I bought this VERY unusual straitjacket from an medical antique dealer south of London, England during August 2000

It cost me about $350. The antique dealer delivered it to Jim Stewart in London who took the following pictures and wrote most of the following text. Thanks Jim. I added some pictures I took of it in February 2001.

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Jim Stewart's comments on the antique straitjacket.

Antique Straitjacket Jacket

TECHNICAL SURVEY STRAIT-JACKET OF UNUSUAL DESIGN (bought via British dealer in Medical Antiques)

Basic conclusions: A very unusual curiosity, but not ground-breaking in terms of design or efficiency. Probably a prison punishment straitjacket. Applied until the wearer is ready to be more co-operative


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In mint condition, totally unused, all nine ropes still coiled into hanks in a matching manner. The canvas tails which are double fabric were obviously steam pressed by the manufacturer. Must have come from a well stored stock considering the fact it is possibly sixty years old, if not more. First, some general construction information.

Fabric: The jacket is double thickness, made with two different types of woven material. Both seem to use the same fine but hard textured natural fibrous thread such as was used for mail sacks just before the introduction of man-made fibers. In Britain I'm told a mix of flax and jute was used (also known by the Bengali name of gunny).


mvc-503f.t.jpg This picture shows the collar with section of the straitjacket's inside fabric and a section of the straitjacket's outside fabric.

To know for sure would need an expert in mid-20th century textiles or somebody on the Internet who used to work with real canvas. Outside, the canvas type is a very close herringbone weave, smooth but harsh. A slight sheen may have come from steam pressing of the finished garment with put a gloss on the fabric dressing Inside, the fabric is a fine but equally harsh mesh plain weave canvas, such as mail-sacks rather than flour sacks were made of in Britain pre 1950 much finer than burlap sacking this is very very dense and tough.

Rope used in profusion to fasten and tether the jacket (no straps) is 3/8th thick twisted double strand course natural fiber rope (over 50 feet in all!) This could be hemp but because it's waxed is not as hairy as most hemp rope so might be jute or some other mix. Somebody might tell from the smell. I'm still asking around.

Possible history:

A French or German source for this very odd jacket has been suggested. Initials HM stamped on in small letters could (as David [the antique seller] suggested) mean Hospital Militaire.


mvc-508f.t.jpg This picture shows the "HM" stamped on the inside of the straitjacket.

A similar jacket in his collection is, I'm told, stamped with a date in the mid-1940s. There is one of these jackets in a museum in Gent, Belgium. (Sometimes spelled Ghent) If used in France/Belgium in World War Two such jackets may have been brought in by the German Occupying Forces.

Design:

Over-elaborate, crude, inefficient, uncomfortable is the general reaction of people who field-tested it with me for the photo session. Designed by a civil servant with nothing better to do rather than somebody experienced in handling mentally disturbed people. Certainly a prison rather than hospital concept. Probably manufactured for punishment rather than simple restraint. General design is, apart from the very unusual two-strand fabric tails attached to the bottom hem at either side of the body, a basic front-opening short coat with rounded closed-end baggy sleeves.


mvc-509f.t.jpg This picture shows the ends of the unusual two-strand fabric tails.

All closing is with coarse rope which is either sewn on or has rope spliced into eyes permanently attached to canvas loops Front jacket closing is, absurdly, sixteen slot-type button holes (eight per side) which look as if they are hand-sewn.
mvc-506f.t.jpg The whipping on the front neck rope is twice as long as on the other ropes.

A single six foot long piece of rope is sewn into one side of the collar hem. Looks like this is supposed to thread through all 16 holes to lace the jacket front closed. The rope end (all rope ends that are not spliced into an are wrapped with waxed thread (whipped). After lacing by in whatever system the end then needs to be somehow made-off at crotch level (leaving at least two feet of spare rope which could, we decided, be looped between the legs and up to the sleeves rope in back after this was fastened). The type of rope is very difficult to knot or make-off and will still probably kink and tangle even when not new. Neck opening is low and loose, edged with an inch wide strip of the same course canvas double thickness, into which the rope for closing the front is sewn.
An interesting if cumbersome feature below the center-back of the collar is a three inch deep flap of double canvas with rope protruding six feet from each side.
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We eventually assumed that rather than being there to help secure the arms or body, the two ropes were only for tethering to a bed or other anchor points. The two long ropes seriously hampered efforts to cinch the sleeves in back and later the tails French33cu.jpg
On either shoulder two flat epaulet-like loops looked useful but we could not work out what for except as handles for man-handling.

On the sleeves an interesting feature is a pair of very useful canvas loops at inner elbow level.


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These are standard on Spanish strait-jackets and recently I have recommended them when designing High Security jackets because by cinching the inside elbow point together, crossed arms can not be worked over the head. On the jacket photographed here the two loops are three inches deep so rope can easy be threaded through them in various configurations.

At the end of each sleeve, two more canvas loops (again three inches deep) each have six foot rope permanently spliced to circle the canvas loop.


mvc-505f.t.jpg Detail of the end of a sleeve.

On each side of the jacket waist are canvas flat loops which span only five inches so are not wide enough to allow hands through easily when encased in baggy sleeves.


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Alternative methods of securing the arms are discussed later. The unique in my experience tails measure 9.5 inches across at jacket hem level. Nine inches down each tail, the double fabric divides into two four inches wide bands. These are all forty inches long and the end of each band is turned back to make a sewn loop. Through one band-end on each side a two-foot-six piece of rope is permanently attached, the other band on each side (the back ones) has no rope in the end loop. What these tails were designed to do baffled the three experienced people who explored the potential of the jacket. Details follow.

APPLYING THE JACKET.

Being a front-opening jacket, methods of getting a struggling person into it need not be considered because the process of threading rope through sixteen narrow slits each less than an inch long suggests a totally passive wearer.

Two ways of lacing were tried. One threading single rope end through two parallel holes from top to bottom of the jacket; the other, a herringbone lacing style bring rope in from the back and out of the front of each hole. A half hitch in what rope is left over was all that was needed if hands couldn't reach it. Using the spare rope was tempting but when brought up around the crossed arms in-front, dragged the whole jacket dangerously high. Taking the rope through the crotch and tying it off on the sleeve-end ropes where joined at the back, was practical but a messy tangle.

Crossing the arms for the first time we did not use the side loops because they didn't allow the hands through easily. We brought the two over-long sleeve-end ropes around the body and through the side loops. Also tried was to bring the rope around the biceps and pull them back (like using Pinion Straps) and in various ways running the ropes through the inside-elbow canvas loops.

Pulling the canvas elbow loops backwards over the biceps worked but was not logical. Tying the elbow loops closer together was also effective but rope over the elbows could have been worked off the arms thus giving dangerous slack. On the whole, because the rope is not ideal for knot-tying, we decided that keeping the whole jacket drenched in water would be one way to stop the knots slipping! The mysterious side tails took much more time and experimentation.

Our first thoughts were to bring them up over crossed arms and perhaps through the otherwise pointless shoulder epaulets. Each pair of bands brought up front and back and crossed over opposite shoulders seemed promising. These added to the possibility of restricting arm movement but the angle of the tails at waist level looked wrong. Anything we tried when bringing the bands upwards made the whole jacket rise- and with such a wide open neckline the whole jacket might eventually just shuck off over the head. Experimenting with the tails as leg-restraints started with each leg wrapped separately ending in a useful ankle tether but we were not convinced. Criss-crossing both legs together suddenly looked more logical.

Making off the ends of the two pairs of bands (one with attached rope and the other only a canvas loop) was what we eventually settled for but it left nothing to tether feet out to sides of a stretcher or bed. Finally, the two ankle ropes were together used to tie off to a center point of the bed-end which was reasonably effective and the legs were suitably immobilized. Together with the pairs of ropes from behind the back of the neck and those permanently attached to the jacket canvas side-loops, gave a five-point tether configuration whether laying down of standing up.

The overall opinion was that rope closing (especially such harsh rope) is not efficient. The general collar, front closing and small side loops could all be improved on in a modern interpretation of this jacket and the tails, although turning the jacket into a full-length restraint, got in the way and tangled and made the whole garment very unmanageable; certainly very difficult to handle in any sort of struggle.


Jim Stewart September 2000 French15.jpg French17.jpg French18.jpg French20.jpg French21.jpg French22cu.jpg French24.jpg
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The slits under the arms are just really strange! French39.jpg
mvc-504f.t.jpg Detail of the under-arm slits.