The History of the "Frock Coat"

Men’s Frock Coat

What is the history of the Mens Frock Coat? Where did the actual name ‘frock’ come from? Let me answers that question for you to the best of my ability. Let me start with the origin of the actual name ‘frock’. Originally, the frock was known for being a loose, long fitting garment with wide, full sleeves, such as a habit of a monk or priest, usually belted. (This reference is the origin of the modern term defrock or unfrock, with the meaning “to expel from the priesthood”).

The term has been continuously applied to different types of clothing generally referring to loosely fitting garments:

From the sixteenth century to the early twentieth century, the word frock was associated with a woman’s dress or gown, as fashion dictated for that period, often indicating a loosely fitted, comfortable garment for wear in the house, and (later) a light overdress worn over a slip or under dress.

From the seventeenth century on, the frock coat was a thigh-length or full-length loosely fitting outer garment worn by shepherds, workmen and farm workers in Britain, usually made of heavy linen with a broad flat collar, now usually for the most part called a smock-frock.

In the eighteenth century in Britain and America, the frock coat was worn for hunting or other country pursuits and was a loosely fitting garment with a broad, flat collar, descending from the traditional working class frock coat. Late in the eighteenth century it starting being made with a cutaway front without a waist seam and this may have possibly evolved into the standard dress frock coat with horizontally cutaway fronts worn in the daytime by the early nineteenth century and from there the modern tail coat for white tie descended. The great coat may have historically descended from the frock because it too, was single breasted, with a high broad collar, waist pockets and also lacked a waist seam early in it’s history.

An accurate historical development of the frock after the second half of the eighteenth century is unclear, but it’s likely that the frock coat was gradually replaced by the frock coat in the early nineteenth century, eventually being demoted to evening dress. The frock coat in turn became cut away into the modern coat giving us two modern coats with tails.

A frock coat is a man’s coat style of the nineteenth century, characterized by full skirts reaching to the lower thigh or knee. Despite the similarity in the name, the frock coat should be regarded as being a distinct garment quite separate from the frock. In the French language the frock coat is called ‘une redingote’ (from English “riding coat”), and so unlike the English language implies no immediate relationship to the frock which is called ‘une fraque’. Indeed the modern French word for a tail coat is ‘une frac’ which better betrays the historical relationship between the tail coat and the frock. In construction the frock coat could scarcely be more different from the frock for unlike the latter it is usually double breasted, lacks any pockets, lacks a high collar, has V-shaped lapels, is closely fitted and is constructed with a waist seam.