Why did men pose with their hand in their jacket in the old days?

9 Answers

  • 10 years ago
    Best Answer

    Most of the photo historians we contacted discounted what we considered to be the most likely answer: These subjects were merely imitating Napoleon and what came to be known as the Napoleonic pose. Maggie Kannan, of the department of photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other experts we contacted felt that many of the reasons mentioned in the Imponderable above were more likely.

    Just as subjects couldn't easily maintain a sincere smile during long exposure times, so was trying to keep their hands still a challenge. Frank Calandra wrote us:

    The hand was placed in the jacket or a pocket or resting on a fixed object so that the subject wouldn't move it [or his other hand] and cause a blurred image. Try holding your hands at your sides motionless for fifteen minutes or so-it's not easy.

    Grant Romer adds that this gesture not only solved the problem of blurring and what to do with the subject's hands while striking a pose but forced the subject to hold his body in a more elegant manner.

    Still, if these technical concerns were the only problem, why not thrust both hands into the jacket? Or pose the hands in front of the subject, with fingers intertwined? John Husinak assured us that this particular piece of body language was part of a trend that was bigger and more wide-ranging than simply an imitation of Napoleon.

    Early portrait photographers understood the significance of particular gestures to the point where they were codified in many journals and manuals about photography. Some specific examples are cited in an article by William E. Parker in After Image, an analysis of the work of early photographer Everett A. Scholfield. Parker cites some specific examples: Two men shaking hands or touching each other's shoulders "connoted familial relationship or particular comradeship"; if a subject's head was tilted up with the eyes open or down with eyes closed, the photographer meant "to suggest speculative or contemplative moods."

    Harry Amdur, of the American Photographic Historical Society, told us that early photographers tried to be "painterly" because they wanted to gain respect as fine artists. Any survey of the portrait paintings of the early and mid-nineteenth century indicates that the "hand-in-jacket" pose was a common one for many prominent men besides Napoleon.

    Another boon to the Napoleonic pose was the invention of the carte de visite, a photographic calling card. Developed in France in the 1850s, small portraits were mounted on a card about the size of today's business card. Royalty and many affluent commoners had their visages immortalized on cartes. In France, prominent figures actually sold their cartes-ordinary citizens collected what became the baseball cards of their era. Cartes de visite invaded the United States within years.

    These photos were far from candid shots. Indeed, Roy McJunkin told Imponderables that carte de visite studios in the United States used theatrical sets, and that subjects invariably dressed in their Sunday best. The hand-in-jacket pose was only one of many staged poses, including holding a letter or bible, holding a gun as if the subject were shooting, or pointing to an unseen (and usually nonexistent) point or object.

    Some of the pretensions of this period were downright silly-silly enough to inspire Lewis Carroll to write a parody of the whole enterprise. In Carroll's poem, actually a parody of Longfellow's Hiawatha, Hiawatha is transformed into a harried, frustrated portrait photographer:

  • 5 years ago

    I saw an old confederate jacket in the Civil War museum in Petersburg, Virginia that had a pocket inside the lapel just in the exact position for the wearer to use for the hand-inside-the-jacket pose. I assume it was common in jackets, especially of military uniforms.

  • 4 years ago

    Men who posed with one hand in their jacket were all Freemasons!

  • 5 years ago

    I suspect the hand in vest pose also implied authority. I noted that when a gathering of prominent officials was convened only one of them had their hand in his vest. As I suspected, he was typically the chief authority figure in that gathering.

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  • 5 years ago

    The "hand-in" gesture signified "manly boldness tempered with modesty" and had been regarded as genteel behavior since the ancient Greek era.

  • Diane
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    it seems like he likes you alot but you never know. alot of guys will act like that just to get layed. im not saying to cut it off or anything, just to be cautious. and did you say he had a girlfreind? if so, that could throw a twist on the whole situation.

  • ?
    Lv 4
    3 years ago


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  • 5 years ago

    what utter bs

  • 10 years ago

    they were reaching to scratch their bollocks

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