Friday, October 7, 2011

The Muslin Pelisse -
A Charming Variation of a Necessary Garment

The pelisse was basically a coat and it was ubiquitous from about 1800 through to the 1840's. It appeared in every lady's wardrobe in almost every season of the year in Great Britain. It was sometimes called a redingote--although that was a heavier, more tailored fore-runner of the pelisse. The pelisse did have military origins as did many fashions in the early 1800s.

left November 1807     right February 1811

In the early years of the century the pelisse was loosely structured. By 1810 La Belle Assemblee was writing:

[Pelisses] are still made to fit tight to the shape, to button down the front with small raised silk buttons, left broad over the bosom and shoulders, but sloped in something narrower to the fall of the back behind...We have seen several elegant women in fine black cloth pelisses, ornamented with the narrowest gold braiding.
Journal des Dames 1819

The Mirror of Fashion in August 1817 assured its readers that "pelisses are still considered as elegant for the promenade costume..." and they discuss "...a pelisse of blue and white shot sarsnet, lined with white sarsnet, and trimmed with white satin."

By October 1817, pelisses had become more fitted and the Ladies Monthly Museum stated that "Silk pelisses begin to be generally adopted for walking dresses."

As I read contemporary fashion magazines however, it is the muslin pelisse that really captures my imagination. The delicacy and the sheer prettiness of the garment must have been charming.

In 1803 The Duke of Bedford wed Lady Georgiana Gordon. The Gentleman's Magazine reported the lady wore "a muslin dress of the finest fabric" for the ceremony, and 'previous to her departure for Woburn, she wore an elegant fringed muslin pelisse, lined with sarsenet, and trimmed with lace of great value."

The lovely illustrations (and patterns) for muslin pelisses in the book Period Costume for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1800-1909 by Jean Hunnisett and Janette Haslam display the delicacy of the muslin pelisse.

Worthing Museum and Art Gallery
Muslin pelisse of 1810 from Period Costume for Stage and Screen

Ackerman's Repository as quoted in the Edinburgh Annual Register of August 1810 mentions "A plain muslin short pelisse, trimmed with [vandyke lace]."

La Belle Assemblee, in the same year, writes:

...we have nothing more approved to offer than the fine sprigged India muslin pelisse, lined with pale pink, straw, blue, or lavender, and trimmed entirely around with a narrow lace edging...

In September of 1816 however, the Repository of Arts was advising:
Muslin pelisses, so elegant and so appropriate to the season, have, from the coolness and humidity of the weather, been entirely laid aside.

A particularly pretty muslin pelisse of the early 1800s
from Period Costume for Stage and Screen

In 1818 the Lady's Monthly Museum reported that "muslin pelisses have disappeared". But they had it wrong, for as late as 1840, the young Princess Victoria was reported as wearing "a white muslin pelisse lined with primrose coloured silk".

For more details about pelisses, I recommend the following:

Pelisse coat said to have been worn by Jane Austen

A very complete history from Fashion Era

A pelisse/spencer pattern for purchase from the Jane Austen Gift Shop

A very good article from Your Wardrobe UnLock'd

Next week, I will be blogging as usual but I will also be celebrating Uncial Press's Fifth Birthday with a giveaway of two CD-ROM's of a pair of my Uncial Press Regency Romance releases. You can leave a comment on next week's blog from 12 noon Friday October 7 to 12 midnight Thursday October 14 for a chance to win both e-books. More details next week, but do visit Uncial Press this month--they are giving away an ebook every day and having two draws--one for a Kobo and one for a Kindle.

'Til next time,


Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1800-1909
by Jean Hunnisett and Janette Haslam
Hardcover: 191 pages Publisher: Players Pr (June 1991)
ISBN-10: 088734609X  ISBN-13: 978-0887346095

Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Outer Garments: Cloaks, Capes, Stoles and Wadded Mantles by Jean Hunnisett (Author), Jill Spanner (Illustrator), Fiona Ffoulkes (Illustrator),
Kathryn Turner (Illustrator)
Hardcover Publisher: Players Pr (September 2001)
ISBN-10: 0887346650    ISBN-13: 978-0887346651


Anne Gallagher said...

See and I thought a pelisse was a shorter coat. More like a jacket type than a full length. I learn something every time I come here.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Sounds like you were thinking of a spencer. In many ways the pelisse is just a longer version of the jacket-type spencer. I love the idea of the thin, floaty muslin pelisse. I wish we wore such pretty clothes!