18th Century Mantelets

Last updated: Jan 5, 2024

According to the 1773 Dictionary of the English Language, a mantelet is “a ſmall cloak worn by women.”

From the Galerie des Modes (1778) comes the following description of the mantelet:

The Mantelet is a type of little overcoat or light drapery, intended to cover the upper part of the body; it is kept out of the formal parure, but it has become so favored that one is accustomed to see it as an essential part of Ladies’ clothing.

Taffeta in summer and satin in winter are the two main materials that are employed in mantelets: black lace mantelets are worn, but they are fallen into discredit and have been relegated to the provinces. Mantelets of white lace, and of solid or embroidered Indian muslin, and lined with pink, have likewise been in vogue; they are still in style, but they do not go with all outfits, so they will be remarked on later.

Mantelets, when they were invented, were very imperfect: it was thought marvelous to join two pieces of taffeta in the back that were stretched from the front, to form what are called the “points” or the “flames”; they were worn very short and without a hood. Then came the very ample mantelets; this fashion passed. They were pulled up over the arms, others had indentations cut into that area. A little hood, attached to a stopped collar, seemed a very agreeable development, and the Ladies covered their heads with their hoods, believing themselves admirable. The large coiffures coming on, it was necessary to look for other expedients: the hood was put back on the shoulders, and became a simple ornament, and théreses and calashes were substituted. The raised collars were also found to be only convenient to the precieuses; coulisse collars were made, and the hoods, obliged to conform to the fashion, took on an excessive size without being more useful. Finally, the introduction of the polonaises brought the mantelets with tapered or flared points: this is the last change that came to this part of French Ladies’ dress.

More from the Galerie des Modes (1778):

The first mantelets appeared around 1745; they only became generally fashionable in 1750: they were short and without hoods … Mantelets and their trim have always been of one color, except in 1777, when piebald mantelets were worn, that is to say, white trimmed with black. Mantelets of black lace wanted to reappear in these latter times, but they have not been strongly welcomed. The hood of the mantelet has also felt these changes; the latest fashion wants that it be nearly entirely open or reversed, forming more of a type of capote on the mantelet, rather than a hood.

This notebook page includes mantelets in silk and similar fine fabrics; other fashionable short cloaks include capuchins and pelisses, while yet another page considers various styles of working-class women’s short cloaks.