Man’s Waistcoat, 1705–20


Despite its long sleeves, this luxurious waistcoat would have been worn under an elaborate coat, much as a modern man would wear a close-fitting vest as a part of a suit. While most waistcoats were made without sleeves, men of all social and economic levels might opt for a jacket-like version. However, the fabric, and even the function, changed according to the wealth and activities of the wearer.

The waistcoat pictured here allowed its wealthy wearer to stay comfortably warm under an equally elegant outer coat with much fuller skirts and sleeves. The gentleman who wore this garment would never have removed his coat in public, so he would not have cared that his waistcoat was made from two completely different fabrics. Only his waistcoat fronts, lower sleeves, and skirt tails had any chance of being seen under an open-fronted coat with vented, circular skirt and loose, barrel-shaped cuffs. Because they would be visible, these parts of the waistcoat were made of the more expensive fabric, allowing him to show a splendid front to the world.

But a man at the other end of the social scale might not have owned a coat at all. Its complicated tailoring and lavish use of fabric would have made it much too expensive for him to buy. Instead, he might have had one or two jackets that he would have worn singly, or layered together for warmth. Furthermore, a common man’s jacket would have been made of a relatively cheap fabric such as linen, wool, or coarse cotton.

This opulent, sleeved waistcoat features a type of silk brocade known as bizarre because of its extreme scale and jarring mix of unrelated and abstract design elements. Produced in English and French workshops, bizarre silks were extremely fashionable during the first twenty years of the eighteenth century.

The primary fabric of this waistcoat (seen on its fronts, lower back, back neck, neck binding, and lower sleeves) is yellow-green bizarre silk, brocaded with salmon pink silk threads and threads of silk wrapped with flat strips of real gold. The resulting pattern is a huge, nonrepeating jumble of exotic stylized flowers, leaf fronds, buds, and wheat sheaves, interspersed with an urn, fountain, and several geometric grids filled with small four-leafed florets.

The secondary fabric, which is used for the upper back and upper sleeves, is pink and beige silk damask with a large, symmetrical, connected repeat of geometric shapes and abstract flowers. The entire waistcoat is lined to the edge with bright green silk woven in very fine herringbone twill, which is also used for the pocket flap linings and the visible pocket facings. The hidden parts of the pocket interior are of dark green twilled wool.

The waistcoat is cut with a long torso and a full skirt that is vented between the waist and the straight, knee-length hem at both sides and the center back. Twenty-two buttons mark the right center front, with corresponding buttonholes at left center front, but the lowest seven buttonholes can't be used because they were never cut open.

A three-lobed, serpentine-edged pocket flap with three false buttonholes is set at each side of the front skirt; three decorative buttons under each pocket flap hold it out from the skirt. Each wrist closes at the base of a vent with a buttonhole and a button set on the back of the sleeve.

All of the buttons are half balls, embroidered in metallic gold with satin-stitched segments separated by bullion knots, and each buttonhole is surrounded by gold braid that is couched down with gold thread. The center back length is 35.75 in. (90.8 cm).

To see a similar sleeved waistcoat as it would have been worn, link to the portrait of James Craggs the Elder, about 1710, attributed to John Closterman at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

This Web entry was made possible in part by a generous grant from the National Association of Men’s Sportswear Buyers, in memory of Joseph S. Klein.

Date Made: 1705 - 1720

Maker: unknown

Location: Currently not on view

See more items in: Home and Community Life: Costume, Clothing & Accessories, Textiles


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: From Cora Ginsburg

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: CS.299889.001Catalog Number: not definedAccession Number: 299889

Object Name: jacketOther Terms: jacket; Waistcoat; Upper Body; Main Dress; Male

Physical Description: silk (primary fabric material)gold (primary fabric material)silver (primary fabric material)silk (lining fabric material)wool (lining fabric material)Measurements: overall length (sh seam/cf base): 35 1/2 in; 90.17 cmcf opening, length: 33 in; 83.82 cmshoulder straps: 4 1/2 in; x 11.43 cmneck opening (sh seam/top button): 4 in; 10.16 cmoutside facing, back neck: 1 1/2 in; 3.81 cmbinding around neck: 1/4 in; x .635 cmbuttons, cf: 3/4 in; x 1.905 cmbuttons, pocket and wrist: 1/2 in; x 1.27 cmbutton span, cf: 30 1/4 in; 76.835 cmlowest button, above base: 1 3/4 in; 4.445 cmbuttonholes, cf, length: 2 1/4 in; x 5.715 cmsleeves, length along outside edge: 24 1/2 in; 62.23 cmwrist opening (unbuttoned): 8 1/2 in; x 21.59 cmelbow circumference: 13 in; x 33.02 cmpocket flaps, width across top: 6 1/4 in; x 15.875 cmpocket flaps, width across lower edge: 9 in; x 22.86 cmpocket flaps, height at center: 4 in; 10.16 cmmock buttonholes on pocket flaps: 5.461 cm; 2 1/8 inpockets, inside depth: 7 in; 17.78 cmpocket flaps, upper edge, above base: 10 in; 25.4 cmskirt forepart, width at hem: 16 1/2 in; x 41.91 cmcenter back: 35 3/4 in; 90.805 cmlower back skirt, height of primary fabric: 19 in; 48.26 cmcb vent, height: 13 1/4 in; 33.655 cmcf buttonhole, length of braid: 2 in; x 5.08 cmcf buttonhole, length of opening: 1 1/4 in; x 3.175 cmwrist, length of vent opening: 7 in; 17.78 cm


Record Id: nmah_368682

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