May 13, 2015

Closet Histories no. 4.9: 18th Century "Jackets"

In addition to the styles of gowns we have already discussed here on closet histories, the 18th century lady also had various styles of "jackets", which are more like short gowns or bodices, they could wear! In general, these garments tend to be lumped together and all called caracos, though there are specific styles with their own names. I'm not sure if museum's just like to label most jackets caraco, or if the term really does mean "jacket" and is intended to not be specific. In any case, short gowns and bodices of various styles were popular throughout the 18th century.
fig. 1) 1940's-1760's 
fig. 2) First half of the 18th century? museo de l'traje
For example, these two jackets above are from the earlier half to the middle of the 18th century. There are also other earlier extant examples that are more similar to riding habits or to men's frock coats. Fig. 1 looks to be earlier, judging by the style of the thick metallic silk textile alone and the style of the cuffs. Whereas Fig. 2 could be from as late as the 1770's based on the style of cuff trimmings and subtle striped motifs of the silk. I can't seem to find more information on either of these jackets, but they provide some context as earlier/straightforward examples.

fig. 3) 1770, Whitaker Auctions
fig. 4) Second half of the 18th century, MET
fig. 5) 1770-1780, V&A
The next three jackets are described as simply caraco but share commonality beyond the more general moniker. All three have a fitted back like a robe a l'anglaise, which seems to be what earn a jacket the term caraco as opposed to having another more specific name. As you can see, the three jackets vary widely in length, anywhere from mid-hip to mid-thigh. Two have center front closures and one closes over a stomacher with straps. 

fig. 6) 1780-1790, Manchester City Gallery
fig. 7) Christie's
Now these two examples are of a style known as a pet en l'air. They have an en fourreau back, a french pleated back like a robe a la francaise! These back pleats hang loose just like a robe a la francaise but being shorter look extra adorable! It seems like a variety of front closures are represented, from pinning to a stomacher, having a false stomacher that actually meets in the center front, or even tying with ribbons down the front. The pet en l'air seems to always be around the same length, just past the hips/at the top of the thigh.

fig. 8) 1790, KCI
fig. 9) 1785, MET
fig. 10) 1790, KCI
The next specific style is called a pierrot. This style seemed to be popular in the tail end of the century and consists of little bodice like jackets with --tails! The pierrot has a smaller skirt, usually made up of ruffles, just on the back portion of the jacket. 

Then there are some strange jackets that I don't know what to call...

fig. 11) Found via pinterest on an Italian website
Like this guy, what is this? A pierrot because it has tails? They aren't ruffled though, so does it count? Is it a short/cropped redingote? Does anyone know? Is it just a caraco?

There are many extant examples of various 18th century "jackets". Yes those are air quotes, because they seem more like bodices and jacket now tends to mean outerwear. I have to link to this more detailed post about 18th century jackets by Lauren of American Duchess, which certainly has helped my understanding of the topic.

I actually have plans to make a silk pet en l'air later this summer, so I will have to figure out how to pleat the back! I have a lovely purple shot silk taffeta stay tuned!

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!

Thanks for reading!


  1. These are so sweepingly beautiful! I can't help but think about how well they might work for my figure, as they seem to suit curves especially well.

    Thank you for another awesome historical fashion post. I always lap up each and every word (and image) of them with happy gusto.

    ♥ Jessica


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