Machine-knitted silk, with silk placket and pearl buttons, hand- and machine-sewn
Museum no. T.168-1960
Given by B.W. Owram
Vests became fashionable during the 1840s and were often described as 'undershirts'. Men had previously worn under-waistcoats for extra warmth. Vests and pants were worn next to the skin under the shirt or trousers.
By 1894 a range of styles was available, including ventilated waistcoats of lambswool with perforations under the arms, silk undershirts and vests made of lambswool. Many men preferred to have the vest and pants combined in one. These were known as combinations and became very popular in the 20th century.
Vests were made in linen, cotton and merino, but machine-knitted silk was fashionable with the wealthy and also for summer wear. Undervests of natural coloured wool or cellular cotton were also popular, as these fabrics allowed the skin to breathe. Such materials were seen by dress reformers as the healthy alternative to silk, which they claimed trapped harmful chemicals close to the skin. By the late 19th century vests were available in a range of colours, including peach, flesh tint, lavender, light blue and heliotrope.
A typical gentleman probably owned several sets of vests and underpants. They were often initialled with the name of the owner so they could be recognised during the laundry process. By 1906 the vast majority of men dispensed with underwear altogether in the summer months.