18th Century Printed Waistcoats

Some waistcoats were made of fabrics that were printed to shape – that is, the fabric was printed to be cut out and used as a waistcoat-front, with all of its embellishments in place. Others are made of chintz or calico fabrics in colorful floral designs; these remind me of Hawaiian aloha shirts. I’ve grouped the extant printed waistcoats as printed-to-shape waistcoats (and waistcoat-fronts) and other printed waistcoats.

It’s possible that some of these were made to go with banyans and morning gowns, for gentlemen’s undress wear; this is certainly the case for Gemeentemuseum Den Haag 1037659 and Christies Sale 5577, Lot 13, and the presence of false waistcoat-flaps in other banyans suggests that this practice was not unheard-of.

However, they could have been worn in other contexts too, as under a coat or jacket. (None of the printed waistcoats in the descriptions below reference anything banyan-like.) In The Recruiting Serjeant, or, Brown Bess Sooner Than Bigg Belly’d Betty, the recruit seems to be wearing a chintz waistcoat under his jacket.

Waistcoats in printed fabrics (yard goods)

(Somewhat related: V&A IS.20-1976 is made of a chintz printed in India c. 1770-1775 and made up as a waistcoat in the 19th century.)

Printed-to-shape waistcoats & waistcoat-fronts

  • Figure 4.7 in For the heat is beyond your conception for a coverlet made from uncut linen fabric printed with a waistcoat pattern; Hurst also describes printed jackets and stamped jacket patterns.
  • V&A IS.9-2012, waistcoat front of chintz with floral border and conch shell motifs, embroidered with silver-wrapped silk threads, made in India (Coromandel Coast) for the European market c. 1740
  • V&A 1583-1899, a long-sleeved waistcoat with a blue floral printed cotton front, Swiss, 1750-1760
  • Manchester 1983.619, a waistcoat in cream cotton printed with a Stormont (tiny dot) pattern, 1770-1775. Identifying Printed Textiles in Dress 1740-1890 describes this as a “copper-plate printed-to-shape waistcoat, around 1770-1790,” and provides more detailed information about this waistcoat and other printed-to-shape garments.
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1993-338, waistcoat in plate-printed linen tabby printed to shape with a meandering floral vine pattern, England, 1770-1785
  • V&A 82-1899, cream printed cotton corduroy waistcoat fabric, English, 1775-1799
  • Cooper Hewitt 1962-54-18-a/c, an uncut waistcoat printed on cotton, 1785-1795
  • Christie’s Sale 5473, Lot 41, an unusual gentleman’s cotton Newmarket waistcoat printed with trompe l’oeil tassels in black, 1790s, probably English (compare to V&A CIRC.127-1963 and V&A T.76-1962, which have similar designs but use embroidery and printed trim)
  • Cooper Hewitt 1962-54-17, an uncut waistcoat printed on cotton, France, c. 1795

Descriptions of print waistcoats

  • “one printed waistcoat” (Trial of William Billet & Richard Bevas, 13th January 1764, Proceedings of the Old Bailey)
  • “three gold printed waistcoat shapes … one gold printed waistcoat shape” (Trial of Luke Cannon et al., 20th February 1771, Proceedings of the Old Bailey)
  • “three gold printed waistcoat shapes, value 18 s.” (Trial of William Siday, 29th April 1772, Proceedings of the Old Bailey)
  • “THOMAS WALKER was indicted for stealing, on the 1st of May, a printed cotton waistcoat, value 4 s. the property of Thomas Sanders. The prisoner was seen taking the waistcoat from the prosecutor's shop door, and was taken directly with it.” (Trial of Thomas Walker, 25th June 1788, Proceedings of the Old Bailey)
  • “one printed cotton waistcoat, value 4 s.” (Trial of Ann Hannaway et al., 14th January 1789, Proceedings of the Old Bailey)
  • “a printed kerseymere waistcoat” (Norfolk Herald, August 31, 1797)

Additionally, there are several descriptions of calico waistcoats that could have been made of printed cotton, but the word calico can mean a plain cotton or a printed textile, and I am not 100% sure that these descriptions mean to indicate a printed design on the fabric. (Here, I’m focusing on descriptions of boys and men; it’s possible that women’s jackets or shortgowns were identified as waistcoats in some of these records, as in the case of a young woman named Nanny who “had on, and took with her, a calico waistcoat and petticoat” in the Virginia Gazette, July 21, 1775.)