Fustian (also called bombast) is a term for a variety of heavy woven, mostly cotton fabrics, chiefly prepared for menswear. It is also used to refer to pompous, inflated or pretentious writing or speech, from at least the time of Shakespeare.

History and use

It embraces plain twilled cloth known as jean, and cut fabrics similar to velvet, known as velveteen, moleskin, corduroy etc. The original medieval fustian was a stout but respectable cloth with a cotton weft and a linen warp, possibly derived from El-Fustat, the name of a suburb of Cairo where cloth was manufactured. The term seems to have quickly become less precise, and was applied to a coarse cloth made of wool and flax or wool and linen, and in the reign of Edward III of England, the name was given to a woollen fabric. By the early 20th century, fustians were usually of cotton dyed various colors.

In a petition to Parliament during the reign of Mary I "fustian of Naples" is mentioned. In the 13th and 14th centuries priests' robes and women's dresses were made of fustian, but though dresses are still made from some kinds, the chief use is for labourers' clothes.

Political significance

Fustian was worn by workers during the 19th century. As such, radical elements of the British working class chose to wear fustian jackets as a symbol of their class allegiance. This was especially marked during the Chartist era. The historian Paul Pickering has called the wearing of fustian "a statement of class without words.



  • The Online Etymology Dictionary
  • Pickering, Paul, A., "Class Without Words: Symbolic Communication in the Chartist Movement", Past and Present, cxii, August 1986, 144-162.

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