Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Royal Regulations of 1772, part 2 - Chupa Corta


Let’s continue now to reconstruct the uniforms for soldados de cuera as established by the Royal Regulation of 1772 with a look at the chupa corta.  Again, the regulation reads:

1. El vestuario de los soldados de presidio ha de ser uniforme en todos, y constará de una chupa corta de tripe, ó paño azul, con una pequeña vuelta y collarin encarnado. . . [1]    

My translation is:

1. The clothing of the soldiers of the presidio will be completely uniform, and consist of a
short, sleeved waiscoat of blue wool velvet or cloth, with a small scarlet cuff and collar. .

I translate chupa as “sleeved waistcoat.” A chupa corta, then, would be a “short, sleeved waistcoat,” of course.  Others have translated chupa corta as “jacket” or “coat” and, because clothing terms can be both vague and fluid, these are not really wrong, though there are other Spanish words for these garments.[2]  But the Academia Usual dictionary of the Spanish language, published in 1780 (the closest in date I can find to the publication of the 1772 Regulation), defines chupa as “Parte del vestido, que cubre el tronco del cuerpo con quatro faldillas de la cintura abaxo y con mangas ajustas á los brazos: en el vestido de militar se pone debaxo de la casaca.”[3]   That is, “Piece of clothing that covers the torso, with four skirts from the waist downward and with sleeves fitted to the arms.  In military dress, it is worn below the coat.”


Like most of the rest of Europe, by 1700 the sleeved waistcoat/chupa was already a standard piece of men’s clothing for civilians and soldiers in Spain and her New World colonies.  Middle and upper class men wore them not only beneath the coat (in Spanish, casaca) but also alone as informal dress at home and for such vigorous activities as hunting.  Most Spanish soldiers followed a similar pattern of coats and sleeved waistcoats for dress occaisions and the waistcoat alone for fatigue and off duty wear. Working men, whether they were tradesmen, craftsmen, farmers, sailors or whatever, found the chupa comfortable and practical for every purpose and seldom or never wore coats at all. [4]


At the beginning of the 18th century, the chupa/waistcoat’s tails reached nearly to the knees, but fashion dictated ever shorter tails until, by 1760, they came just below the hips.  Ten years later, some men were wearing them shorter still and this is probably why the 1772 Royal Regulations specified a “short, sleeved waistcoat,” (chupa corta).


In New Spain (Mexico), the chupa became an essential part of the national costume. There were those who wore European fashions, including gentlemen in the government and higher professions, and also most soldiers.  But the middle and lower classes created a style of men’s dress that consisted of the chupa, breeches and a flat-brimmed sombrero that can be seen as the ancestor of today’s charro clothing.[5] 

Because this style of dress was so well suited to life spent in a hot climate and often on horseback, the vaqueros (cowboys), from whom most of the rural and provincial cavalry were recruited, made it their own.  Thus their uniforms, including those of the soldados de cuera, were, in fact, mostly a militarized form of vaquero clothing.[6]


In later posts, I’ll continue this description of the soldado de cueras' chupa corta with a look at its cut, fabrics, facings, buttons and other details.

A. Spanish Army chupa corta, 1787 [See B. below)
B. Uniform for a proposed Havana infantry regiment to be raised by Don José Fleming, 1787 - AGI Uniformes 54 – Anne S. K. Brown Collection, Brown University.
C. Cazador cargando su escopeta [Hunter Loading his Musket], 1775, by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Museo Nacional del Prado
D. These two casta paintings are part of a set meant to display the different classes, races and costumes of New Spain.  Note that the man on the right wears a longer chupa, while the man on the left has a shorter chupa corta. Anonymous, c. 1780. Private collection. (Katzew 1996)
E. Detail of a uniform proposal for the Regimiento Provincial de Caballeria del Principe, c. 1771-1779. Real Academia de Historia, Madrid.  The authors of the Royal Regulations of 1771 probably had something much like this uniform and equipment in mind for the soldados de cuera. 

[1] Sidney Brinckerhoff and Odie B. Faulk, Lancers for the King; A Study of the Frontier Military System of Northern New Spain, with a Translation of the Royal Regulations of 1772. Phoenix: Arizona Historical Society,1965, p. 18.
[2] That is, chaqueta and casaca.
[3] “Nuevo Tesoro Lexicográfico de la Lengua Española,” is an invaluable resource of the Real Academia de España, containing scanned, searchable Spanish dictionaries from 1495 to the present.  Here is the link:
[4] For a description of the sleeved waistcoat and its evolution in Europe from the early to mid18th century, see Aileen Ribeiro, Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe 1715-1789. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002, pp. 20, 121-122. My views on its use by the various classes and occupations of Spain and her American colonies are based on written and pictorial evidence.  See note 5, below. 
[5] After more than forty years of research, I’ve never encountered what I consider a proper history of Mexico’s “national costume” during the Spanish Era.  Most of what I know is based on eyewitness written and pictorial sources.  Of particular value are the casta paintings.  See especially Ilona Katzew, et al, New World Orders; Casta Painting and Colonial Latin America. New York: Americas Society, 1979 and Ilona Katzew, Casta Painting; Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004.
[6] The Jesuit father, Ignaz Pfefferkorn, wrote in his memoir of life in northern Mexico and southern Arizona in the 1750s and 1760s, “Through oft-repeated roundups, Sonora Spaniards grow hardened to the most severe fatigue and become such expert horsemen that the proudest and most spirited horse cannot throw them. Resistance to fatigue and expert horsemanship are the two qualities which cause Spaniards born and raised in Sonora to be considered most able for Sonora military service, and hence no others are accepted as soldiers.” A Description of the Province of Sonora. Translated and annotated by Theodore E. Treutlin. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1949, p. 290.


  1. David: your interpretation of the chupa corta is the same as mine. This is what I had my chupa corta based on, same images. You say later regs. With the red lapels. I can handle that. But I'm also interpreting it as a short coat( jacket), in that the skirt is not full length but covers the buttocks. And thanks!!! The image you have here, this is what I'm looking for to base a new civilian jacket, for Los Adaes. 10 button front.

  2. It's nice to know that our research agrees, Gregg.

  3. Does the regs say anything in regards to what the chupa corta was lined with. Another thing, your calling the chupa corta a sleeved waist coat. A waistcoat was designed to be worn under a coat. So in that think, that would make the sleeves of a coat larger to accommodate a sleeved waist coat. If you have ever worn clothing if that period, you would realize that the sleeves are narrow, seen up into the arm pit. So when you raise or move tha arms, the body doesn't move, such as a lot of modern pattern making does today.

  4. As you can see from the original text and translation I posted, there is nothing in the Regulation about lining. But there is plenty of evidence for how they were lined from other documents. That will be part of a later post. I call it a sleeved waistcoat just for the purpose of translation. Every nation had its own name for the garment. The French called it a "gilet," the Spanish a "chupa" and the English and Americans simply a "waistcoat." Up to 1760, almost all waistcoats had sleeves. Waistcoats meant to be worn beneath a coat often had sleeves of unlined linen or cotton for just that reason. The soldado de cueras' waistcoats, of course, were never meant to be worn beneath a coat, so their sleeves were lined. I'll also talk about tailoring and fit in another post.

  5. David: one of my projects now is to have a civilian version, circa. 1767, of a chupa corta made. Any tips or suggestions?

  6. Years ago Hovey Cowles gave me a copy of his translation of the Monsieur de Pages description of the soldados at Los Adaes in 1767. Anyway, the description of the calzones that they were wearing, they were without seams but buttoned up the outer seam with gold and silver buttons. I'm curious to what type of braid adored them and how. Also did this lace adorn the chupa corta?

  7. I'd suggest that, since you are doing 1767, you might want to consider a chupa rather than a chupa corta. I don't know how many civilians there were at Los Adaes, but I've always assumed that Monsieur de Pages was mostly describing the soldiers. This is because inspectors visiting Los Adaes and other presidios throughout the frontier complained that the soldiers wore cheap tinsel braid on their clothing. You'll notice that the casta paintings hardly show any civilians in Mexico with braid adorning their breeches or other clothing. There are several possibilities for what de Pages meant by “des culottes sans couture, assez communément galonnées, mais dont les pieces tiennent les unes aux autres avec des boutons d’or ou d’argent,” but do note that the original translation [breeches without a seam, but pieced together with buttons of gold and silver] should read "gold _or_ silver." And yes, inspectors did mention the braid on the soldiers’ chupas. As for types of braid and how it was used to ornament the chupa and calzones, you cannot do better than to find out if any pieces of braid have been found at Los Adaes or similar sites of the same time period and copy them. You could do the same with buttons. Whether or not you can find any, look at contemporary images, especially casta paintings made between 1760-1770 for examples to follow when applying braid to your garments. Good luck!

  8. The 1772 regs where printed in Spain in 1772, and the regs reprinted in Mexico in 1773. So how long did it take, estimated, to actually implement the changes in uniform and equipment. By 1773, East Texas was being abandoned and wanting to move the presidio companies to San Antonio.