Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The 18th Century Shirt

Author Susan Holloway Scott reports on the finer points, saying:
There are few historical garments more misrepresented than an 18th c. man's shirt. For European men from the middle ages into the mid-19th c., the shirt was not only an indispensable piece of clothing; it was a democratic one, too. The shirts worn by George III would have been cut exactly the same as the ones worn by his grooms, as well as by Thomas Jefferson, Beau Brummel, Tom Jones, and Mr. Darcy. You know what they looked like: silky, lace-trimmed shirts cut to open like a modern tux shirt, on everyone from those Founding Fathers in the bank commercials to Fabio.

Uh, no. Eighteenth century men's shirts didn't button down the front, and they never were made of silk. They pulled over the head with an opening slit to about mid-chest, and were fastened with two or three buttons at the throat. Shirts were geometric jigsaw puzzles, an elaborate series of rectangles cut without curved seams and designed not to waste even a scrap of a length of fabric. The sleeves were luxuriously full, 20" wide or more, pleated into dropped shoulders and wrist cuffs. Additional gussets for ease were placed under the arms, on the shoulders, and at the hem-slits. The collar, upper right, was another rectangle, soft and without interlining, whose final shape was determined by the neckcloth, cravat, or stock tied around it. Ruffles could be sewn into the neck slit and on the cuffs.

These shirts were wide, full, and long, reaching to the middle of the thighs. An average 18th c. shirt could be 60'" around the chest and 40" long. While some gentlemen wore under drawers, for most men a shirt was an all-purpose garment, with the long tales drawn between the legs to form underwear. Shirts were also worn for sleeping. As a result, shirts were frequently changed, and a man was judged by the cleanliness of his linen. (Read entire article)

1 comment:

lara77 said...

When one thinks there were no showers or plumbing I CANNOT imagine how often a wealthy or aristocratic man changed his shirts! And how "clean" were they when the laundress returned them to the Lord of the Manor? I am glad to be living in the days of plumbing and hot showers!