Finding the resource of the Fenimore Arts Museum in Cooperstown New York has been a great blessing. Their growing collection is being presented piece by piece on line through a tumblr blog by their young curator, and its clear they have no issue whatever with this. Smart folks, really.
Recently this wonderful item showed up there.
Though much remains of the dresses of the time, few outerwear garments exist, mostly because they would be re-styled, and worn till worn through. This coat, which by its shaping places in the mid 1860s, is a wonderful survivor. The short position of the waist is consonant with the shorter waistline of the crinolined shape in vogue, and the wide sloping cone shape of the coat skirts would have fitted correctly over the breadth of the dress skirt.
One of the other cues to this garments age is the scale of the bows and other decorations. The vast size of the skirts in fashion, (soon to collapse into teh first iteration of the bustle), required larger scaled embellishments in order to look balanced, so the cording, and the bows, which might have looked cartoonish as part of another silhouette, look appropriate on the swelling dome of a crinoline.
Made up in navy cotton velvet, with a gray, quilted silk taffeta lining, this coat would have been meant for fall or winter, and would have been appropriate for visiting, shopping in town, or a carriage ride in the park.
The decidedly military style of the decoration was quite popular, partially as a response to the widespread unrest in Europe and in the USA. Since this coat is probably contemporary to the American Civil War, showing a patriotic militarism in dress would have been thought only natural.
This coat was worn by New York state native Charlotte Prentiss Browning (1837-1935), so she would have been in her late 20s to early 30s when she wore this lovely coat.