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Polyester is for push-overs. When you want respect, you wear barathea.

Regularly appearing at such well-heeled places as West Point, English Court, Westminster Abbey and black tie events everywhere for the last 200 years or so, barathea began its illustrious career as a powerhouse fabric in the men’s formalwear world. Commonly found in black or blue-black, barathea’s soft, smooth, springy hand makes for one classy evening coat.

Though its typically associated with menswear, barathea is a perfectly acceptable choice for women’s coats and wintertime dresses. The 1950’s afforded two silhouette choices for women: you could opt to look like a big poufy flower from the waist down (a la Dior’s New Look) or you could choose to wiggle around in a pencil skirt, sometimes revealing more hourglass than you intended. Barathea was too heavy for most New Look dresses, but it was just right for pencil-skirted sheath (a.k.a “wiggle”) dresses. Because of its association with powerful, important men, barathea was paired with long sleeves and a double-breasted cut to confer a much-needed air of respectability to those clingy, revealing wiggle dresses.

1950’s notwithstanding, my favorite moment for vintage barathea is in 1966, when Yves Saint Laurent dropped the bomb known as “le smoking” on fashion. “Le smoking” was the first tuxedo suit (read: pantsuit) for women and it was made, of course, from of barathea. Folks were so scandalized by this gender-bending fashion statement that women donning “le smoking” were banned from many highfalutin restaurants on account of attempting to wear pants to a fancy establishment while female.

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Can you even imagine that happening now? There have been a lot of proud days for barathea but I think that one takes the cake. In one fell swoop, YSL cut up some barathea and changed the way we view fashion possibilities for women forever. Yes, it took a while to catch on and yes, I’m as hesitant as the next person to call the pantsuit an “amazing legacy.” But, c’mon, it’s nearly impossible to imagine our world – hello, Hilary Clinton! – without women having the right to literally “wear the pants.”

Thank you, Yves Saint Laurent and thank you, too, barathea!

45 Comments

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    Dec 11, 2010, 10.57 PMby idrinkcaprison

    The red and black polka dotted dress that is in the photo i was wondering if there is a place i could buy it or something i really love it!! Let me know Thanks.

    1 Reply
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      Dec 22, 2010, 07.12 PMby eringilday

      You have great taste! The red coat + dress is Arnold Scaasi (American, born Canada, 1931) – it’s called “Evening Ensemble,” and it’s from 1961.

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    Nov 30, 2010, 11.53 AMby sophieoz

    Love the gender-bending look. One of my favourites is Diane Keaton’s outfit in Annie Hall.

    1 Reply
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    Nov 27, 2010, 10.54 PMby buddingnaturalist

    References for the images please. What is/who made dress/coat in the first image,the book the second image is from and the designer/photographer for the remaining.

    1 Reply
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      Nov 28, 2010, 12.17 AMby eringilday

      Hi! Great questions. Here goes…

      The red coat is Arnold Scaasi (American, born Canada, 1931) – it’s called “Evening Ensemble,” and it’s from 1961.

      Honestly, I’m not sure what magazine the advertisement featuring the 4 women’s outfits is from.

      The remaining illustration making up the first collage is from the front jacket of a vintage Vogue pattern.

      All three of the photographs of YSL’s suits in the second batch of images I believe are by fashion photographer Helmut Newton.

      HTH, buddingnaturalist! Enjoy!

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    Nov 27, 2010, 05.40 PMby katiespitfire

    Can highly reccomend Abimelech, their Barathea is a joy to work with. Also if you’re in the UK, google ‘Bernie the Bolt’ he has some amazing hard to find fabrics at good prices.

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      Nov 27, 2010, 10.12 PMby eringilday

      Thanks for the recommendation, Katie!!

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    Nov 27, 2010, 10.16 AMby wagamamma

    I love this type of clothes!

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    Nov 27, 2010, 12.50 AMby sewlikeabee6

    I wear pants 99% of the time. When I was in grade school we had to wear dresses, I was in 6th grade before they changed that, same for the teaches dresses to. maybe that is why I wear pants 99% of the time lol,just kidding. I love that 1920 and 1940s pant suits they are cool. History repeats itself mybe they will come back with that style, I liked the Elephant pants late 1960s 1970. I had a bright pink pair. I hope you all liked back in the day my history page. SewLikeaBee6

    1 Reply
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      Nov 27, 2010, 10.11 PMby eringilday

      Great minds think alike, Dorie! I have a vintage pattern for some killer elephant pants from the 70’s that I’ve been dying to cut into!

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    Nov 26, 2010, 09.16 PMby magdamagda

    nice piece of history and a great discussion to complete it! it’s the first time I hear abt this and sounds darn intriguing… androgyny in fashion is fascinating, I can’t help but imagine how it must have been to fight on the barricades of fashion for things we not only take for granted but also find natural nowadays! I hope I get my hands on a piece of Barathea to see both literally and metaphorically “what I make of it”!;)

    1 Reply
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      Nov 27, 2010, 12.14 AMby eringilday

      Definitely check it out, magdamagda! Glad you enjoyed the post!

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    Nov 26, 2010, 05.33 PMby crocka

    It is amazing how society freaked out at the thought of women wearing pants and how long it took for it to be a norm in society. Thanks to the women who wore pants and stood up to the ‘man’ and thanks to the designers that were willing to take the risk! Props!

    1 Reply
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    Nov 26, 2010, 04.24 PMby katexxxxxx

    Barathea is no ‘vintage’ fabric! It’s the main fabric use for military unniforms. The best makers in the world are Abimilech Hainsworth, here in the UK, and they have been making Barathea and other uniform fabrics for over 200 years. They make a pure wool range, which is one of the easiest fabrics on the planet to use. Some colours come in a lighter ‘dress’ weight as well as the standard weight. In addition they make some colours in a poly wool blend, which is very hard wearing for trousers.

    I keep a full range of their samples as I use it for certain re-enactment and other tailoring projects. It isn’t cheap, but it is SO worth the cost! I got about 10m from somewhere as a bargain piece a few years back. It had been woven for a contract for Gurkha regiment dress uniforms, and this was the manufacturers spare/leftovers after the contract had been completed. it was so nice to use… I used their red and black for my Town Crier ensemble, some of the red for Peter’s waistcoat, and some more red for the piping on the space aged suit… I love it as a weave, and the AH quality is unbeatable. (NAYY… Just a very satisfied customer.)

    1 Reply
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      Nov 26, 2010, 06.14 PMby eringilday

      Quite right – barathea is a historical fabric but it is alive and well today, as well.

      Thanks so much for the barathea source recommendations – I’ll definitely check that out!! I would love to see some of your recreation stuff – I LOVE costumes, especially historically accurate ones!!

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    Nov 26, 2010, 09.04 AMby junespoon

    I got a 5m length of gorgeous black/green Barathea from a clear-out of a police store…I made a Talea (http://www.burdastyle.com/projects/barrathea-talea) and everyone comments on how beautiful the material is!

    I have lots more, but i haven’t yet decided what to do with it…perhaps a little miltitary style jacket…?

    1 Reply
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      Nov 26, 2010, 06.12 PMby eringilday

      Oo neat! I love the idea of a military style jacket. Can’t wait to see! Your talea jacket is beautiful, too! Love the buttons!

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    Nov 25, 2010, 01.47 PMby catarinan

    I love vintage fabrics. They are so inpiring.*

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    Nov 25, 2010, 11.48 AMby omgheart

    I love vintage fabrics and sewing patterns but this fab fabric sounds fabulous :) Barathea!!!

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