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17th Century Waistcoat

Curated Submission
1649 - 1658
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
59.5 x 47
Materials & techniques
Silk; Embroidery
Gift of Violet Parker
Manitoba Crafts Museum and Library 99.00
This exquisite silk waistcoat was one of the first pieces added to the permanent collection of the Crafts Guild of Manitoba. It was donated by Violet Parker and is believed to have originated in England during the time of Oliver Cromwell’s reign (1649–58). The 17th century was a time of radical changes in England, and around the time of the English Civil War (1642–51) men’s clothing styles became closely associated with their wearer’s political and religious leanings. Supporters of the Catholic king, Charles I, were known as Cavaliers and favoured lavish clothing made with rich materials and ornate decoration. Roundheads, the largely Protestant supporters of the English Parliament, rejected these styles as extravagant. Roundhead fashion was influenced by Puritan thought and tended toward the simplicity of plain colours and minimal ornamentation.
This piece is an interesting example, as it seems to represent a transitional point between these two styles. The waistcoat was introduced by the Roundheads and slowly began to take precedence over the more elaborate doublet (a long-sleeved jacket popular since the 14th century). At the same time, this waistcoat can hardly be called plain; it is entirely covered with beautiful floral embroidery. This type of all-over floral decoration is a holdover from earlier Jacobean styles, which by this point had become significantly more restrained. Even the buttons have been richly worked, as each one is covered with delicate stitching. The cost of this type of waistcoat must have been significant, and its quality highlights the importance of fashion for men at this time.
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