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For much of the nineteenth century fashionable women wore dark woollen tailored jackets inspired by men’s coats. By the 1880s their dress was so similar that some observers noted that from a distance it was difficult to distinguish very young ladies from young gentlemen. This was no doubt helped by the fashion for wearing bowlers, top hats, cravats, waistcoats and trousers under skirts.

Many women’s jackets were embellished with details borrowed from military uniform. Braiding was a popular form of decoration inspired by ornamentation on regimental dress as well as the flamboyant hussar designs. This elegant example is based on the regimental patrol jacket characterized by parallel rows of applied braid across the breast, looped at intervals into designs known as ‘crow’s feet’ because of their distinctive shape. Here the rows are shortened, and fanciful whirls at the proper right edge and on the collar do not relate to military models. This imaginative combination of vertical and horizontal trimming emphasizes the length of the bodice rather than its width and ensures that the waist appears relatively small.

The tailoring firm Redfern and Co., made this riding jacket for May Primrose Littledale. They were famous for their sporting costumes, smart tailor-made dresses and coats suited to everyday fashionable wear. During the mid-1880s Redfern incorporated braiding into many of their designs for walking outfits and outdoor jackets. The Queen magazine of 10 May 1884 commented on some particularly striking examples including, ‘The “Hungarian” … lavishly adorned with finest mohair braid, and finished with knotted cords; and the “Polish”, of royal blue “faced” cloth … handsomely braided across the front.’ Unfortunately May did not have long to enjoy wearing this jacket as she died soon after it was made.

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