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Embroidered Indoor Caps

An early seventeenth century embroidered nightcap for a man. It is decorated with silk and metal thread embroidery and spangles. An early seventeenth century embroidered nightcap for a man. It is decorated with silk and metal thread embroidery and spangles. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London, acc. no. 2016-1899.

There were various forms of informal indoor caps for men, which were popular among wealthier, urban groups from the early seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries in Europe and elsewhere. The main forms were the large nightcaps, the undress caps and the smoking caps. Examples of all three forms were often embroidered.  

The oldest forms are the so-called nightcaps, and despite their name they were actually worn during daytime. Nightcaps performed two functions: they were fashionable indoor wear and they were effective against the cold. They started to appear in the early seventeenth century and were usually dome-shaped with a tightly fitting brim. Over the decades, the brim became larger and loose fitting. This type of cap is sometimes called a ‘negligé cap’ in North America.

By the late seventeenth century, more and more men started to wear ‘undress’ caps made of silk and velvet. They were often worn by bald (naturally or deliberately) men when they were not wearing the long wigs that were highly fashionable at that time. These caps were less formal than the earlier nightcaps and the brims could come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Like their predecessors, ‘undress caps’ were often decorated with silk or metal thread embroidery. The wearing of this type of cap continued into the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

In the mid-nineteenth century, another form of indoor cap for men started to develop, namely the ‘smoking cap’ (also called the ‘smoker's cap’ or ‘lounging cap’). These were often embroidered and then further embellished with a long tassel. This type of cap was particularly popular from the late 1840's until the 1880's. They were often made of velvet (the same as smoking jackets) in order to help reduce the smell of stale tobacco.

See also: embroidered nightcap of Phineas Pett (1570-1647).

Source: ROTHSEIN, Natalie (ed., 1984). Four Hundred Years of Fashion, London: V&A Publications, p. 103.

V&A online catalogue (retrieved 19 March 2016).

GVE

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 March 2017 11:19