1880s dolman coat

#2459 $875

French velvet dolman bustle coat, 1880s

Full length dolman coats from the last bustle period (1880s) turn up on the market less often than than jacket-length wraps. This one, with a French label, is a special find for the serious collector.

Our black velvet coat is lavishly embellished from top to bottom with wide bands of matching passementerie trim. Until the 19th century, passementerie on costume was mostly reserved for the elites as a sign of social distinction. As late as the 1880s, elaborate passementerie still intimated this aristocratic sensibility.

A band of passementerie forms the front waistline closure by hooking on one side. The tassels are repeated near the hem—an ingenious instance of "echoing" in design. The textural variations make the simple black-on-black design come alive.

The coat is totally lined with stunning cranberry satin. It closes inside with a cranberry satin tie at the waist and black ribbon ties on the bodice front. The label reads "Sarah Mayer & A. Morhance/Rue du Helder 5/Paris."

Dolman originally signified a long, loose Turkish garment with narrow sleeves and an opening in front. In Paris fashion, dolman referred to a ladies coat with with wider dolman sleeves—a favorite style of mantle worn by fashionable women in the 1880s. Dolman sleeves make the shoulders look sloped so that the waist appears smaller.

The skirt is slit open to the waist in back to accommodate the centaur shape of an underlying bustle gown, as shown in the fashion illustration below of a similar coat over a bustle gown.

I have always pictured Proust's Princess de Guermantes at the opera, barely visible in her box high above the orchestra, majestically enthroned above the vulgar herd of fashion. Those in the stalls craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the Princess in her magnificent dolman coat. Her remoteness and pedigree added to her charms, advertising her inaccessibility just as a high price enhances the value of a thing we already covet.

The condition is very good. On the velvet pile are a few worn spots, which are reflected in the price. Miraculously, the cranberry lining is intact.

What an amazing "twofer", both wearable and collectible! With historic dolman sleeves and incredible passementerie trim, here is a veritable museum in fashionable costume.

It measures: 36" bust and waist; and 54" from shoulder to front hem.

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