An embroidered waistcoat from the Greenleaf collection is a fine example of English aristocratic style from the late eighteenth century. Although France dictated the fashionable silhouette for a man’s suit, which consisted of a coat, waistcoat and knee breeches, the English made subtle changes that allowed for more ease and comfort. The lifestyles of French and English aristocrats can explain the differing attitudes toward courtly dress. For French aristocrats, social activities typically revolved around indoor settings of courts and palaces, while many English aristocrats had strong ties to their large country estates. For this reason, English gentlemen favored practicality in dress and selected more sturdy fabrics that were suitable for outdoor activities that included plenty of walking and horseback riding. An Englishman’s suit also might have a more generous cut that allowed the limbs to move freely, thereby rejecting the restricted range of motion caused by the severe cut of men’s suits in France.
This English waistcoat has the qualities of a transitional style in men’s fashion that occurred between the Rococo and the Neo-classical periods. Although in a pale color favored by the Rococo, the waistcoat now has a shorter skirt and opens in a V-shaped cutaway. The bottom of the waistcoat touches the upper-mid thigh. The exuberant meandering floral garlands that were so popular in the Rococo period have now assumed a more symmetrical shape. The embroidered garlands are executed in such a way that three circles of flowers are made when the waistcoat is buttoned. The garland continues to meander gracefully around the neck and swoops down at the bottom to enclose both pockets. Carnations, morning glories, roses and violas, all humble flowers, are executed skillfully and naturalistically on a ribbed silk faille. The pocket flaps with three points are shaped to fit the cutaway opening. It is worked in satin and stem stitches with chain stitches made using a tambour hook. It is a simple yet elegant example of English fashion for men.