18th Century Uncut Waistcoats

Last updated: Nov 24, 2021

Waistcoats could often be made from embroidered, printed, or woven-to-shape waistcoat-fronts, known as “shapes”; a tailor could then add the back and lining, and assemble the waistcoat together to fit his client.

Such unfinished waistcoats were sometimes upcycled. Examples of this sort of reuse include a coverlet and an apron. V&A 568-1896

was a silk waistcoat shape embroidered around 1790 that was sewn into a theatrical costume in the last quarter of the 19th century.

The examples below show the panels before they were cut and shaped into waistcoats. They reveal how the form of the waistcoat evolved over the course of the 18th century. Most examples also feature pocket-flaps and button covers; some later 18th century waistcoat fronts also include revers, lapels, or collar pieces.

  • Met 2013.597a-g, panels from an early 18th century British waistcoat in linen with silk embroidery
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1991-148, an uncut waistcoat panel in linen with cotton whitework embroidery, Great Britain, c. 1715
  • V&A T.23-1951, an 18th century waistcoat front with the design inked on and the embroidery incomplete
  • A Catalogue of Part of the Valuable Spanish Silks and Other Effects of the St. Joachim Prize (1744) includes:
    “A yellow and ſilver waiſtcoat ſhape”
    “A green waiſtcoat ſhape with gold and colours”
    “A green and ſilver waiſtcoat ſhape, without backs”
    “A ſcarlet waiſtcoat ſhape, with backs, brocaded with gold and colours”
    “A green waiſtcoat ſhape, brocaded with ſilver and colours, with backs, skirts and cuffs for a coat”
    “A blue waiſtcoat ſhape, brocaded with gold and colours”
    “A green waiſtcoat ſhape, brocaded with ſilver and colours”
    “A blue waiſtcoat ſhape, with skirts and backs, brocaded with gold and colours”
    “A yellow waiſtcoat ſhape, brocaded with ſilver and colours”
    “A white waiſtcoat ſhape richly embroider’d with gold and colours”
    “A blue waiſtcoat ſhape embroider’d with ſilver and colours”
    “A blue waiſtcoat ſhape brocaded with ſilver and colours”
    “A green waiſtcoat ſhape with backs brocaded with ditto”
    “A white waiſtcoat ſhape, brocaded with gold”
    “A green waiſtcoat ſhape with backs, brocaded with gold and colours”
    “A yellow waiſtcoat ſhape, brocaded with ſilver”
    “A blue waiſtcoat ſhape, brocaded with gold, ſilver and colours”
    “A yellow waiſtcoat ſhape, brocaded with ſilver and colours”
    “A green waiſtcoat ſhape brocaded with ſilver and colours”
    “A green waiſtcoat ſhape brocaded with gold and colours”
    “A white waiſtcoat ſhape, brocaded with gold”
    “A white waiſtcoat ſhape, richly brocaded with gold”
  • V&A T.12&A-1981, France, c. 1750-1760; “Pair of waistcoat shapes for a man’s waistcoat, each a loom-width of ivory silk taffeta, tamboured in silk floss in shades of pink and green in a pattern of roses. Each shape outlines a curving neckline, shaped pocket and pocket flap and skirts reaching to the mid-thigh. Along the left front are 12 rectangles for the buttonholes. Each shape has a British customs” seizure stamp on the reverse [Custom House / SEIZED DOVER / GR II].”
  • Cooper Hewitt 1962-54-64, an uncut silk waistcoat front with chain-stitch embroidery, France, c. 1750-1800
  • Cooper Hewitt 1953-143-9-a/d, an incomplete linen waistcoat embroidered in silk chain stitches, France, c. 1750-1800
  • LACMA M.2007.211.814, a silk satin uncut waistcoat with silk embroidery, France, c. 1760
  • Cooper Hewitt 1962-54-30, an uncut waistcoat front in silk embroidered “with lush flowers and vegetation features a tranquil landscape with oxen and cows in pairs, with one standing, the other resting,” France, c. 1760-1770
  • Met 1981.14.6a, b, waistcoat front panels in metal thread embroidery and sequins on blue silk, 1760s
  • “Gold printed waistcoat shapes” among the goods stolen from “the dwelling-house of John Greenfield, on the 15th of December” in 1771 (Old Bailey)
  • Met 2009.300.2932, uncut waistcoat (habit à la disposition) in embroidered silk, France, c. 1760-1775
  • Kent State University Museum 1983.001.1302, uncut man’s waistcoat in multicolored silk floral embroidery, England, c. 1770; see also An Uncut 18th Century Waistcoat
  • Colonial Williamsburg 2017-296, an uncut cotton waistcoat panel with silk tambour embroidery, c. 1770-1780
  • V≈A T.68-1922, a pair of waistcoat shapes in cream silk satin, tamboured with colored floss and chenille, England, 1770s
  • Cooper Hewitt 1931-66-113, an uncut waistcoat embellished with pailettes, silver foil, metallic thread, and silk embroidery, late 18th century
  • Met 26.56.51, waistcoat panel, Italy
  • Museum Rotterdam 23258-A, an unfinished waistcoat in silk with floral silk embroidery, c. 1775-1785
  • State Library of New South Wales R 198, an unfinished waistcoat of Tahiti cloth (tapa) for Captain Cook to wear at court, had he returned from his third voyage, ca. 1779, embroidered by Mrs Cook; see also Replicating Captain Cook’s Waistcoat: Exploring the Skills of a Named Embroiderer during the Eighteenth Century and Captain Cook’s Inspirational Waistcoats
  • Met C.I.66.59.1a, b, silk waistcoat panels, probably British, c. 1780
  • Met C.I.66.59.2a, b, waistcoat panels in silk satin embroidered with silk, metal threads, and sequins, probably French, c. 1780
  • Met C.I.66.59.3a, b, silk waistcoat panels, probably British, c. 1780
  • Rijksmuseum BK-NM-12648, an uncut silk waistcoat front with silk and chenille embroidery, Netherlands, c. 1780-1790
  • Cooper Hewitt 1962-54-50, a waistcoat front probably embroidered in China for the French market, late 18th century; “below flowering blossoms and dainty sprigs is a scene of a violent cockfight.”
  • Rijksmuseum BK-KOG-2534, a cream-colored silk taffeta uncut waistcoat front with silk floral embroidery and silver thread and silver spangles and a painted pattern on the border, Netherlands, c. 1780-1795
  • Cooper Hewitt 1962-54-31, an uncut waistcoat embroidered with “various exotic plants and flowers and monkeys drinking rum and playing music,” France, c. 1780-1795
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1954-284,1&2, an uncut waistcoat panel in dark brownish-black silk with multicolor supplementary weft threads, made in France and (possibly) imported to Virginia, c. 1780-1795; “Design of tulips and smaller flowers, leaves, and buttonholes shapes woven on either side of the straight fronts. Below each pocket reserve is a scene with men, women, a child, and dog flanking a seated musician playing a pipe. Shapes for pocket flaps and circular button covers are woven into lower portion. The remainder of the ground is ornamented with small flying birds, insects, and leaf sprigs.”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1954-283, an uncut black silk waistcoat panel woven with floral and lace designs, made in France or England c. 1780-1795
  • Cooper Hewitt 1962-54-18-a/c, an uncut waistcoat printed on cotton, 1785-1795
  • Kerry Taylor Jun 18 2018, Lot 72, “An embroidered satin un-cut waistcoat panel, French, 1780s, consisting of two complete fronts with pockets and fourteen button covers, finely worked with roses, butterflies and other blooms in satin stitch, with the date 'Juillet 89' handwritten in ink”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1993-38, an uncut waistcoat panel in cream silk twill, embroidered in silk embroidery thread and silver metallic thread with sequins, made in France or England c. 1785-1790s
  • MFAH 87.151.A,.B, a man’s uncut waistcoat, silk satin with silk embroidery, France, c. 1785-1795
  • John Harding and Joseph Pocock accused of stealing “a waistcoat shape, value 10 s. another ditto, value 14 s.” from “the dwelling house of William Stevens, about the hour of eleven in the night, on the 20th of January” in 1789 (Old Bailey)
  • Cooper Hewitt 1962-54-32-a,b, an embroidered waistcoat front with “a bucolic scene with flowers and butterflies [and] two hunting hounds viciously attacking a wild boar,” France, late 18th century
  • John Jenkins accused of stealing “four kerseymere shapes for waistcoats, value 20 s.,” property of Samuel Nicholson and Robert Harrison, on April 1, 1791.
    “What do you know of these kerseymere waistcoats? [Mr. Scott, a warehouseman employed by Nicholson and Harrison, responded:] They are damaged in the printing, and returned; and therefore I believe they were never sold; and they are not in our stock now, where they ought to be; because, being damaged, they are unsaleable.” (Old Bailey); see also A treatise on calico printing, 1792
  • Cooper Hewitt 1962-54-57, an uncut waistcoat in black twill wool, embroidered with silks, France, c. 1790-1792
  • V&A 82-1899, France, 1790-1799; cream cotton velvet, woven in corduroy and “printed in black with two romantic genre scenes above the hem, swags of musical instruments, household utensils and dress accessories along each front edge, and architectural motifs over main body of waistcoat. The shape is worked with revers, welted pockets, 24 circular button covers.”
  • Cooper Hewitt 1962-54-17, an uncut waistcoat printed on cotton, France, c. 1795
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1987-719, an silk satin embroidered waistcoat panel with floral designs, made in France c. 1795 and probably owned by someone in Accomack County, Virginia