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Man’s Waistcoat, 1755–70

Man’s Waistcoat, 1755–70

Men's fashion went through a revolutionary change during the last half of the eighteenth century, as clothing steadily shrank from a curvaceous, full-skirted style into a slender, vertical silhouette. The waistcoat was a vest-like garment that a man wore, along with his breeches, over his shirt and under his suit coat. This particular object dates from the middle of the century and illustrates the earliest phase of the waistcoat's evolution.
Clothing proportions were beginning to shrink by the 1750s. The white silk waistcoat with its precise repeat of woven silver flowers still had a hem that was almost straight, but by that time, fashion demanded slightly shorter and narrower skirts. The pocket flaps had been simplified to a pair of scallops, and the front skirts were tapered back slightly below the lowest button to expose more of the leg. Rounded front edges and a somewhat fitted waistcoat back helped to draw attention to the wearer’s chest by shaping the garment to his body.
This man’s white plain-weave silk waistcoat is woven with metallic silver thread in an all-over pattern of stylized flowers, repeated about every six inches. The waistcoat has 15 flat self-covered buttons that extend from the neck to the hip. One double-scalloped pocket flap is set on each front at the level of the lowest button. The skirt is mid-thigh length, and is cut away slightly at the center front edges to expose some of the wearer's leg. The skirt hem is barely curved. The back skirt is made of the primary fabric. The upper back and the full lining of the waistcoat are made of plain-weave off-white linen. The button-front is faced with the primary fabric; the buttonhole-front facing, and the front skirts, are faced with white silk taffeta. The skirt is vented at each side between the hip and the hem. The overall front length from shoulder seam to hem is 33 in. (83.8 cm).
To see how the clothing of a prosperous man would have been worn, link to the Portrait of a Gentleman Netting Partridges, 1756, by Arthur Devis, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The gentleman in the portrait wears clothing that was cut to look fashionably slender, much like the waistcoat featured here.
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.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
1755 - 1770
overall length: 33 in; 83.82 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of James Douglas Thompson
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Costume
Clothing & Accessories
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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