In an 1891 newspaper advertisement (published in Manitoba, Canada) there is a reference to "wool 'health' wests in girls and ladies" which on first glance looks like a spelling error but is repeated in other ads in the same year. Unfortunately, this is a very difficult combination of simple words to search for, does anyone have a reference for a definition of this garment term?

Scan of original advertisement


It's almost sure to be a misspelling of vest. In the nineteenth century, at least in London, /v/ and /w/ were either interchangeable, or they were replaced by a sound in between. Witness Sam Weller.

  • A misspelling may be likely, but it appeared to be deliberate use of an alternate spelling. I was curious as to whether there might have been a reason, like success versus succefs indicating an upper class eduction for a Hudson's Bay trader. – moberley Nov 9 '11 at 19:49
  • @moberley: Misspelling is perhaps the wrong word. Phonetic spelling might be more accurate. I know nothing of the accents of Hudson's Bay traders, but might not that 'f' be a long 's'? – Barrie England Nov 9 '11 at 19:52
  • I don't have a written reference, but I learned that detail from someone who worked at Parks Canada playing a mid-19th century gentlemen. The dialect coach taught him to pronounce that particular spelling to sound historically appropriate. I mentioned it because the spelling choice indicated information about the writer (such as class). I thought perhaps the spelling choice in the advertisement might carry some added information as well. – moberley Nov 9 '11 at 20:10
  • 2
    What about the 'health' part? – Mitch Nov 9 '11 at 20:56
  • 1
    Regarding v/w, also consider Wagner and Piggly Viggly. Meanwhile, could "health vest" be a strange euphemism for "corset?" – fluffy Nov 9 '11 at 21:53

Oxford English Dictionary, under "vest" does list the spelling "west" from the 17th century as dialect. From 1712:

Payd for mackin a west and briches for gouddins child, [£]0. 1. 6.


While west might be an alternative spelling for vest, it might also be a local or regional term for weskit or waistcoat (which at the time was typically pronounced "weskit"), formed as a sort of contraction of weskit, or a blending of vest and weskit.


On the "Health" part of the name:

In this era there was a theory that sweating was good for the health. Ballplayers used to train in wool uniforms to get in some sweating. This might be the reason for the 'health', as a wool vest would be considerably warmer than lighter fabrics.

It could also just be warmer to avoid colds and chills.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.