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Full-size paper patterns with complete instructions and historical notes for 18th century men's shirts and drawers based on extant examples. Multisized to fit chests 32"-60". Embellishment suggestions included.
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Suggested Fabrics: 3 oz - 5 oz linen, white, natural or half-bleached
Medium shirt " 2¼ yards ~57" wide
Large shirt " 2¼ yards ~57" wide
Drawers 3 yards ~57" wide
all: linen or silk sewing thread, or equivalent
optional for all: bobbin lace, needlelace, or cutwork trim, silk embroidery floss
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Below is an excerpt from the historical notes you will receive as part of this pattern:
18th century Men’s Undergarments — Shirts and Drawers
The Origin of Shirts
Hot on the heels of the flowing garments of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance ushered in the Golden Age of the tailor's art. Clothing took on impossible shapes and radical forms, all controlled by the skill of these manipulators of fabric. Doublets were padded. Bodices were boned. The human form was hidden by what can most accurately be termed "textile architecture." Western Europeans were sailing around the world and discovering unknown lands. Certainly such beings weren't going to be restricted to traditional clothing shapes. So the clothes got more and more structured as the Age of Discovery went on.
But one element of dress harked back to its medieval antecedents: the shirt. Under the slashes and bones, the pinking and brocading, the shirt was still a very simple garment. Whether embroidered with blackwork or pleated and smocked, the shirt retained a simple elegance and basic shape which changed little between the 16th and 19th centuries.
A man's shirt from 16th century Italy (shown in Dorothy Burnham's "Cut My Cote") is made from a 27" wide length of linen folded in the middle and slashed for the head. A simple stand collar and tapering sleeves with long triangular underarm gores complete the garment. A shirt from the end of the 16th century and now housed in the Museum of Costume in Bath, England, is constructed similarly but the body is a whopping 38" wide and the stand collar is reinforced with triangular gussets at either side of the neck. The sleeves are simple rectangles 17 1/2" wide by 24" long and gathered at the wrist into cuffs that match the collar. The shirt is embroidered with black silks in bands on the chest and sleeves. A number of 18th century shirts from Pennsylvania are almost identical in design despite the time and distance that separates them from these European examples. The bodies of these shirts are roughly 30" wide by 80" long and they retain the same sleeves, collars, cuffs, and gussets of the 16th century shirts.
A shirt in the collection at Colonial Wiiliamsburg (Accession number G1974-268) is shown at right. It is made from 54-thread-per-inch linen and was constructed in the third quarter of the 18th century in England or America. It is 41” long and was made from a piece of linen 82” long with no shoulder seam. This piece of linen is approximately 30” wide, giving a chest measurement of over 58”. The shirt was sewn with tiny stitches so it could survive the frequent washing it would receive. The seam allowances and hem are tiny, measuring only 1/8”. These were sewn with backstitches and the raw edges turned under and flat felled. The left side seam consists of selvedges butted together and sewn with a whipstitch. This is a typical use of selvedges on shirts as far back as we have extant linen shirts.
Two patches of coarser linen are sewn inside the shirt as shoulder reinforcements. Each patch is roughly 8” wide by 13” long and straddles back to front over the shoulders. The patches are applied to the inside of the shirt, the raw edges turned under and slip stitches to the linen. Other shirts of the time period (and earlier) have a narrow strip of linen that runs along the shoulder ridge on both the inner and outer surface of the shirt. The shoulder ridge is a particularly vulnerable point on shirts constructed in this manner and experimental anthropology has shown us that unreinforced shirts tend to tear first on the shoulder ridge.
A shirt’s “tails” were formed by leaving the last 10” of the side seams unsewn. The top of this slit was often reinforced with a scrap triangle of linen to keep it from being a weak point.
Shirts were sometimes made by wrapping the linen around the body instead of over the shoulders. This creates a shirt with only one side seam, but it also creates a shoulder ridge seam that must be reinfoced.
Two handmade thread buttons on the collar and one on each cuff seems to be a common amount throughout the period.
There are not many lower class shirts extant as shirts were typically worn until they could not longer be patched. However inventories indicate that working men wore shirts made from coarse and undyed linen as well as striped linen, checked linen, and wool flannel. Cotton and muslin and fine are also present in inventories of richer men.
The work of Charles and Tandy Hersh reveals a crossection of the clothing worn in Cumberland County Pennsylvania in the years 1750-1800. Their research looked into probate accounts, wills, and inventories as recorded by the Registrar of Wills. These inventories were not only performed for wealthy people, but for all people to determine the size of their estates so that the disposition of their wealth would be legal. Even people who died intestate were subject to this process.
The Hershes found that shirts were far the most frequently mentioned garment in the inventories. A total of 169 shirts were counted in inventories between 1745 and 1774 and 803 between 1775 and 1799. A Carlisle tabacconist had twenty-nine in 1792 but the average over the period was four per inventory.
To get a better idea of the type of shirts common men wore during the 18th century, we can turn to the Admiralty Slop Contracts. Although the British Admiralty Slop Contracts only describe the clothing to be sold to seamen in the Royal Navy, this information gives us a great deal of information of the colours, fabrics, prices, and in later issues, size and shape of the clothing of the common sailor. When comparing this information with contemporary illustrations of sailors and other common men, reasonable extrapolations can be made about the clothing of the working man from the end of the 17th through the middle of the 18th century. As might be expected, the picture that emerges agrees with the shape and construction of the extant garments discussed above.
In the 1690s and 1702 contracts, the specification is simple for “Blue shirts“ at a price of 3 shillings and 6 pence. The 1706 contract calls for “Shirts of blew and white chequer'd Linnen, at the Rate of three Shillings and threepence each.” In 1717, the price went down somewhat: “Shirts of blue and white checkered linen. 2s 10d.” In 1724-5, the contracts ask for “Shirts of blue and checkered linen . . . 3s. 2d.” In 1731, we receive more information: “Shirts of Blue and White Checkered linen, to be made at least 40 in. long, and not less than 26 in. broad. The sleeves 20 in. long and 8 in. broad, with 4 buttons substantially sewed. -- 3s 6d.” And in the final contract we have, 1739-40, it calls for “Shirts of Blue and White Chequered linen, the sleeve 20 inches long and 8 in. broad, with 4 buttons. 40 long, 26 broad at the waist -- 3s 6d.”
The picture that emerges is fairly different from what we’ve come to expect -- white or natural-coloured shirts worn by men of all classes. Instead it seems that blue and white checked linen was in frequent use by the Slop Contractors. Remember that this is decades before the establishment of a uniform for the Royal Navy and that sailors were welcome to wear their own clothing onboard ship.
Further inspection shows us that not all slop shirts were blue and white either. Joseph Haycock’s Slop Shop in London was inventoried shortly after his death in 1699. For shirts, it lists:
3 mens large fine white shirts
12 white shirts more for men
6 boyes white shirts
2 womans shifts
56 mens shirts of several sorts
26 Holland shirts for men
24 boyes shirts
46 strip't shirts for men
30 strip't shirts for boyes
1 other shirt
Either Haycock was fresh out of blue and white checked shirts or he wasn’t supplying the Admiralty because there isn’t a checked shirt in the bunch. Of course the 1690s Slop Contract only specified “Blue shirts” and that may be why those were not counted but only listed in the inventory.
However, we can see by this single inventory the great variety of men’s and boy’s shirts -- fine white, white, Holland, striped as well as “other”.
Returning to extant shirts, there are a few museum pieces that have neck and sleeve ruffles from linen that has twice the threads per inch as the rest of the garment. These ruffles were cut four times longer than the neck opening and attached with tiny pleats. They were attached to the front slit opening, not to the collar. The cuff ruffles were attached directly to the cuff.
Shirts were worn long in the 18th century and paired with the baggy breeches that were worn throughout the period, many men saw no need for underpants. The long shirttails could be tucked between the legs and worn comfortably “diaper-style”. However there are a number of extant pairs of linen drawers and mentions in inventories of linen, cotton, and wool ones testifies to their existance. Drawers were worn in light fabrics for sweat protection in the summer and in wools for added warmth in the winter months.
There are not nearly as many extant pair of drawers in the late 17th through the 18th century as there are shirts in the historical timeline. However there are enough examples to give us an idea of both what was typical for wealthy and common men who wore drawers.
A burial at Quintfall Hill near Wick, Scotland contains an outer and inner pair of breeches, a pair of cloth hose and a detached shaped piece of cloth, the purpose of which is not known. All the clothing is brown homespun wool. A leather purse containing nineteen bawbees (Scottish sixpenny pieces) dating to the reigns of Charles II and William and Mary date the outfit to the 1690s.
The outer pair of breeches and bonnet are of a different material from the rest of the clothing. It is darker and more loosely woven of heavier yarn. The outer pair backs are cut full width of the cloth and there is no side seam. The front comes only to the middle of the thigh. This seam doesn’t show because of the pleating into the waistband. The legs are gathered into a waistband 32” around and 1 ½” wide. The waistband has a vent front and back. The front vent is 8” long and the back 9”. The waistband fastens at each vent with a large cloth button and buttonhole. At the knee there is a vent and ¾” hem. To each corner a tape is attached. The tape appears to have once been red and green patterned. There is one pocket to the right of the front end 5 ½” deep and 3 ½” wide. It appears to have been added later by a non-expert. It is possible there was a similar pocket on the inner breeches but it does not remain. Some parts of the outer breeches were lined with the same cloth.
The inner breeches only have one vent in the waistband 5 ½” deep at front and fastened with one button. There are no vents at the knees. They are less full in the seat and have a side seam. There is no fastening at the knee.
A pair of drawers in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg (accession number 1996-218) are obviously the opposite end of the spectrum from the Quinfall Hill Drawers. While those from Quintfall Hill were obviously meant to be worn under other breeches, they were decidely intended for warmth. The Williamsburg breeches are made from fine linen and finely tailored. In other words, the Quintfall Hill specimen is a common man’s garment and the Williamsburg a wealthly man’s.
The Wililamsburg Drawers are 27” long with a waistband that expands from 26.5” to 29” by virtue of a back vent with lacing eyelets on either side, much like men’s outer breeches of the time. The circumference at the knees is 12.5” and the inseam is 21”. The knees are closed with linen tapes. The waistband is closed at front with two covered buttons, but the fly is left open, confimring that these are indeed drawers and not meant for wear as breeches.
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This information © 2009 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History