What is this waistcoat called en Francaise?
February 22, 2017 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Reviewing a series of mugshots of French Anarchists from the 1890's, I noticed that a very large percentage of them are wearing what appears to be the same style of knitted double-breasted waistcoat. I have questions:

1. What might this exact style of waistcoat called, in English or preferably French?
2. Where might I find color examples of such a coat and/or historical examples?
3. Why would these fellows, whose occupations are generally tradesmen but not exclusively, be wearing what apppears to be the exact same item of clothing?
posted by Chrischris to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
If no one here knows, try emailing the Palais Galliera, which seems to be Paris's main museum of costume. Others are listed here.
posted by zadcat at 8:44 AM on February 22, 2017

Knitted sweaters (with sleeves) like that are generally called gilets (singular gilet) in French. While the general style of them all is similar, they are emphatically not identical. There is a wonderful diversity of cabled knitting in that selection of sweaters.

Knitting history in France is pretty well overlooked, unfortunately. There's not a lot online about it. The Palais Galliera is more focused on high-end fashion; you might have more luck trying to contact the Lyon Textile Museum. For background: Paris is France's capital of high fashion. Lyon is a millenia-old center of international textile trade and history that covers all societal classes. As just one example, if you've heard of Jacquard weaving, you have heard of Lyon.
posted by fraula at 10:54 AM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, another proper term in English would be cardigan, which originally referred to a sleeveless vest. Same word in French, but gilet is more commonly used. Indeed, if you click through to the French article on the cardigan you can see that one of its other names in French is gilet cardigan. (In reality no one uses the word cardigan, everyone calls them gilets.)

The history in the English wiki article is quite good. As to why people would be wearing similar clothing, we still do that today.
posted by fraula at 11:07 AM on February 22, 2017

3. Re the exact same item of clothing: it's probably because it's part of their prison uniform. Since their mugshots.
posted by jouke at 11:10 AM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the leads, Fraula. Strangely, I've spent a good part of the day trawling through textile and clothing archive files and have yet to see anything even remotely resembling these garments. And yet, all of these fellows are wearing a variation of them. I've tried cardigan, gilet, chandail, strickjacke... These pictures are from 1894, and I can't understand why there is not a single example of this style anywhere to be found. Judging from the cordage (piping) and the fairly precise buttonhole position and finishing a s well as the button placement, I'm pretty sure these are commercially manufactured garments.

These are not prison uniforms. These are Bertillon System identification cards, meant to be used internally to identify suspicious characters, not mugshots in the sense we have of them today...
posted by Chrischris at 11:21 AM on February 22, 2017

I'm sure it looks precise and exact to someone unfamiliar with sewing and knitting, but as a seamstress and knitter:
- the buttons are not precise and are placed differently on nearly every single garment
- it's not piping (except for the one that's been enlarged), just a fabric hem, and is clearly handmade.
- the cables (knitting techniques) are different on all of them
- the only thing that's similar is that they're double-breasted. This is not complex, but it is quite warm and looks nicer than a regular sweater.

Knitting patterns have been around a very long time. It's likely that the base pattern (shape, sleeves) was shared by people. France, like most countries, has a long history of spinning, weaving, and knitting; these show all the signs of being handmade to my eyes.
posted by fraula at 11:33 AM on February 22, 2017 [10 favorites]

I think you are less looking for a waistcoat and more looking for a full cardigan. At least three or four of these fellows are not wearing a jacket over and you can see the sleeves. At least one of them is actually wearing a waistcoat underneath this cardigan. It looks like someone took a traditional indigo-dyed Channel Island gansey and modeled it in a waistcoat style. The knitting patterns certainly are gansey-esque. Sometimes it's called gansey, jersey, guernsey. You don't see cables like in Irish fisherman's sweaters, mostly rather flat decoration, like patterns made from perls and maybe false cables and other less dimensional stitches. And often in dark indigo dye colors. I'm not sure if this helps but it might nudge you on to the correct path.

An image of a gansey

A gansey in a museum collection
posted by Foam Pants at 2:21 PM on February 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Googling "double breasted cardigan" brings up similar garments from Urban Outfitters and Ferragamo and others.

It seems like a light wool cardigan variation.
posted by littlewater at 3:22 PM on February 22, 2017

I found this similar knitted jacket which is described as "1900's French Survivor Double Breasted Knitted Cardigan Jacket, All Wool, Original Repairs". It looks to me in the same family as your mystery vests/jackets, I think the changed collar detail could be either a change in fashion, or an indication that one or the other is hand or machine made; but the over all look of the garment (knitted, with a fabric bound edge, overall knitted pattern) is maybe related. Looks a nice snug thing!

I was looking at some naval garment stuff too, might be something there. The double breasted thing reminds me of all those naval coats.

Interestingly, on the same sale aggregating site I found the knitted one, is this woven cotton version. It doesn't have the clever double top button to hold down the corners, but it does have the same simple collarless neck opening of your examples. It would be useful if we could find some more pictures of different French men from the same era, to see what their cardigans looked like, because I think that maybe this is one of those cases where people from a similar area or occupation tend to have clothes that look alike, like this nice image of Aran fishermen.
posted by glitter at 7:48 PM on February 22, 2017

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