A pelisse was originally a short fur lined or fur trimmed military jacket. In the early 19th century the name became applied also to a fashionable style of woman's coat.
The origins of the pelisse:
"...The style of uniform incorporating the pelisse originated with the Hussar mercenaries of Hungary in the 17th Century. As this type of light cavalry unit became popular in Western Europe, so too did their dress. In the 19th century pelisses were in use throughout most armies in Europe, and even some in North and South America."
Officer's pelisse worn by Lieutenant Walter Stephens Brinkley, 11th (Prince Albert's Own) Hussars, 1848 (c)
Whilst part of military uniform the pelisse was usually a very short, extremely tight fitting jacket, decorated with parallel patterns formed from rows or frogging and loops sewn in bullion lace, its cuffs and collar trimmed with fur and three or five lines of buttons.
"For officers of the British Hussars this frogging, regimentally differentiated, was generally of gold or silver bullion lace, to match either gold (gilt) or silver buttons. Other ranks had either yellow lace with brass buttons or white lace with 'white-metal' buttons. Lacing varied from unit to unit and country to country. The pelisse was usually worn slung over the left shoulder, in the manner of a short cloak, over a jacket of similar style - but without the fur lining or trim - called a dolman jacket. It was held in place by a lanyard. In cold weather the pelisse could be worn over the dolman. The prevalence of this style began to wane towards the end of the 19th Century, but it was still in use by some cavalry regiments in the Imperial German, Russian and Austro-Hungarian armies up until World War I...The Danish Garderhusarregimentet are the only modern military unit to retain this distinctive item of dress, as part of their mounted full-dress uniform".
The Pelisse as an item of women's wear:
In Europe in the early 19th century military clothing was a huge influence as regards the shape on women's fashion and the term pelisse began to be applied to a long, fitted female overcoat or coat dress. The first form of pelisse worn from 1800 to 1810 was an empire line coat-like garment, worn to the hip or knee. It was usually decorated to mirror the use of fur and braid of the Hussar's uniform with a similarly broad cape like collar and in a comparable palette of colours such as golden brown, dark green and blue. The Pelisse was normally worn over pale gowns which were visible as it was worn open at the front. Women's need of them is said to have developed from the fashion for dresses made of extremely lightweight fabrics, worn with almost no underclothing. This had begun to result in many women literally freezing to death. Around 1803 the name “muslin disease,” was given "...to the French influenza epidemic credited with carrying off scores of scantily dressed ladies who’d braved the frigid weather in little more than wispy sheaths. To counteract death by fashion, the pelisse and the spencer soon became standard wear among Regency belles." - https://www.janeausten.co.uk/spencers-shawls-pelisses-and-more/
Walking Dress (1822)
"The pelisse is composed of dove-coloured lutestring, lined with rose-coloured sarsnet, and wadded. the fullness of the skirt is thrown very much behind; a broad band of ermine goes round the bottom, and an extremely novel trimming goes up the front. The collar falls over in pelerine style; the long sleeve is finished in ermine. Slashed epaulette, with satin folds drawn across the slashed. Headress, a bonnet of a new cottage shape of rose-coloured litestring, turned up in front. A bouquet of Provenace roses goes all round the crown; rose-coloured strings. Very full lace ruff. Black shoes and Limeric gloves"
- Ackerman's Costume Plates, women's Fashions in England 1818-1828 edited and with introduction by Stella Blum
The pelisse and fashion:
The fabrics used to produce pelisse' became dictated largely by the season. In the Spring months they might be made entirely from silk, satin or a light velvet, in the summer lighter fabrics still were used, such as sarsnet, light silks, muslin or cotton and in the winter they would continue to be fur lined and/or made of velvet or wool. Frog fastenings and braid trim remained popular.
A summer pelise from Chertsey museum for more information about my research trip to see it please see: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/thehiddenwardrobe/blog-1/chertsey-museum-pelisse
"Colors (including prints, stripes and plaids) were generally decided by the fashionable elite and styles of ornamentation and– during the years of war and conquest–were heavily influenced by things military. One fashion correspondent bemoans this custom “of drawing names (and styles) of fashions from every popular occurrence”: “Mr. Adam’s treaty with the Sublime Porte will doubtless introduce amongst our spring fashions a profusion of Turkish turbans, Janizary jackets, mosque slippers and a thousand similar whimsicalities; all of which (provided a northern coalition be accomplished) must speedily give way to Russian cloaks, hussar caps, Cossack mantles, Danish robes, &c, so that by the setting in of the dog-days, our ladies will stand a chance of being arrayed in the complete costume of all the shivering nations of the north.” (Ackermann’s April 1809). Apparently [this] correspondent was not overstating his case, as proved by this letter from Brighton in October 1810: “On the beach and gay parade we see the Arabian coat, Arcadian mantle, Persian spencer, and Grecian scarf, with French cloaks and tippets…” Indeed, our Regency cousins did love anything that gave hint of the exotic." - https://www.janeausten.co.uk/spencers-shawls-pelisses-and-more/
The female Pelisse 1810-1850
After 1810 the pelisse was worn full length. It was a warmer longer sleeved coat than the Spencer, but the were often made of the same materials. From 1818 onwards women wore a coat dress variation called a pelisse-robe; suitable for indoors or outdoors, essentially a sturdy front fastening carriage, walking or day dress. By 1831 the pelisse robe fashionable since 1818 was worn almost as a house dress. After 1848 this day coat-dress was called a redingote as fashion writers had called it for many years. As a dress the pelisse robe was supplanted by the pelisse mantle in the 1830s. Gigot sleeves on the pelisse robe were too big to wear under coats so shawls and cloaks eventually took precedence. The pelisse mantle was an early Victorian modification; a cloak with a waist length cape with open hanging sleeves beneath which fuller dress sleeves could be accommodated. The pelisse mantle could be interlined and warm; it remained fashionable until about 1845. As skirts and sleeves first widened in the 1830s, then expanded again into increasingly enormous crinolines in the 1840s and '50s, fashionable women turned altogether toward loose mantles, cloaks, and shawls instead. From the mid/late 1820s a short heavy coat called a paletot became popular with younger women although older women still favoured cloaks. The 1850s saw a hybrid garment called a paletot-cloak which had splits for the arms and the earlier paletot sac of the 1840s was similar, but generally had a hood rather than a collar.
For an illustration of the changes in pelisse design between 1771 and the 1840s please see: http://www.fashion-era.com/Coats_history/pelisse_history_1.htm
For more information about Spencer jackets held by Chertsey museum plase see: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/thehiddenwardrobe/blog-1/chertsey-museum-fashion-collection-spencer-jackets
Killerton House Fashion Collection, National Trust - http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/602782
Pelisse robe 1830-35
V&A - https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O358551/pelisse-robe/
V&A - http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O359055/pelisse-unknown/
V&A - http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O117406/dress-unknown/
"Unfortunately for the researcher trying to get a handle on fashion trends of the era, dress was subject to rapid and undisciplined changes. Though modern day texts do attempt to report on generalities, a review of period literature shows monthly, if not weekly changes in what was au currante. As it turns out, even contemporary belles had a bit of a struggle keeping up, as one noted in January of 1810: “…at this moment a world of variety prevails…it would puzzle discrimination…to select all that is considered fashionable.” While one could say, in general, that spencers changed from long overblouses to short bolero style jackets, and pelisses went from half length open coats to long, closed coats, these were neither smooth nor absolute changes. In August of 1810 our London Miss reports that “the long pelisse is now exploded…or is only worn by a few second-rates, or as a wrap for the open carriage.” However, while this preference for short or ‘demi-long” pelisses lasted through about 1813, long pelisses continued to be featured in contemporary fashion plates, and by 1822 they were generally worn ankle length. A contemporary report says, “(pelisses) are…worn so long, that one can scarcely discern even the (hem) trimming of the gown.”
Besides the spencer, pelisse and cloak already mentioned, Regency ladies might also be seen wearing pelerines, mantles (note 5) and shawls. Any of these might be worn alone, or over either a spencer or pelisse to lend additional warmth. The pelerine, when used as an adjunct to the spencer, often would be made of fur. When worn alone, the pelerine as well as the mantle, were generally used in spring or summer when the milder weather made a lined, form-fitting jacket or coat".
The pelisse and the redingote:
Redingote: From the French, a corruption of “riding coat”, a long, fitted woman’s coat, belted and open to reveal the skirt of the dress beneath.
Redingote's in the 18th century, were used for travel on horseback; a utilitarian garment. They began to evolve into a fashionable accessory in the 1780-'90s, when women began wearing a perfectly tailored style, inspired by men's fashion of the time. Italian fashion also picked up the style and the redingotte was adapted for more formal occasions.
The redingote was popular throughout the 19th century but it's design evolved and at moments in its history it became hard to distinguish from the full length pelisse. Carriage or walking dresses were also often referred to as redingotes in the fashion journals and periodicals of the day.
For more on the redingote see: http://www.fashion-era.com/Coats_history/redingote_history_1.htm
This project is being supported by:
Arts Council England, The Textile Society and Great Art