A distinctive element of French 1st Empire uniform was the epaulette. Worn at the shoulder these served to both distinguish rank as well as the status of the soldier, marking him out as a Grenadier, Carabinier, or Voltigeur in the Infantry, or as Elite troops in the cavalry.
But what shape and size were 1st Empire epaulettes? What did they look like? How were they made?
We present here a case study of two epaulette fragments belonging to the Red Lancers of the Imperial Guard.
The decree of 10 February 1811 decree the uniform for the newly formed 2nd regiment of Light Horse Lancers of the Imperial Guard. It gave the regiment scarlet uniform Kurkta, yellow [janquille] lace and ‘bleu de Roi’ facing colours. The archive paper work for the regiment confirms the use of these colour. On 12 March 1811 the following cloths were purchased:-
3,253meters wool cloth, dyed in the thread scarlet, in 1st, 2nd and 3rd quality Elbeuf.
7,150 meters wool cloth, dyed in the thread ‘Bleu de Roi’
9,750 meters wool cloth, ‘Gris de Fer’ 3rd quality Elbeuf for capotes and stable coats.
The same document records 950 pairs of aiguilette in yellow wool and yellow epaulettes with ‘Bleu de Roi’ crescents, 75 aiguilettes in gold and ‘Bleu de Roi’ for sub-officers along with epaulettes in ‘Bleu de Roi’ with gold lace, gold fringing and yellow fringing; 21 aiguilettes and epaulettes in scarlet and gold for trumpeters.
Note: No sky blue cloth is ordered. Therefore the stable coat and manteau-capote, as per the purchase accounts were iron grey with scarlet collars. Many modern artists and re-enactors choose to use sky blue ‘Bleu de Ciel’ cloth, which is at error with the regiments archive. In coming weeks, I will be posting about my research on ‘Gris de Fer’ cloth, and establishing its true colour.
The complete shoulder board is made from Galon cul de De. it is woven in worsted.
Total length of lace used: 18cm. Turn over: 1 cm. Button hole woven into the lace 2cm from selvedge. Button hole length:2cm. Width. At narrowest point: 65mm. At widest point: 87mm. The lace was woven to step out for the epaulette crescent. The step out starts 11cm from the selvedge. The angle between the widest and narrowest part is folded over in a mitre at 45degrees. The lining was stitched to the body using tan coloured linen thread, stitches at 5mm intervals. The stitching is neatly placed on the edge of the lace strap. The selvedge on a second exampler is dyed ‘bleu de roi’, the facing colour of the regiment. The crescents [tournottes] have not survived.
The lining cloth is a scarlet wool cloth. This cloth gives us an idea of the colour of the kurtka of the regiment, and reinforces the regiments nick name ‘Lanciers Rouge’. An interlining of two layers of linen provided stiffness to the completed epaulette.
The fringing is worsted, 1mm in diameter, 85mm long. It has six layers. Secured by a tan coloured linen thread, stitched at 6mm intervals, it is clear the fringing was inset under the strap by 15mm, to give a drop of 60mm.
In coming weeks, it is hoped to get dye matches from the materials in this discussion. Confection Drouot is also working to produce Galon Cul de De as used for epaulette construction, as well as worsted fringing for producing epaulette fringing. This is part of on-going, innovative research into the material culture of the French Army 1790-1815.