1. An Eighteenth-Century Waistcoat


By Zara Kesterton (@ZaraKesterton)

Figure 1: Waistcoat, silk, 1775-1795, HCVA2021/3. © University of Glasgow Object Handling Collection, 2021.

This eighteenth-century man’s waistcoat would look appropriately festive at a Christmas party, with its cream silk and rich embroidery glimmering under candlelight. It was likely made initially for use at the British court between c.1770 and c.1795. The waistcoat features a floral design with an innovative machine-made net applied over dark brown flowers surrounding the front edge and pocket flaps. Linen tapes stitched to the lining can adjust the waistcoat’s shape to the wearer’s body. Despite its fashionable decoration, the waistcoat is an unusual fusion of styles already falling out of use at the time of its making. It has a stand collar, typical of the late 1780s and beyond, but the ‘skirts’ of the waistcoat that extend beyond its waistline were no longer part of the fashionable silhouette by this time. This indicates that the waistcoat was probably made for court dress. At court, ‘fossilised’ styles from several decades earlier were often incorporated alongside modern techniques and decoration.[1]

At some point in the nineteenth century, the waistcoat was acquired by Harrison’s Theatrical Warehouse, who stamped the lining of the garment. The letters BOW refer to Bow Street, where Harrison’s occupied numbers 25 and 31, selling new and second-hand clothes as well as loaning theatrical costumes for amateur dramatic societies.[2] The waistcoat was altered at least once, possibly during its time as a stage costume. Intriguingly, there are spatters of blood on the lining. Perhaps it was worn by an actor injured in a swordfight on stage! 

Figure 2: Waistcoat lining, linen, 1775-1795, HCVA2021/3. © University of Glasgow Object
Handling Collection, 2021.

Today, the waistcoat forms part of the handling collection at Glasgow University, where lucky students (like me) can examine the garment close-up to develop their object analysis skills.

Figure 3: Detail of embroidery on waistcoat, silk, 1775-1795, HCVA2021/3. © University of
Glasgow Object Handling Collection, 2021.

[1] Alan Hopkins and Vanessa Hopkins, Waistcoats from the Hopkins Collection: C.1720-1950 (London: The School of Historical Dress, 2017), 76.

[2] ‘Advertisements’, Theatrical Journal 32, no. 1669 (December 1871): 392.

More images from the Dress and Textile Histories master’s at Glasgow University can be found at @uofgdresshistory.


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