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  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    1780-1795 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Linen hand sewn with linen thread

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The shirt was an item of underwear in the 18th century. It served a hygienic function in an age when daily bathing was not a common practice. Shirts were purchased in the dozens if the owner could afford them, so that a clean one could be worn every day. They were usually made of linen, a washable and durable fabric, in a simple construction. A shirt pattern was a series of squares (for gussets) and rectangles (sleeves, collar, cuffs, etc) which ensured that no scraps were left over after the pieces had been cut from a length of linen.

The hand stitching on 18th-century shirts is extremely fine, in order to prevent the seams from fraying during the harsh hand-laundering process. In this example, fine pleats have been ironed into the sleeves, to accommodate the tightly fitting sleeves of the coat worn over the shirt.

Physical description

Man's shirt of fine linen composed of squares and triangles, very finely sewn with a high collar fastened with 3 dorset buttons. Each cuff has eyelet holes for tapes or cufflinks. The sleeve has been pleated during the starching and ironing process. Cross-stitched initials 'H' and 'G'.

The front and back are formed from one piece of linen folded in half. The fold becomes the shoulders and a yoke is added to give strength. The neck and front opening are a T-shaped cut made from the fold at the centre front. One side seam has a run and fell seam whilst the other is formed by the edge to edge of the selvedge and is very finely top-stitched.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


1780-1795 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Linen hand sewn with linen thread

Marks and inscriptions

Cross-stitched in blue silk near right side seam.


Length: 17 in collar, Height: 4 in collar, Width: 32 in across body, Length: 41 in from neck, Circumference: 7.5 in cuff

Descriptive line

Man's linen shirt, Great Britain, 1780-1795, with sleeves pleated by starching.

Labels and date

This is the typical underwear of an 18th-century gentleman, made up of breeaches and a shirt. They are designed to be practical and protective, but also fashionable. The stylish 18th-century man made frequent visits to his seamstress to talk about the 'Fashion for Cravats... [and] how Men wear their Ruffles'.

The shirt - which was an item of underwear until the early 20th-century - was often on provocative display, as The Tatler
of 1710 reported: 'A sincere heart has not made half so many conquests as an open waistcoat'.

British, 1775-1800
V&A: T.360-1984

France, 1775-1800
V&A: T.608-1996 [2013-2015]
Fine and Functional
In the 18th century shirts were classed as underwear because they were worn next to the skin. Although their function was hygienic and their cut, which is based on squares and rectangles, was simple, the best was finely made.
The sleeves of this shirt have been pleated to fit inside the narrow coat sleeves fashionable at the time. Unlike women, men wore drawers, which were cut like breeches.

Shirt, embroidered with the initials 'H' and 'G' in blue silk
Britain, 1775-1800
V&A: T.360-1984

Drawers, embroidered with the monogram 'TL' in blue silk
France, 1775-1800
V&A: T.608-1996 [16/04/2016 - 12/03/2017]


Linen (material); Linen thread; Linen thread


Hand sewing; Hand weaving


Textiles; Men's clothes; Fashion; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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