April 1, 2015

Closet Histories no. 4.6: Riding Habits & Redingotes

Of the several unique styles of women's dress in the 18th century, one of the most envied by costumers today is the riding habit and the later redingote. Riding habits were ensembles made for horseback riding and were molded off of menswear styles. 18th century riding habits are perhaps the first real example of a "borrowed from the boys" masculine meets feminine idea of fashion. Worn for more than just riding, habits were a stylish choice for ladies throughout the century!

fig. 1, 1714                                                 fig. 2, 1725                                                      fig. 3, 1730            
 Lets look at a few examples and examine some details of the style. Earlier riding habits consisted of a jacket bodice and a matching skirt. Made in hardy wool (especially if one actually intended to go riding) or in shining silks, riding habits were often trimmed with braid in a mock millitary style. Many details were directly taken from menswear or men's military uniforms.

In fig. 1 we can see a very early riding habit style circa 1715. The jacket/bodice of the ensemble is quite long and looks very like a men's frock coat from the same period. The large cuffs, over-sized buttons, and wide metallic trim all call to mind early 18th century military uniforms. She wears a tricorn hat and even carries a slim rapier looking riding crop, reinforcing the military feel of the ensemble.

All three of these earlier examples are made of silk fabrics. Fig. 2 also has a tricorn, though she carries it in her hand as opposed to having it on her head for her portrait. The gold metallic trim on this habit is a thing of wonder, so gorgeous! You can see how the habit is cut less like a men's frock coat and fits more like a woman's garment. The jacket is shorter, the sleeves slimmer, and the conical shape more pronounced. Fig. 3 looks even less like a proper riding habit that fig. 2, looking more like a redingote.

So what is the difference between a riding habit and a redingote? Not much as far as I can tell. It seems garments termed riding habits are more likely to actually be intended for riding and are made of wool or a more substantial silk. Redingotes seem to be more fashion-focused garments, created in the style but in lighter fabrics and with more embellishments. Redingotes seem more prevalent in the later part of the century, and were undoubtedly very popular in the 1780's and 1790's.

             fig. 4, 1747                                                      fig.5, 1740                                                       fig.6, 1748               
 Here are some examples from the middle of the century. Fig 4. is particularly excellent for examining the style. The main components of a ladies riding habit included a waistcoat, a jacket, a shirt worn underneath, and a cravat/stock at the neck inspired by men's clothing. All of this would be paired with a matching skirt and often a menswear style hat. The lady in Fig. 4 wears all of these elements to great effect! Her deep navy blue habit and watered (moire) silk waistcoat are paired with gold bullion trim for a very military looking ensemble. The habits from the early half of the century seem to often be loose at the waist, as can be seen in fig. 5. Here you can see how the jacket hangs loose over the waistcoat. Both the jacket and the waistcoats extend down from the waist into a skirt or tails. The habit in fig. 6 seems to be made of velvet, another popular material for this style of dress, and is embellished with bejeweled metallic trim. The jacket/bodice is paired with a contrasting skirt, something a bit different from earlier habits.

fig. 7, 1750-1759, V&A
 Here is an extant example from the mid 18th century in wool and metallic braid trim. The V&A say:
"By the early 1700s, the riding habit was an established element of the fashionable ladies wardrobe, worn not only for riding and following the hunt, but also for travelling and informal daywear, both in town and country. It was a great deal more comfortable and warm than other fashionable dress, and made of more robust materials. It would have been worn with a skirt, referred to at that date as a petticoat, the generous amounts of fabric incorporated in the skirt meant that it was often recycled, assuming it survived the mud and heavy wear. Habits could be in a full range of colours, although certain shades were specificed for the jacket and cuffs when following a particular hunt. By the end of the 18th century, a contrasting colour for the lining was highly fashionable."

fig. 8, 1760's                                                   fig. 9, 1760's                                                     fig. 10, 1771
 Here are some more ladies in their fashionable riding habits, including the one and only Marie Antoinette in fig. 10! Blue and red both seem to have been very popular choices for riding habits. Both fig. 8 and fig. 9 seems to be made of wool, though fig. 9 has bright contrasting trimming making more of a statement. Marie Antoinette in fig.10 has a patterned silk waistcoat and her very military looking jacket looks to be made of red velvet.

fig. 11, Lady Worsley 1776, Joshua Reynolds
 Here is a great 1770's example of a gorgeous tailored riding habit! Lady Worsley's habit is in red wool with a black wool collar and is trimmed with silver metallic braid and buttonholes. She wears her habit with a white silk waistcoat, white slippers with a bow, and a black hat with many black feathers. She carries her riding crop and honestly looks stunning, who wouldn't want to wear this ensemble!

fig. 12, 1770-1775, V&A
 Here is an example of a similar riding habit from the same decade. The V&A says: "In the 18th century women needed practical clothes for riding, travelling and walking outdoors. This example illustrates how the styles of women’s riding habits were adapted from a man’s coat and waistcoat. The jacket is shorter than a man’s coat but has comparable buttons and trim. The waistcoat is also similar to a man’s version. However, wearing breeches would have been unthinkable for a woman in the 18th century, so the petticoat was a necessary part of the riding habit."

fig. 13, 1760, MET
 Here are two extant riding habit jackets, one open in the front to be worn with a waistcoat and the other which closes at the center front. Seeing both side by side help to show the different styles within the mantle of riding habits. Notice the different cuffs, And styles of faux pockets and collars.

fig. 14, 1790's redingotes, print circa 1869
 In the later decades of the 18th century, redingotes had become an almost mandatory part of a fashionable woman's wardrobe. Though popular with aristocrats, the style was also adopted as patriotic dress by revolutionaries in France. Fig. 14 shows 1790's redingote styles as depicted in an 1860's book recording modes of dress from ancient times.

fig. 15, 1785-1795, Musee Galliera
Here is a drop dead gorgeous late 18th century redingote from the Musee Galliera in France. You can still see how the menswear style riding habit has influenced this more fashion focused style with the large layered sharp collars. This is a "riding habit" at its most casual, least actually-intended-for-riding incarnation. Like any 18th century lover, I adore a good redingote, one day i would love to have one myself!

I simply cannot end this little overview of riding habits & redingotes without pointing you towards some amazing recreations by modern costumers. Check out Lauren's ice blue riding habit, Merja's recreation of lady Worsley's habit, and Samantha's green wool riding habit. Merja has also recreated a stunning redingote based on a fashion plate of Marie Antoinette.

Thanks for reading, have a lovely Thursday everyone!

All of the information for this post has been gathered from the textbook Survey of Historic Costume (5th edition) by Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eurbank, from the links above or my own knowledge. I want to share the resources I come across with all of you as much as possible. The portraits used to illustrate today's post are credited to either the museum where they reside (whenever possible) or the source where I found them, and are linked via their fig. # underneath. Again I repeat my disclaimer that I am not a historian, and if you have corrections or additions for this post, please begin the discussion in comments as I would love to learn more!


  1. Fantastic post! These sorts of styles are amongst my very favourite ever from the 18th century. Were I a historical costumer (in the sense that that term applies to us vintage gals, I mean :)), I am certain I'd be sporting ones akin to this frequently.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thanks Jessica! Redingotes are one of my favorite styles too, one day I will tackle making one!

  2. Love this post--I think that redingotes are probably one of the most gorgeous garments that women have worn--ever! Thanks for the many pix and comments too.

    1. Thanks Jen! I totally agree, we aught to bring them back :)


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