Embroidery Inspiration – Waistcoats and Doublets

This week’s embroidery inspiration is a popular one – waistcoats and doublets. Embroidered menswear seems to be a holy grail for many costumers, and it’s easy to see why. They are the height of men’s fashion, and one of the most complex and time consuming articles to reproduce.

Here is a brief timeline of embroidered doublets and waistcoats. I don’t do much research prior to 1500, so that’s when my timeline starts. There are gaps in this timeline, where metal trims and other embellishments were in fashion rather than embroidery. It ends in the 1800s, when menswear in general becomes much more sedate.

It is unusual to find a piece as old as this c. 1580 fencing doublet. It is embellished with gold and silver threads and some simple but effective silk embroidery. It seems in remarkable shape for its age and intended use. The Met, 29.158.175.Fencing Doublet, Leather, silk, linen, cotton, Western EuropeanThis doublet from around 1600 is much more ornate and features polychrome silk embroidery and goldwork. The Met has many views of this piece online, and I highly recommend their zoom feature. The Met, 23.30.3.Doublet, silk, European, EasternThis detail from a c. 1635-1640 doublet shows elaborate tone-on-tone embroidery. The design is subtle, yet impressive. V&A 177-1900

The 1700s are a little quiet for embroidery, focusing instead on fabrics, braids, and lace.  However, the 18th century more than makes up for it, and is possibly the most embroidered era of men’s fashion history. Here is an early 18th century waistcoat with brightly colored chenille embroidery. Manchester Art Gallery, 1953.455.

Both the Cooper Hewitt and The Met have a treasure trove of embroidery samples online. While they aren’t a pattern for the whole suit, they give you a good idea of the broad range of styles and colors available during the late 18th century and early 19th century.

I am always fascinated but saddened by uncut waistcoat panels like this one. They are great for study, but they never got a chance to be worn and fully enjoyed. This one is from the Kent State Museum. 

However, they also give you a chance to examine the back side of embroidery, which I find just as fascinating as the front. Man’s waistcoat c. 1780, the Met. C.I.66.59.1a, b Check out the collar on this one! It must have been up around his ears when worn. de Young Museum, 1925.421Man's waistcoat

This is a fairly understated waistcoat for the 18th century, but it makes up for it with a dashing embroidered sash and buckle. Manchester Art Gallery, 1987.88A bold embroidered waistcoat from 1825-1850. I’d love to know more about the man who wore this one. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1956-29-19.

Shapes have changed sifgnificantly by the 1860s, but the beautiful embroidery still remains. McCord Museum, M987.48.1M987.48.1

Sadly, after the 1860s, embroidery seems to fall out of fashion, and wildly patterned brocades take its place. The era of glorious embroidered waistcoats is pretty much over.

If you’d like to see more examples, I’ve pinned many examples of waistcoats to my Pinterest page, and will be sharing more throughout the week on Facebook.

Do you have a favorite embroidered waistcoat? If so, I’d love for you to share a link in the comments.


The book Waistcoats by the School of Historical Dress features 160 waistcoats in full color, and is an amazing resource.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Fashion in Detail* also shows detail views of several waistcoats and court suits.

This is a fun video about dating waistcoats.

Christine at Sewstine has a series of blog posts about her process for recreating waistcoats and frock coats with machine embroidery.

*Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you choose to make a purchase. These are marked with an * after the product name. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers, and I do not recommend products solely to get a commission.

2 Responses to “Embroidery Inspiration – Waistcoats and Doublets

  • Modern men need more embroidery in their lives. It’s just so joyous and snazzy! Just look at those killer doublets!

    • I totally agree! Maybe hipsters will be the ones to revive it?

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