Looking at trends in how people posed for portraits through the ages can reveal a lot about how society has shifted over the years. Today it’s the duckface, in the sixties it was flashing a peace sign, and in the nineteenth century it was… shoving your hand through the gap between the buttons of your waistcoat. 


This was such a phenomenon that people with advanced degrees have written actual scholarly articles about it. Why did gentlemen of the 17-and-1800s do this? Here are some theories.

1. The subject had a stomachache.
2. The artist didn’t feel like painting hands.
3. It was a pose implying “manly boldness tempered with modesty.”
4. It was a throwback to common themes in Greek and Roman sculpture and portraiture, especially when depicting politicians and respected orators.
3. Social mores of the time deeming putting one’s hands in one’s pockets rude. I don’t really see how sticking a hand inside your clothes is less rude, but times have changed.

Whatever his reasons, Napoleon is one of the most famous offenders. In several of his official portraits there he is, gazing regally into the ‘camera’ while groping his own chest. Ah, dignity.

In any case, I’m not sure why this present-day New Yorker was pulling a Napoleon. Maybe he had an itch.

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One thought on “The Art of Style by Kit Mills 024: Old Habits

  1. This is incredible! I find myself often mimicking the same pose, particularly when I’m walking. I had (and suppose still have) NO idea where I got this from. I can’t recall seeing this much, if ever, but sure enough, if it’s chilly and I’m wearing a light, buttoned up coat, my right hand always gravitates toward the opening across my chest. I find it to be awkward and feel embarrassed that I naturally want to rest my hand there (especially as a woman). I can’t explain why, but I just love this pose. Thanks for this post— enlightening!

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