M1351 | Waistcoat

About 1850, 19th century
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Waistcoat (30)
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Keys to History

During the 19th century, women of all social classes devoted countless hours at home to making men's clothing. The production of utilitarian items such as shirts was considered both a duty and a necessity. In middle-class homes, sewing highly decorative articles was as much a demonstration of virtuoso needlework skill as an expression of compliance with dominant social expectations of women.

Patterns for men's embroidered waistcoats, smoking caps, slippers and suspenders were published in women's magazines throughout the 19th century. Often incorporating needlework techniques, bright colours and floral designs commonly used for women's clothing, the finished garments may have reflected the maker's taste as much as the wearer's.

Domestic production became nearly obsolete once ready-made clothing could compete on quality, fit and price. As increasing numbers of women entered the workforce in the late 19th century, home sewing declined. By the 20th century, women still made clothes for men, but they were as likely to be sewing in a factory as at home.

  • What

    Berlin work, seen in this waistcoat, was a form of counted-thread wool embroidery on canvas.

  • Where

    Berlin work, as its name suggests, originated in Germany.

  • When

    Berlin work was introduced in the early 19th century as an alternative to more difficult needlework techniques and remained popular throughout the century. This waistcoat was made around midcentury.

  • Who

    This waistcoat is thought to have been made by Lady Jane Franklin, wife of Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, as a gift for Sir George Simpson.