Waistcoat

The Monticello collection includes many items of clothing that belonged to Thomas Jefferson and other family members. Among the most interesting items is a red silk under waistcoat believed to have been Jefferson's.Jefferson's under waistcoat. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.

During the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, under waistcoats were worn by men of every economic status as a middle layer of clothing. They were worn on top of shirts and were designed to be seen peeking out from underneath an outer primary waistcoat. This particular Jefferson under waistcoat, however, is very different from most others.

Waistcoat lining, made from initialed stocking. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, IncJust as Jefferson built and then later altered Monticello "with a greater eye to convenience,"[1] he also modified some of his clothing to meet his changing needs. Jefferson's red under waistcoat was altered by the addition of a lining consisting of opened or flattened stockings sewn into the interior to make the garment warmer. Since the stockings were embroidered with "TI" stitched over "9.7.," we know they were one of Jefferson's pairs. The waistcoat was also shortened about five inches, making the bottom edge terminate at the waist. The original waistcoat was significantly longer and had a center back vent.

Waistcoat open to view lining. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.

These alterations changed how and when the garment was worn. When the waistcoat was new, it would have been part of a larger suit of clothing, possibly including a longer white woolen under waistcoat (also in Monticello's collection). The changes may have been made so that, later in life, Jefferson could wear the waistcoat under a shorter, newer-style waistcoat, which was perhaps not as warm as he wanted. Jefferson suffered greatly from the cold. In the winter of 1801, in a letter to William Dunbar, he lamented, "I have no doubt but that cold is the source of more sufferance to all animal nature than hunger, thirst, sickness & all the other pains of life & of death itself put together."[2] 

- Carrie Taylor, 2002

Further Sources

Footnotes

  • 1. Jefferson to Mann Page, May 16, 1796, in PTJ, 29:101. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 2. Jefferson to Dunbar, January 12, 1801, in PTJ, 32: 448-49. Transcription available at Founders Online.

Discussion

says

A small but telling detail about Jefferson that he would use old socks -- and ones that bore his initials no less -- as insulation for a garment that was altered to keep up with changes in fashion.

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