Adventures in Vintage Window Shopping: The Princess Coat -The Toast

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Holli Mintzer last wrote for The Toast about running a vintage shop without losing your mind.

So, I have a deep and abiding love of midcentury fashion: one that does not extend to wanting to live Back Then. Given a time machine, I’d zip out to 1953 for exactly long enough to go shopping, and then high-tail it back to the era of reliable internet access and slightly less oppressive gender roles. And of all the vintage pieces I covet, first on the list is the princess coat.

Princess coats are, technically, named for the princess seams that run vertically over the bust. But I always think of them as coats you wear to feel like a pretty, pretty princess: with wide, swishy skirts and nipped-in waists, they automatically level up your Fanciness attribute no matter what you’re wearing underneath.

The late 1930s through the 50s are prime princess coat territory. The earliest examples aren’t quite as full-skirted, but they make up for it in glamour, with slim, drapey fits, longer hems, and dramatic details.




(photo on the bottom is courtesy of Wearing History)

They also score top marks in collar fanciness. I know vintage fur’s a touchy subject, but apparently there are ideals I’m willing to compromise for the sake of The Pretty.

Once WWII was out of the way, princess coats lost their sharp shoulders and underwent some serious skirt inflation–all part of the new postwar abundance. Under Forties rationing, smart tailoring took the place of fabric volume, but once the restrictions lifted, skirts ballooned on dresses and coats alike.





Nowadays, authentic vintage princess coats are tough to find and usually pricey–hence my lack of one, alas. Here’s a sampling of some of the best examples I’m currently yearning after, available around the Internet:


Tragically poorly-photographed, but it’s got a Persian lamb collar out of a Buck Rogers cartoon and some seriously epic back pleats.


You’re not going to see a coat this good at this price point again anytime soon–frankly, she could get twice what she’s asking with ease. If this is still for sale a week from now, I’ll be shocked. The velvet detailing is fab, and it’s got a great shape (the dolman sleeves might fit a little weird on some people, but that’s a quibble.)


This navy coat doesn’t have the drama of some, but it makes up for it with impeccable tailoring and would be the crowning touch on your Betty Parker cosplay. (What, you’re not planning a Pleasantville group costume for next year’s Dragoncon? Well, now’s your chance– we still need a Mr. Johnson and a couple of Mary Sue’s friends.)


Possibly not technically a princess coat (I can’t tell what the bust seaming is like) but holy crap, it’s GOLD LAMÉ and HOODED. If you have $900 going spare and want to look like an Oscar statuette, now’s your chance.


Really good early example–this is a classic (though tragically tiny) 30s coat. Celluloid buttons, y’all!


I’m like 90% sure the seller has misdated this coat–no way that’s any later than the mid-50s, even with the weirdly long waist. (Important vintage-buying tip: sometimes the dealer screws up. I once tagged a coat with, in retrospect, a glaringly obvious early-40s collar as 60s, and I’m kind of shitty at retagging things in a timely fashion, so it sold before I corrected the error. Sorry, misinformed coat-purchaser!)


Bringing some collar and sleeve A-game in coral.


Here’s an interesting example of a princess coat that’s meant more for drama than warmth (and a seller who’s having some fun)– this is a look-fab-at-the-opera coat, with those exaggerated dolman sleeves and single-button closure.


This one combines my love of princess coats with my love of capes, my love of soutache embroidery, and my love of rhinestones, resulting in basically the Voltron of midcentury outerwear. I had to Google “giant robot made of smaller robots” just now because I had forgotten what Voltron was called.


Can you even stand it? I would wear this every day and twice on Sunday. Flawless, gorgeous, classy-as-hell shade of purple, and MY SIZE.

Also, a cautionary tale: especially on the Internet, people will try to sell you things that are not princess coats by labeling them princess coats. ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES. Some things that are not princess coats, despite being labeled as such:


This is a dressing gown.


This is a swing coat that has been deceptively belted. Do not be fooled! It does have really pretty trim, though.


This is a trench coat.


Do you see a nipped-in waist? Me neither. Still not a princess coat. Remember: nipped-in waist (with princess seams and a waist seam!) and a full, flared skirt to at least knee-length.

Hold fast! Someday your princess coat will come.

Holli Mintzer lives in Mount Rainier, Maryland, with more dresses than is probably good for her. Her short fiction can be found in Strange Horizons and Daily Science Fiction, and her vintage clothing can be found at Polly Sue's in Takoma Park.

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