An intriguing parliamentary uniform from Holland

Embroidered coat of the parliamentary uniform of Laurens de Groot (TRC 2018.2133a).

Embroidered coat of the parliamentary uniform of Laurens de Groot (TRC 2018.2133a).

A few weeks ago the TRC received a donation of a group of items belonging to Mariet Portheine-ter Kuile. This donation included fifty Berlin wool work charts that formed the basis for a digital exhibition on this subject [click here]. Since then various other items belonging to the Portheine-ter Kuile family have been given to the TRC, including a gala uniform associated with the Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal (commonly known as the Tweede Kamer), the Dutch equivalent of the British House of Commons.

The uniform consists of a gold embroidered coat, matching trousers, a bicorn hat with orange cockade, gloves and, of course, a sword. The uniform belonged to the politician, Frederick (Frits) Portheine (1923-1990), who had been a member of the Tweede Kamer between 1963 and 1981. This type of uniform was worn by members of the Tweede Kamer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on all formal occasions. There were various rules concerning how such garments were worn, as well as colour coding. Ministers, for example, had white trousers with a dark blue coat, while members of the Kamer had dark blue trousers and coat. So what is the history of this particular uniform?

 

 

 

Sword, sheath and felt carrier that go with the parliamentary uniform of Laurens de Groot (TRC 2018.2133e-g).

Sword, sheath and felt carrier that go with the parliamentary uniform of Laurens de Groot (TRC 2018.2133e-g).

 
The embroidery decorating the coat is similar to that used on formal military and diplomatic uniforms from many countries in northern Europe. It is made using card templates that are covered in various types of metal thread. One of the important accessories for the uniform, which reflects much earlier norms for gentlemen, is the presence of a sword (whether the 20th century wearer knew how to use it was a totally different matter).

Such uniforms were already regarded as old fashioned by the time that Frederick Portheine became a politician. Since the Second World War (1939-1945) these uniforms had not really been worn by most of the members of the Tweede Kamer. So did Frits Portheine ever wear it? Thanks to a tip from Madelief Hohé (Gemeente Museum, The Hague) to literally look deep into one of the inside pockets of the coat, we were able to find a tailor’s label that gave us some more information about the history of the uniform.

Tailor's label of coat (TRC 2018.2133a, above).

Tailor's label of coat (TRC 2018.2133a, above).

The uniform had been made by "GEBRS. DOMHOFF, ROTTERDAM. HOFKLEEDERMAKERS VAN Z.K.H. DEN PRINS DER NEDERLANDEN” (The Brothers Domhoff, Rotterdam. Court garment makers to H.R.H. the Prince of the Netherlands). In addition there was further information saying “L. de Groot 4-3-20”, apparently the name of the original owner.

The company of Domhoff Tailors still exists, but it is no longer in Rotterdam, but now based in Haarlem. The sword has an etched label on the blade near the handle, which says "FRANS PAUWELS 's GRAVENHAGEN." The company of Pauwels has been producing swords and related items since the late 18th century. The company ran by Frans Pauwels went bankrupt in 1925, although an Amsterdam branch continued into the 1930’s.

Bicorn hat that belongs to the parliamentary uniform of Laurens de Groot (TRC 2018.2133c).

Bicorn hat that belongs to the parliamentary uniform of Laurens de Groot (TRC 2018.2133c).

In addition to providing the sword, the bicorn hat associated with the uniform also originated from the company of Frans Pauwels and on the outside of the accompanying hatbox there is the inked name of DE GROOT, so giving a clear link between the two items. In addition, the pair of gloves came in a paper bag, again with the name DE GROOT.

Apparently the first owner of the gala uniform was therefore a gentleman called De Groot. But who was he and why did he need a gala uniform? According to the database of the Dutch Parliament, Laurens de Groot (1874-1963) was a Dutch politician who was involved in various liberal economic policies and in particular involved with the Vrijheidsbond [officially known as the Liberale Staatspartij, the predecessor of the modern Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie, VVD, currently led by Mark Rutte, PM]. He was twice elected a member of the Tweede Kamer, in 1919-1922 and for the second time in 1924-1925. It would appear, from the date of 4th March 1920 writtten on the tailor's label, that the gala uniform was acquired by De Groot during his first period in the Tweede Kamer.

Laurens de Groot, liberal parliamentarian (1874-1963).

Laurens de Groot, liberal parliamentarian (1874-1963).

De Groot was also involved in the city council of Rotterdam and on several occasions he was the wethouder (alderman) responsible for education and social development. Following the liberation of Rotterdam from the Germans in 1945 he became a member of the Raad van Advies for Rotterdam, advising about the rebuilding of the city after the German bombardments in May 1940. De Groot died in 1963. How exactly his gala uniform came into the possession of Frits Portheine is not clear, perhaps they had been friends as both were prominent members of the same political party. On the other hand, it was also common for new members of parliament to buy a second-hand outfit, since these gala uniforms, although rarely worn in the early 1960s, were very expensive.

With many thanks to Mariet Portheine and her family.

Sources of information:

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