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The Prince Albert Coat ((BETTER))

In the Age of Revolution around the end of the 18th century, men abandoned the justaucorps with tricorne hats for the directoire style: dress coat with breeches or increasingly pantaloons, and top hats. However, by the 1820s, the frock coat was introduced along with full-length trousers, perhaps inspired by the then casual country leisure wear frock. Early frock coats inherited the higher collars and voluminous lapels of the dress coat style at the time, and were sometimes offered in different, albeit increasingly dark, colours. Within its first next few years, though, plain black soon became the only established practice, and with a moderate collar. The top hat followed suit.

The Prince Albert Coat

Although black trousers did occur, especially at daytime, the black frock coat was commonly worn with charcoal grey, pin-striped or checked formal trousers. The single-breasted frock coat sporting the notched (step) lapel was more associated with day-to-day professional informal wear. Yet, from the end of the 19th century, with the gradual introduction of the lounge suit, the frock coat came to embody the most formal wear for daytime. Especially so when double-breasted with peaked lapels, a style sometimes called a Prince Albert after Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. The formal frock coat only buttoned down to the waist seam, which was decorated at the back with a pair of buttons. The cassock, a coat that is buttoned up to the neck, forming a high, stand-up Roman collar for clergymen, was harmonised to the style of the contemporary frock coat.

By the late 19th century, the knee-length dress coat, morning coat and shorter cut lounge suit were all standardized. While the dress coat and the morning coat are knee-length coats like the frock coat and traditionally share the waist seam of the precursor, they are distinguished by the cutaway of the skirt which gives dress coats and morning coats tails at the back. From the 1920s, the frock coat was increasingly replaced as day formal wear by the cut-away morning coat. In 1936, it was suspended from the protocol of audiences at the British royal court. While effectively relegated to a rarity in formal wear ever since, it does occur in certain formal marriages and traditional processions.

Frock coats emerged during the Napoleonic Wars, where they were worn by officers in the Austrian and various German armies during campaign. They efficiently kept the wearer warm as well as protecting his uniform. Privates and non-commissioned officers would wear greatcoats on campaign.

During the mid seventeenth century the older doublets, ruffs, paned hose and jerkins were replaced by the precursor to the three piece suit comprising waistcoat, tight breeches and a long coat called a justacorps, topped by a powdered wig and tricorne hat. This coat, popularised by Louis XIII of France and Charles II of England, was knee length and looser fitting than the later frock coat, with turn-back cuffs and two rows of buttons. English and French noblemen often wore expensive brocade coats decorated with velvet, gold braid, embroidery and gold buttons to demonstrate their wealth.[2]

Before the frock coat existed, there was another garment called the frock in the 18th century, which was probably unrelated to the frock coat, sharing only a similarity in name. The earlier frock was originally country clothing that increasingly became common around 1730. Formal dress was then so elaborate that it was impractical for everyday wear, so the frock became fashionable as half dress, a less formal alternative. By the 1780s the frock was worn widely as town wear and, towards the end of the 18th century, started to be made with a single-breasted cut away front and tails. It was thus the precursor to the modern dress coat worn with white tie dress code.

These relations can be seen in similar foreign terms. The modern word for a dress coat in Italian, French, Romanian and Spanish is frac; in German and Scandinavian languages Frack; and Portuguese fraque, used in the late 18th century to describe a garment very similar to the frock, being 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 19th century, before being renamed to dress coat.

This suggests that the earlier frock from the 18th century is more the direct ancestor of the modern dress coat, whereas the frock coat in the 19th century, the subject under discussion here, is a different garment altogether with separate military origins in the 19th century. However a remote historical connection to the frock cannot entirely be excluded, as is the case with similar looks variably referred to as redingote or riding coat.

The first military frock coats were issued late in the Napoleonic Wars to French line infantry and Prussian Landwehr troops.[3] Unwilling to soil the expensive tail coats on campaign, the French adopted a loose fitting single-breasted coat with contrasting collar and cuffs. The Germans, having been devastated by years of war, were unable to afford elaborate uniforms like the British line infantry and chose a peaked cap and double-breasted blue coat,[4] again with contrasting collar and cuffs, as these were cheaper to produce for the large numbers of recruits, smart enough for full dress and more practical for campaigns.

By the 1840s, frock coats were regulation for the American, Prussian, Russian[5] and French armies. By 1834 officers of the British Army had adopted a dark blue/black frock coat for ordinary duties, derived from an earlier greatcoat worn during the Napoleonic period.[6] US army officers were first issued navy blue frocks during the Mexican War, with gold epaulettes and peaked caps of the German pattern. Enlisted USMC personnel received a double breasted version with red piping worn with a leather stock and shako to reflect their status as an elite unit. Infantry soldiers continued to be issued the 1833 pattern shell jacket until the M1858 uniform complete with French style kepi entered service shortly before the US Civil War.[7]

The men's redingote was an eighteenth-century or early-nineteenth-century long coat or greatcoat, derived from the country garment (i.e. derived from "riding coat") with a wide, flat collar called a frock. In French and several other languages, redingote is the usual term for a fitted frock coat. The form a men's redingote took could be of the tightly fitting frock coat style or the more voluminous, loose "great coat" style, replete with overlapping capes or collars, such as a "garrick" redingote, depending on fashion throughout its popularity.

When the frock coat was first worn, correct daytime full dress was a dress coat. The frock coat began as a form of undress, the clothing worn instead of the dress coat in more informal situations. The coat itself was possibly of 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. This hour-glass figure persisted into the 1840s. As the frock coat became more widely established around the 1850s, it started to become accepted as formal day time full dress, thus relegating the dress coat exclusively to evening full dress, where it remains today as a component of white tie. At this period, the frock coat became the most standard form of coat for formal day time dress. Through most of the Victorian era it continued to be worn in similar situations those in which the lounge suit is worn today such as in weddings, funerals and by professionals. It was the standard business attire of the Victorian era.

Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, is usually credited with popularising the frock coat and even gave a synonym for its double-breasted version, a "Prince Albert". During the Victorian era, the frock coat rapidly became worn universally in Britain, Europe and America as standard formal business dress or for formal daytime events. It was considered the most correct form of morning dress for the time.

Around the 1880s and increasingly through into the Edwardian era, an adaptation of the riding coat called a Newmarket coat, that rapidly and ever since became known as a morning coat, began to supplant the frock coat as daytime full dress. Once considered a casual equestrian sports coat, the morning coat slowly started to become both acceptable and increasingly popular, as a standard day-time town full dress alternative to the frock coat, 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 only to more formal situations, to the point that the frock coat eventually came to be worn only as court and diplomatic dress.

The lounge suit was once only worn as smart leisure wear in the country or at the seaside but in the middle of the 19th century started to rise rapidly in popularity. It took on the role of a more casual alternative to the morning coat for town wear, moving 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. Finally 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 when he shocked the public by 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 in 1936 as official court dress by Edward VIII (who later abdicated to become the Duke of Windsor). It was replaced by the morning coat, thus consigning the frock coat protocol-wise to the status of historic dress at the British royal court.


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