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Man's Waistcoat, Wedding, 1785–91

Man's Waistcoat, Wedding, 1785–91

Family tradition states that this waistcoat was worn on February 24, 1791, by James McCubbin Lingan for his wedding in Georgetown, Maryland (now Washington, D.C.), to Janet Henderson (born 1765). Lingan was born in May 1751 in Maryland, and clerked in a Georgetown store until he enlisted in the Continental Army early in the Revolution. He fought at Long Island, York Island, and Fort Washington, where he was taken prisoner and confined aboard the British ship Jersey for three and a half years. After the war, he returned to Georgetown as the port’s collector and acquired the rank of “General,” possibly through involvement with the militia. General Lingan was killed in Baltimore on July 28, 1812, while trying to reason with a mob concerning the free-speech rights of his friend Alexander Hanson, publisher of The Federal Republican newspaper.
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 over his shirt and under his suit coat. The waistcoat shown here represents the final stage of the 18th-century evolution of men’s clothing.
The waistcoat had shrunk impressively by the 1780s, but it still had to be elegant because it was showcased by a tight, open-fronted coat. This white silk satin and moiré striped waistcoat with silver trim had a high collar that compensated for its vanished skirts and reflected the high coat collar that would have been worn over it. Its straight woven stripes were echoed by the silver braid along the front edges, making the wearer’s figure appear very vertical. The fact that curves had no place in the new taste was underscored by the straight horizontal base of the waistcoat and the rectangular pocket welts, which had replaced the angled skirts and shaped flaps of older waistcoat styles. The revolution in men’s fashion was complete.
This waistcoat is made of off-white silk woven with wide vertical tone-on-tone satin and moiré stripes. It has a high standing collar and self-faced revers, or front edges that are meant to turn back. The waistcoat has a straight base and is cut to end just below the waist. A rectangular pocket welt at waist level on each front is bound on the upper and side edges with the same metallic silver tape that binds the neck, center front, and front hem edges. The tape is now black with tarnish. Eleven small, flat, self-covered buttons are sewn from the chest to the base along the right front edge. The waistcoat is fully lined and backed with natural-colored cotton. Two pairs of tape ties are sewn onto the back to adjust the fit. The overall front length from the shoulder seam to hem, not including the collar, is 25.5 in. (64.8 cm). The collar height is 2.5 in. (6.4 cm).
To see a fashionable man wearing a waistcoat that is similar to this one, link to the portrait of Connecticut merchant Elijah Boardman, 1789, by Ralph Earl at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Then read an account of the violent death of General Lingan, the man who wore the waistcoat shown here, by linking to An exact and authentic narrative, of the events which took place in Baltimore, on the 27th and 28th of July last., 1812 at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
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
1782 - 1788
Lingan, James MacCubbin
Place Made
used in
United States: District of Columbia, Washington
overall--sh seam/hem: 25 1/2 in; 64.77 cm
collar: 2 1/2 in; 6.35 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Cornelia P. Randolph and Elizabeth G. Randolph Calvert
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Costume
Clothing & Accessories
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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