Winter Coats 1880-1930: Bundling Up with a Bustle, Feathers, Fur, and Rising Hemlines

Winter Coats 1880-1930: Bundling Up with a Bustle, Feathers, Fur, and Rising Hemlines

Cold is sweeping the Northeast United States where this blogger is located, and it calls to mind past garments for bundling up. This post will compare coats from 1880-1930 and examine the way styles changed throughout these years.

As outerwear progressed, the decoration became progressively simpler and the construction more streamlined. The coats usually reflected the gown or dress styles of the period, for instance, in the 1880s accommodating for the bustle skirt gown, or paralleling the rising dress hemlines of the 1920s.


1880-1890

The 1880s was a period in which the bustle skirt made a comeback. This meant a large hump at the back of the skirt that needed to be accounted for when wearing a coat. Notice these coats that are hemmed very high in the back. This was done to accommodate for a bustle derriere!

This coat is able to suit a large skirt underneath with tailored panels on the back of the coat. Also notice the wide coat sleeves that were a popular choice in 1885. Sleeve styles on dresses of this period were typically form fitting, so this would have been construction more particular to coat styles and possibly to differentiate the sleeves stylistically when worn together.

“The London and Paris ladies’ magazine” (October-December 1885), Jane Pinhorn Thomas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

1890-1900

Separates, like a shirtwaist and skirt, versus a full gown, were incredibly popular during the 1890s, and this is reflected in many of the fashionable outerwear garments shown from this period. Much of the outerwear pieces featured on the covers of Vogue appear to be short jackets or with a seam that nips in the waist. These Vogue covers below from 1895-1896 show the large leg-of-mutton sleeve that was especially fashionable in the mid-1890s, for shoulders on all garments.

Below at left is a “walking coat” for colder weather shown on the cover of the November issue of Vogue in 1898. On the right are coats covering “carriage gowns” shown on the cover of the December issue in 1898. The skirts of these gowns flare out at the hem which conforms with the base of the hourglass silhouette from this period, and the coats largely reflect this style. The shoulders are starting to come down a little from their previous heights.

1900-1910

In the early 1900s, the West transitioned out of the Victorian period in 1901 to the Edwardian era. Stylistically, this meant a transition from the hourglass shape to the S-curve. For coats, this generally meant a looser fit, typically floor length, that would conform the the highly structured woman’s silhouette underneath.

The Callot Soeurs fashion house was very active during this period and a couple of coat examples by them are shown below from this era. This opera coat has trim that is actually made of feathers! The feathers look functional as to provide warmth as well as an added design value.

Another coat below by Callot Soeurs from 1908-1910, also likely would have been worn as an evening opera cloak, designed more for style’s sake than warmth. While called a “coat,” it appears to be cut more like a cloak. It has a widespread fur collar and loose-fitting cape-like sleeves with tassel accents.

Callot Soeurs, evening coat front and back, silk & fur, 1908-1910, Costume Institute, C.I.38.98.2, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

For comparison, the Inupiat Native American woman below, Nowadluk/Nowadlook (Nora) Ootenna, wears a coat in 1907 that today we might more closely associate with the fur collars of the 1920s. As a reindeer herder in Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, the fur surely would have been a welcome source of warmth, but the floral pattern of this coat also suggests a stylish sensibility.

Photograph of Nowadluk/Nowadlook (Nora) Ootenna wearing a coat with a fur collar. 1907, Lomen Bros., Nome, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

1910-1920

In the 19-teens, coats continue to become more streamlined and collars more often standing high versus splayed like the decade prior. We can see the transition here between the Edwardian era, WWI, and the hint of 1920s style to come.

Another example by the Callot Soeurs from 1916-1917, shows fur trim and a high collar. The collars appear to be getting higher but are not yet at 1920s proportions. The decoration is also increasingly simpler than the prior decades, although the fabric itself still has an elaborate design.

Callot Soeurs, 1916-1917, silk, metal & fur, Costume Institute, C.I.51.97.6, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This coat, ca. 1919, from Paul Poiret is said to be inspired by the East and exemplifies his luxurious taste in design. This too has a high fur collar, and the coat silhouette is more streamlined than prior decades.

Paul Poiret, French, silk, wool, leather & fur, Costume Institute, C.I.61.40.4

The white lattice work on the front of the coat is actually cut leather, and a close-up is shown below.

Close-up of leather work from coat above

As an alternative to the coats above, especially for those who could not have afforded such a luxurious couture coat, a velour coat was a less expensive option like this one by Elmer Richards Co. This fashionable option also sports a high collar, and like the coat above by Poiret, the coat waist is a little lower than the natural waistline, indicative of the transition to a further waist drop in 1920s styles to come. The inset buttoned belt and military-esque decoration was also very popular at the time. Even her hat seems like a Napoleonic reference to military style.

Elmer Richards Co., Picture-Play, November 1919, p. 18, https://archive.org/stream/pictureplaymagaz11unse#page/n235/mode/2up

1920-1930

The 1920s was a period for coats of even more fur, extremely high collars, and often wide sleeves (of course, today, we would take into consideration the animal rights issues associated with the fur trim for decoration). The luxury of the fur accents and sumptuous materials was reflective of the Jazz Age decadence. And just as dress hemlines rose in the 1920s, so too did coat hemlines.

Below is a full page spread of fashionable coats in Picture-Play magazine from 1923, all trimmed in fur. Notice that the fashionable waist is now noticeably below the natural waistline, the coats have very wide sleeves, a surplice crossed front, and lots of coordinated cloche hats with bobbed haircuts. The fur collars of these coats are also very high but also wider than prior decades.

The coat below by French designer, Paul Poiret, from ca. 1925, has the shortest hemline yet, just below the knee. The slim lines, select decoration, and fur trim also correspond with 1920s trends.

Paul Poiret, ca. 1925, silk & fur, Costume Institute, 1988.226.2, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Below, actress-turned-gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper wears a coat (and beautiful cloche hat) that were the height of style in 1929. Note that she also has the fashionable bobbed haircut, Mary Jane shoes, and a shorter dress hem.

The paper that showed this image in 1929 read:

Hedda Hopper, screen player, has chosen a lovely wrap of black caracul fur with dyed squirrel forming the outstanding collar and edging the flaring top sleeve which reveals a tight cuff underneath. Set on at the sides are —cular [sic] pieces of the fur which give a snug appearance at the waistline

Hedda Hopper, September 11, 1929, International News Reel, Los Angeles, Bain News Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Women’s coat styles changed very similarly to the way dress styles changed, often reflecting similar silhouettes or decoration. The coats chosen in this post represent some of the popular style choices from their corresponding decades, but there were many more styles to choose from beyond these images here! Still, it’s interesting to see the images side-by-side to visually understand the way coats became more streamlined and how they varied from one decade to the next from 1880-1930.

Do you have a favorite decade for coat styles? Comment below!

-Danielle Morrin

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