It was not until the 1750’s and 60’s that sleeves on waistcoats were abandoned by the upper classes. The lower orders continued wearing the sleeved waistcoat as a jacket until the end of the 1700s. Stand collars started appearing from the 1760s and by the 1790s waistcoats finished at the hip (‘square cut’) as opposed to the thigh skimming A-line of previous decades.
For the aristocracy the most sublime garments arrived in the form of court dress. Court or formal dress were garments worn for important or royal occasions and not worn day to day.
In the Snowshill collection some fabulous examples of court dress have survived in the most incredible condition. Look at the images below; the colours and sparkle are just as vivid as they were over 300 years ago. Just look at the craftsmanship, and sheer labour, that has gone into the construction of these incredible items. Exquisite!!!
The conservation record that accompanies this incredible 1770-80 court waistcoat describes the garment as follows:
Front material: Ribbed, cream silk
Back material: Linen
Lining: Linen, with cream ribbed silk facing to foreparts
Cut: With straight front line, slanting away below waist, overlapping back stepped stand collar, two pockets with curved flaps, laced back
Trimmings: Extensive embroidery with flowers and leaves in multi-colour silk, silver threads, sequins and paste glass jewels. Whole surface scattered with sequins. Three false buttons on each pocket (one missing)
The eighteenth century preoccupation with the natural world is evident in the elaborate decorative schemes of this waistcoat. Such beautiful garments were designed to reflect the wealth and status of its wearer. From the 1730s onwards we begin to see the cut of mens coats alter to form a curvilinear line from the chest to expose and display beautifully made waistcoats (see matching court coat below).
The fastenings of the waistcoat above is detailed in the conservation record as follows; Fastenings: 11 embroidered buttons, 10 button-holes, front fastening
As if the waistcoats were not spectacular enough the wearer would almost certainly have worn a coat just as ornately embellished, although not necessarily always ‘matching’ in the modern sense with completely identical colour and/or pattern.
The coat that accompanies the beautiful Snowshill waistcoat is just as spectacularly decorated and does have a matching embroidery scheme. Notice the curved line of the coat, designed to reveal the wearers waistcoat to optimum effect.
The woven corded silk is striped with silver threads. Jane Ashelford writes in her book, The Art of Dress: clothes through history, 1500 – 1900, when garments such as these went out of fashion gold and silver wire was extracted from the clothes and resold to the laceman to be reused. The cost of the recycled wire depended on its weight.
Fabric: Woven corded silk, striped with silvery/grey. Cuffs cream ribbed silk. Sable brown.
Lining: Cream twilled silk, plain silk in sleeves.
Cut: Close-fitting, knee-length. Curved front line, edge-to-edge, back vent. Triple pleats at side vent, partially stitched. Stepped, stand-up collar. Narrow fitted sleeves, with deep-open cuffs. Pocket each side with deep scalloped cuff and 3 false buttons. Inner flap of lining fabric for fastening.
Trimmings: Extensive embroidery with flowers and leaves in multicolour silk, silver threads, sequins and paste jewels. Embroidered strip applied to sleeves and back. Whole surface scattered with sequins. Whole surface scattered with sequins (many now missing). 3 false buttons on cuff. Hip buttons.
Fastenings: 10 large buttons with 3 button holes above waist. Buttons and silver thread pastes and sequins.
Alterations: Applied strips of embroidery, possibly added for extra decoration.
Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: clothes through history, 1500 – 1900. London: The National Trust, 1996.
Bradfield, Nancy. Costume in Detail, women’s dress 1730 – 1930.London, Eric Dobby publishing, 1968.
Cunnington, Phillis. Your Book of Seventeenth and Eighteenth century costume. London: Faber and Faber, 1970.
Mackenzie, Althea. The National Trust, Berrington Hall, July 2013.