards.

The “frock coat” is probably unrelated to an older garment called the “frock” in the eighteenth century to which it shares only the name in similarity. The frock was originally country clothing that became increasingly fashionable as half dress from around 1730, when the formal dress coat became so elaborate as to make it impractical for everyday wear, and by the 1780s was worn widely as town wear. Towards the end of the eighteenth century the frock started to be made with a single breasted cut away front and tails which became the precursor to the modern dress coat worn with white tie. In fact the modern word for a dress coat in Italian, French and Spanish is ‘frac’, in German it is ‘Frack’ and in Portuguese the spelling of the word for a tail coat is “fraque”, the same as it was spelt in French in the late eighteenth century to describe a single or double breasted garment with a diagonally cutaway front in the manner of a modern morning coat. Even coats with horizontally cut away skirts like a dress coat were referred to as a frock in the late eighteenth and very early nineteenth century before being renamed the dress coat. This suggest that “the frock” form the 18th century is more the direct ancestor of the modern dress coat, whereas the “frock coat” in the 19th century under discussion here is a different garment altogether with separate military origins in the nineteenth century, although a remote historical connection to the frock cannot entirely be excluded.

The frock coat was at first worn informally as a less fitted form of undress of possibly military origin. Towards the end of the 1820s it started to be cut with a waist seam to make it more fitted with an often marked waist suppression and exaggerated flair of the skirt. A marked degree of waist suppression with an marked hour glass figure persisted into the 1840s. As the frock coat became better widely established around the 1850s it started to become accepted as formal day time ‘full dress’, thus relegating the dress coat to exclusively to evening formal full dress, where it remains today with white tie. At this period the frock coat became the most standard form of coat for formal day time dress – morning dress. Through most of the Victorian era it was worn in similar situations that the lounge suit is worn today.

Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria is usually credited with popularising the frock coat. During the Victorian era, the frock coat was universally worn in Britain, Europe and America as standard formal business dress, or for formal daytime events. It came to be considered the most correct form of morning dress at the time.

Around the 1880s and increasingly through into the Edwardian era, an adaptation of the riding coat called a Newmarket coat – now renamed the morning coat – began to supplant the frock coat as daytime full dress. Once considered a casual equestrian sports coat, the morning coat started to slowly become both acceptable and increasingly popular as an alternative to the frock coat for morning dress and as standard day time full dress – a position which the morning coat enjoys to this day. The morning coat was particularly popular amongst fashionable younger men, and the frock coat increasingly came to be worn mostly by older conservative gentlemen. The morning coat gradually relegated the frock coat to only more formal situations to the point that the frock coat eventually came to be worn only as court and diplomatic dress.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the lounge suit, once only worn as smart leisure wear in the country or at the seaside, also started to rapidly rise in popularity and took over in the role as a more casual alternative to the morning coat for town wear, bumping the latter up in the scale of formality. The more the morning coat became fashionable as correct daytime full dress, the more the lounge suit became acceptable as an informal alternative, and the more the frock coat became relegated to the status of ultra-formal day wear worn only by older men. At the most formal events during the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, heads of government wore the frock coat, but at more informal meetings they wore morning coats or even a lounge suit. In 1926, George V hastened the demise of the frock coat by shocking the public appearing at the opening of the Chelsea flower show wearing a morning coat. The frock coat barely survived the 1930s only as an ultra-formal form of court dress until being finally officially abolished as official court dress by Edward VIII (later abdicated to become the Duke of Windsor) who replaced it with the morning coat in 1936, thus consigning the frock coat to the status of historic dress.

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