Costume Analytics: 1770-80 Chintz Caraco & Petticoat

This week on Costume Analytics, we’ll be looking at everyone’s favorite caraco-petticoat ensemble, from the V&A.  A beautiful example of a matching jacket and skirt, this English ensemble is made up in Indian chintz (specifically South-East India’s Coromandel Coast), a cotton fabric extremely popular at the time, and in this case the design was hand-drawn and painted.  Check out the entry for this ensemble on the V&A website.

Fabrics & Trims
Chintz fabrics (cotton) from India were extremely popular during the later 18th c., when a taste for floral yet simple designs came into fashion.  Chintz was often printed, but a more complex process involving resist-dyeing and mordant-dyeing, bleaching phases and rinsing, was used to create these designs.

The trimmings are very reserved and very simple, particularly in comparison to over-the-top trimmings of earlier and contemporary garments, particularly in France.  We see no trims on the front edges or the hem of the jacket, and only a pleated cuff in the same fabric, shaped, and tied with a subtle blue cord looped on a self-covered button.  At the hem of the skirt is a simple guard.

The brilliance of this caraco is not in the trims, but in the construction.  From the V&A page:

“The caraco is ingeniously constructed. One T-shaped piece of cloth forms the back and the sleeves, which fold over the arm, forming a raglan sleeve in the front. The back is shaped using tucks rather than the more usual pleats or seams.”

We also have a straight 3/4 sleeve with a separate cuff sewn on that appears to be shaped only by being loosely gathered up at the bend of the arm, held by the small blue cord.  A very similar pattern can be found in Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860, pg 24, “Snowshill Manor Caraco Jacket, c. 1775-85:

The jacket closes at center front with hooks and eyes, and the closures are “tabbed” in three open strips, a design popular for tucking fichus tails into.  Janet Arnold has something similar to this in her pet en l’ier pattern (Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860, pg 30):

The skirt is simple, pleated up, and worn over dome-shaped supports as opposed to panniers.

This ensemble was most definitely for day wear.  The neckline would have been filled in with a fichu, and the skirt very likely features hanging pockets underneath.  This outfit would have been worn over the requisite underpinnings – chemise, stays, several layers of petticoats and rump-enhancers.

Tips on Making This Costume


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