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Buff coat

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1640-1650 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Leather, silk, baleen, silver gold; hand-sewn

  • Museum number:

    T.34-1948

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Object Type
The buff coat was a feature of military dress during the 17th century, usually worn under a breastplate. Originally these garments were made of European buffalo (or wild ox) hide, which is where the term 'buff' comes from. By the mid-17th century, they were most frequently made of oil-tanned cow leather. The thick leather made the coat good protection, not only against musket balls and sword cuts, but also from the friction of the armoured plate worn over it.

Materials & Making
The thickest parts of the hide (over six millimeters) are at the bottom of the coat, to protect the legs while riding. Special sewing techniques join the thick, tough leather; the holes through which the thread passed were first punched with an awl. The absence of a waist seam means that four hides were used to make this coat, adding to its expense.

Ownership & Use
Portraits illustrate that buff coats were frequently adorned with lace cuffs and collars and wide, brightly coloured silk sashes. The style of this buff coat with an inner sleeve of soft doeskin and the extensive embellishment with two types of silver-gilt braid indicates that it probably belonged to a high-ranking officer.

Cost
Buff coats were expensive items, as contemporary letters and diaries reveal. Writing to his father-in-law in 1640, John Tubervill observed: 'For your buff-coat I have looked after, and the price they are exceedingly dear, not a good one to be gotten under œ10, a very poor one for five or six pounds.'

Physical description

Man’s buff coat of cow-hide leather, lined above the waist with ivory silk taffeta. It has a 2-inch (5 cm) standing collar and hanging sleeves, the sleeves of chamois leather. The coat fits the torso tightly with wide skirts below the waist. The collar is reinforced with linen and baleen. The hanging sleeves are applied with parallel vertical rows of ⅞-inch (2.2 cm) wide woven lace of silver-gilt filé and strip. The sleeves have 5 parallel horizontal rows of ⅜-inch (4 mm) braided silver-gilt filé. There are 24 holes on each side of centre front, each side threaded with ½-inch (1.3 cm) wide braided silver-gilt filé. Originally there were 5 button loops of braided silver filé; none remain. These fastened to buttons with a wooden core covered with silver-gilt filé thread; only 1 remains. The coat fastens with metal hooks and eyes; 7 hooks remain and 4 eyes. At the bottom edge of the silk lining there are 10 metal eyes.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

1640-1650 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Leather, silk, baleen, silver gold; hand-sewn

Dimensions

Length: 103 cm overall approx, Weight: 10 kg, Circumference: 96.0 cm chest under armholes approx

Object history note

Made in England

Descriptive line

Man's buff coat, 1640-50, English; cow-hide leather, silver-gilt woven lace

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Buff (leather) coats were made of thick cow hide and were commonly worn during the Civil War and Commonwealth period. They were originally hard-wearing military dress, but became a fashionable feature of men's portraits. Metal braid frequently embellished the more expensive versions. [27/03/2003]

Materials

Leather; Baleen; Silver; Silk (textile)

Techniques

Hand sewing; Gilding; Braiding

Categories

Clothing; Fashion; Day wear; Europeana Fashion Project; War; Men's clothes

Collection

Textiles and Fashion Collection

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