|Wedding waistcoat, 1808; MMA 2009.300.7449 [OASC]|
Toward the end of the first decade of the century, the openings above the buttoned areas in both tended to be shorter and narrower, and around 1812 they began to appear sometimes almost fastened up to the neck. The standing collar was much shorter by this point, no longer covering the shirt. (In formal dress, waistcoats retained the longer, angled hems and types of embroidery that had been worn in the later eighteenth century.)
Around 1814-1815, the fashionable male figure began to have a distinctly nipped-in waist, which could be reflected in the cut of the waistcoat or in padding added to the chest. Emphasizing this, they would generally be buttoned only at the bottom, the shirt's jabot bursting from the opening. The waisted effect increased and continued through the 1820s, though the fashionable waist was located lower toward the end of that decade.
At first the trend of only buttoning waistcoats around waist level had no effect on cut, but at the end of the 1810s the construction changed: buttons and buttonholes were placed only on the lower half or two-thirds of the opening, and the front edges themselves might be cut on a curve so as to keep the lengthened lapels narrow all the way up, with only a slight notch.
|"Waistcoat of gros de Naples with pearl buttons, lined with a contrasting color," Petit Courrier des Dames, ca. 1835; NYPL 802030|
Very little change occurred over the rest of the 1830s, but the unnotched shawl collar began to be more prevalent at the end of the 1830s; the angled breast pocket seems to have begun to appear between 1840 and 1845. Lower points without buttons reappeared after 1840 as well, whether single- or double-breasted, and while very narrow lapels remained in use wide ones were seen as well, more and more frequently toward the end of the decade.
|Wedding waistcoat, 1846; MMA 1985.363.6 [OASC]|
The greatest change in the mid-1850s was that a pinched male waist was no longer fashionable. The chest was still to be rounded, still enhanced with padding, but the defined difference between waist and hips was smoothed out. Vests less commonly flared below the waistline.
|Waistcoat, ca. 1865; MMA 1979.346.47 [OASC]|
Around this point, it becomes very difficult to find images of men's waistcoats, as it was common to keep the coat fully buttoned, or just fastened at the top, during the day. Magazines aimed at gentlemen and their tailors, however, such as the Gentleman's Magazine of Fashion, made an effort to show or at least describe them, and it's clear that the era of the three-piece suit had begun: many waistcoats were made in the same fabric as a coat and trousers. When not made to match, vests were generally plain, not in the bright patterns and colors of prior decades. Their forms stopped changing, pointed lower edges and no (occasionally notched) lapels remaining most common through the early twentieth century, though double-breasted vests with flat lower edges were also worn. (A second breast pocket seems to have been frequently added after the turn of the century.)
Formalwear fossilized to an even earlier shape, with shawl collars and deep necklines. White and black fabrics were the only ones used - for, respectively, white and black tie.
|Howard Fenton Ross's wedding portrait, 1905; CHM 1983.15.8|