Black Wool Vest
The vest was an essential part of a gentleman's wardrobe in the 19th Century. It was only ever dispensed with by men doing hard manual labor--though they often sported one as well.
In the 1840s to the 1860s, colorful vests, often of patterned Chinese silk were popular, especially in the South and the West. They are now associated with gamblers, but they had a wider appeal in their time. People like gamblers were the last to give them up.
From the 1870s on, vests tended to be black for wear with frock coats, morning coats or evening dress coats, which of course, were also black by that time. When worn with a sack suit, they would generally be of a color to match the suit. Evening vests were cut low to show off the shirt. In the 1860s, the day vest was also often fairly low cut with a broad shawl collar. From the 1870s, the day vest would tend to be fairly high cut and have a small, notched lapel. This vest is of that later style, which persisted in more formal wear until the 1930s.
There are a few points of difference between 20th Century vests and 19th Century vests. 19th Century vests usually (though not always) had lapels, either in a shawl or notched style. They also nearly always had a lower hem that was parallel to the ground, rather than the modern vest which tapers downward in front.
See more photos of original garments
These are some photographs of a late 19th Century day vest in my collection. Click on the images for a larger view.