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Napoleon in His Study (1812), exhibiting the hand-in-waistcoat gesture.

The hand-in-waistcoat (also referred to as hand-inside-vest, hand-in-jacket, hand-held-in, or hidden hand) is a gesture commonly found in portraiture during the 18th and 19th centuries. The pose appeared by the 1750s to indicate leadership in a calm and firm manner. The pose is most often associated with Napoleon I of France due to its use in several portraits made by his artist, Jacques-Louis David, amongst them the 1812 painting Napoleon in His Study.[1] The pose, thought of as being stately, was copied by other portrait painters across Europe and America. Most paintings and photographs show the right hand inserted into the waistcoat/jacket but some sitters appear with the left hand inserted. The pose was also often seen in mid-nineteenth century photography.[2]


The pose traces back to classical times — Aeschines, founder of a rhetoric school, suggested that speaking with an arm outside one's toga was bad manners.[3] Arline Meyer, in her essay "Re-Dressing Classical Statuary: The Eighteenth-Century 'Hand-in-Waistcoat' Portrait," notes the pose being used in eighteenth century British portraiture as a sign of the sitter's breeding. Francois Nivelon's A Book Of Genteel Behavior of 1738 noted the hand-inside-vest pose denoted "manly boldness tempered with modesty."[3]

Appearance in photography[edit]

With the invention of photography, the pose continued but may have had an additional purpose in preventing blurring by maintaining the sitter's hand in a single place. The pose is commonly seen in photographs of members of the military, with a number of American Civil War photographs showing the pose, or indicated by three open buttons on a tunic.[4]



  1. ^ Meyer, Arline (March 1995). "Re-dressing classical statuary: The eighteenth-century `Hand-in-Waistcoat' portrait". Art Bulletin. 77 (1): 45–63.
  2. ^ Uwe Fleckner, "Napoleons Hand in der Weste: von der ethischen zur politischen Rhetorik einer Geste' ['Napoleon's hand in the waistcoat: from the ethical to the political rhetoric of a gesture'] Daidalos 64 (June 1997), 122-29
  3. ^ a b Holmberg, Tom. "Why is Napoleon depicted with his hand in his coat?". The Napoleon Series. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  4. ^ "Why Did Men Thrust Their Right Hand into Their Jackets in Old Photographs?". Imponderable. Retrieved March 20, 2015.