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
- Try these printed cotton reproduction fabrics from 1775-1825, for a close match, from ReproductionFabrics.com Go for limited color, open floral pattern, on a light background.
- JP Ryan offers a caraco pattern, or scale Janet Arnold’s from Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860
- Tired of that old Robe a l’Anglaise sitting in the closet? Shorten the skirt to make a caraco!
- For a similar look to the unique tucking at the back of this caraco, use en fourreau style pleating.
- Check out this reproduction caraco, inspired by the V&A’s, on Rockin’ The Rococo
- Don’t like those tabs at the front? Close the bodice across a stomacher with laces, or make a false front (comperes front), with buttons, or hooks.