“A” for Appearance: The Culture of Clothing. “The Art of Tailoring”

“There is nor Church nor private in the Western Indies, who does not consume this kind of gold silk brocade; it has then to be considered for significant and its consumption shall rather increase than diminish, especially on occasions where vice-royalties looking for pomp and glory will walk through Mexico without wearing the golilla.” (Translated from Jean de Monségur, 1709, Chap. XXXVIII)

Pérez de Holguín, The Entrance of Don Diégo Morcillo, Viceroy of Peru, in the city of Potosí, in 1716, Bolivia, 1716. Painting, oil on canvas, 240 x 570 cm. Madrid, Museo de América, Inv 00087
Pérez de Holguín, The Entrance of Don Diégo Morcillo, Viceroy of Peru, in the city of Potosí, in 1716, Bolivia, 1716. Painting, oil on canvas, 240 x 570 cm. Madrid, Museo de América, Inv 00087

In early modern Europe, a man’s complete suit consisted of a coat (long vest or justaucorps), a vest (or waistcoat) and breeches. The so-called “three-piece suit” (or habit à la française) was used for formal dress from the end of the 17th century and continued throughout the 18th century. The general shape of the formal suit underwent noticeable changes by the end of the 18th century. Beginning before the 1770’s, the main modifications occurred on pockets, sleeves, on the side and back pleats of the coat, and also including the addition of a narrow collar to the coat so that, by the end of the 1780’s the masculine silhouette looking more slender. With respect to variety and every-changing fashion, France and England enjoyed the best reputation in men’s tailoring. In his book on tailoring written for the Encyclopedia and published by the Académie des Sciences in 1769, Garsault describes the “French suit” as the European formal dress for men and he uses it to demonstrate the complexity of the art of tailoring. Accordingly to Garsault the three-piece suit is the single most complicated piece of work for a tailor as it calls on every one of the principles of his art.

Parts of a man’s waistcoat, Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, 909.21.2.A, B, C.
Parts of a man’s waistcoat, Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, 909.21.2.A, B, C
Parts of a man’s waistcoat, Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, 909.21.2.A, B, C.
Parts of a man’s waistcoat, Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, 909.21.2.A, B, C

The parts of a man’s waistcoat (ROM 909.21.2.A, B, C), originated from France and dated 1713-15, are made of a salmon pink silk brocaded lampas of gold and silver threads, with accents of pink, blue and yellow. The multicoloured silk is designed to fit the waistcoat’s pattern, and woven to shape. It was ready for the tailor to cut and fit to the customer and sew together. The waistcoat, lined in silk, consists of two long fronts with a flaring skirt and side pockets flaps with three round buttons under each pockets flap. The brocaded design is typical of so-called “Bizarre Silks”; and consists of exotic flowers and fantastic foliage of leaves and fruits in a vertically undulating plant scroll.

In 18th-century New Spain, the male started to abandon the “Golille”; in the New World as well as in Europe, the three-piece costume was then used as the formal and fashionable male outfit.

Anonym, De lobo y negra, chino, Mexico, 1775-1800. Painting, oil on copper, 36 x 48 cm. Madrid, Museo de América, Inv. 00058
Anonym, De lobo y negra, chino, Mexico, 1775-1800. Painting, oil on copper, 36 x 48 cm. Madrid, Museo de América, Inv. 00058

Acknowledgements: Anu Liivandi and Alexandra Palmer, Royal Ontario Museum (Canada)


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