Worn by Wearer Once Known
Re-Worn by Dare de LaFemme
Waistcoat, Europe or North America, c. 1790–1810, fine plainweave cotton with woven design, lined and backed with coarser plainweave cotton, with plainweave silk facings Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Gift of Margrethe J. Crowe Birch and Ian H. Birch (Queens ’37 Science), 1989 (C91-716.02), Made by Maker Once Known
Dare de LaFemme’s Waistcoat, Kingston, 2023, synthetic velvet, gold-thread embroidery and metal buttons. Made by Jessica Dykins
Over the final decades of the eighteenth century, aesthetics evolved from the frothily ornate Rococo style into comparatively pared-down Neoclassicism influenced by ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture. The materials, shape and cut all point to this waistcoat being made and worn sometime between 1790, when this transformation roughly began in earnest, and 1810, the height of the Neoclassical period.
The simple colour-scheme and, particularly, the white cotton were emblematic features of the neoclassical, directly inspired by popular contemporary perceptions of Greco-Roman civilization. Ancient Greek sculpture, in particular, was originally highly coloured, but had long since lost most of its paint to reveal the white marble underneath, which became strongly associated with classical civilization.
At this time, cotton was in the process of becoming the dominant textile throughout Europe and North America, being less costly, easier to care for and more versatile than many alternatives such as linen, wool and silk, while still considered highly fashionable. The repealing of bans on cotton in France and England in the 1770s along with the beginnings of domestic production in those countries opened the floodgates of the cotton trade and consumers’ access to it. (See History Is Rarely Black or White. The cotton boom brought dire environmental and political consequences with the expansion of cotton plantations and human enslavement).
Carolyn Dowdell, Dress Historian
The waistcoat is nearly straight and angular, which is more typical of the early nineteenth century, rather than being shaped through the chest and with a cutaway bottom as was more typical during the Rococo period. The length is somewhere in between the two periods being shorter than the thigh-length waistcoats of much of the eighteenth century but longer than the waist-length ones of the early nineteenth century. The standing collar is also a more neoclassical feature appearing first in the 1790s and continuing into the 1820s.
The waistcoat’s decorative pattern, meant to mimic earlier hand-embroidered examples, was woven into the cotton cloth with metallic threads to the shape of the waistcoat fronts, collar, neckline and pocket flaps, a common practice for waistcoats throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The design being woven may point to a garment of lesser elite status: the metallic threads and woven pattern could be more costly than plain fabric or printed designs; however, it would be less expensive than a hand-embroidered garment.
Carolyn Dowdell, Dress Historian
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