Monday, June 18, 2012

History's Runway: A Boy's Waistcoat, 1820

Embroidered Waistcoat
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Clothing for little boys over the age of seven, often emulated the outfits worn by grown men. By the end of the Eighteenth Century, trousers had replaced breeches as the main manner of dress for boys. While breeches were fitted to the knee, trousers were wider in the leg and were, therefore, looser, more practical and assuredly more comfortable for a little boy who was prone to be active and moving around. By the 1860’s, the fashion for prepubescent lads was to wear short pants. This was a style which came to the U.K. from the U.S. These short pants were worn with a variety of different shirts, collars, waistcoats and styles of jacket—depending on the occasion.

A waistcoat such as this one would have been a suitable choice for daily wear in the schoolroom of at home. Made between 1820 and 1830 in England, this waistcoat is lined with ivory-colored twill against a front of ivory satin. It boasts pockets and a shawl collar.

The collar and front of this handsome garment are hand embroidered in colored silks with a floral pattern of sprays of rosebuds, forget-me-nots and pansies. The back of the waistcoat is constructed of white cotton and features tapes and brass-bound eyelet holes to adjust the fit.

Now, we should note that this waistcoat was not made for a child—at first. It was made in an adult size. You may find the floral motif a little odd, but remember that flowers were assigned particular meanings which were well-known and understood. Let’s take a look at this, then. The roses mean love, and rosebuds, therefore, signify love in its early stages, or a confession of love. The pansies stand for thoughts; and the forget-me-nots symbolized true love or remembrance. In this combination, the flowers would have been suited for a betrothal gift to a gentleman. So, it’s a good possibility, that when this waistcoat was originally made, it was to be worn for a wedding. Years later, the garment was cut down to be given to a child. This was not unusual. Children were often given altered adult clothes since the cost of clothing was comparatively astronomical for most families.

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