Coats can have many names, but similar terms like mantles and mantelets
are confusing. A mantle was originally a long flowing cloak without sleeves that developed into a capacious coat. A mantle would be at least three quarter length to floor length.
Romantic Era Witzchoura Mantle.
A mantelet is a shorter coat with cloak or wrap like qualities often emanating from interestingly devised sleeves or illusion of sleeves. Mantelet can be spelt mantlet.
A Simple Cape cut Visite Mantelet of 1850
The early mantelet or mantelet of 1730 began life as a simple silk or taffeta cape with a scarf like formation. It had longer front points that passed and crossed to the waist,
often being able to be passed to the back. It came back into favour in various similar forms in the late 1820s, but then the scarf ends reached the knees and sometimes it was called a
It remained popular as a scarf like form until the 1840s when it was somewhat supplanted by a fashion for fine wool shawls.
Then in the 1850s it revived as fashion
and on the next page I have some colour tinted pictures of early Victorian mantelets taken from some of my fashion plates from both Le Moniteur De La Mode April 1850 and an advertisement for
Sewell and Comp Soho London 1852. One of the most simple styles is shown above.
After that the mantelet became a distinctive fashion garment in its own right, changing style lines as
clothes worn beneath also changed the final silhouette.
In the early and mid Victorian eras a mantelet was more evenly balanced lengthwise than at other times.
Later it became longer in the front fanning well over
the domed front sides of crinoline skirts. The mantelet changed more to a half jacket with capacious sleeves and its contour changed with the fluctuations of sleeve styles and crinoline
As the years passed and bustles arrived it became much shorter either ending abruptly at back waist level or developing peplums that fanned or spread into longer separate tails intended to fan over the
skirt. The back was invariably a different silhouette to the front view, sometimes with longer back tails and a short front and at other times longer front tails and a shorter back.
the later Victorian era two main styles of mantelet existed and focused on how the sleeve area was handled. Sleeves existed, but sometimes appeared as if they were an illusion. The
first very visible sleeve was the dolman and was cut wide and generous, especially at the bottom width. The dolman mantelets shown directly below were fitted and shaped to follow the body
silhouette of the 1870s and 1880s whilst accommodating decorated sleeves and bustle changes.
The second mantelet styling shown below, gave rise to a sleeve slit called a sling sleeve. Little peplums were an attractive and practical back finish.
Mantelet Back 1887
1887 Mantelet Front
With its short back, a typical mantelet style of 1886 to 1888 and the second bustle era, was designed to accommodate the firm protruding bustle and fulsome pouf skirts whilst
allowing the wearer ease of movement with its open front arm slits.
The short backed mantelet enabled a lady to retain the overall gorgeous effect of her ensemble revealing the
wonderful ornate bustle skirt back pouf. The protruding bustle dress skirt of the second bustle period after 1883 created a harder silhouette outline than the softer first bustle period, giving a
woman an appearance of the covered hind legs of a horse.
The Victorians of
the 1880s favoured mantelets which often had the appearance of a cloak with hanging loose sleeves and longer front tails called lappets. The cape section often terminated at the armholes and
later in the 1880s the sleeve section became enclosed to give the unusual silhouette with sling sleeves.
The width and generous cut of the cape style sling sleeve suggests that this item
was able to accommodate the new fuller heads of sleeves circa 1889/91.
The tails or lappets would hang down over the
skirt front, or, if the skirt was more domed, or the woman pregnant they would gently fan out over the abdomen. The lappets provided an attractive contrast of fabric to the skirt beneath.
Fitted Mantelet with Four lappets
Mantelet with Twin Cape Effect and Lappets
During both bustle periods the cut had to change to allow for the bulk of the bustle. The looser cape style back of this mantelet above right is in line with the later 1880’s
to early 1890s waist long capes rather than the earlier peplum style finished mantelets. Variations of these styles continued and changed to accommodate the dress underneath until the 1890s,
when at the turn of the century the fashion for mantelets with tails waned.
The mantelet could also be
called a visite or visite mantelet.
Neat visite mantelets were most worn with a tonally suitable dress as part of a late Victorian visiting toilette. The 1880s and 1890s was a peak
decade of the Victorian’s obsession with calling and visiting etiquette. The medium weight of the mantelet with a perhaps lightly quilted lining enabled the carriage class wearer to alight
from a vehicle with relative ease and then sit in a drawing room for a short visit, without either disrobing or disturbing the overall effect of her gorgeous attire.
Etiquette books and
articles such as those in the The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine or Queen magazine advised ladies making up their trousseaus to ensure they had at least 2 or 3 evening wraps among their
purchases and these would have included mantelets and cloaks.
All mantelets could be trimmed with decoration such as contrast moiré or velvet banding. Ornate macramé fringe, and
applied lace was also used to add a flourish of sumptuousness. Popular materials included the use of velvets, plushette, velveteen and sateen.
Two delightful examples of a
visite mantelet with a short peplum style back and lappet tails are shown in La Mode Illustree Fashion Plates in Full Colour, edited by Florence Leniston, where all fashion plates shown are dated
designer touch sometimes used on the shoulders of a mantelet was the use of a decorative epaulet called a Mancheron. The Mancheron would be a cascade of passementerie and jet or other bead fringe in
the Spanish Matador style, so popular at various times in the mid to late Victorian era.
On the next page I have some lovely pictures of early Victorian mantelets taken from some of my fashion plates from the Le Moniteur De La Mode April 1850 and an advertisement for Sewell and Comp Soho 1852.
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