Shirt

1740-1780 (made)
Shirt thumbnail 1
Shirt thumbnail 2
+4
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Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Linen hand sewn with linen thread
Brief Description
Man's linen shirt, British, 1740-80; H6 in blue cross-stitch, sleeves pleated by starching.
Physical Description
Man’s shirt of linen known as ‘medium holland’ with a thread count of 100 warp × 80 weft, sewn with linen thread. The full width of the linen is unknown—only one selvedge appears on the left side of the shirt—but it was wider than 32 inches (81 cm). It is ‘T-shaped’, constructed of rectangular pieces: body, collar, 2 sleeves, 2 shoulder straps, 2 cuffs, 2 sleeve gussets, 2 side gussets and 2 neck gussets. The collar is 4 inches (10 cm) deep, fastening with 3 Dorset [linen thread) buttons and worked button holes. The wristbands are ⅞ inch (2 cm) deep, with worked buttonholes at each end for fastening with sleeve buttons [cuff links]. The sleeves retain their eighteenth-century pleating held with starch.
Dimensions
  • Overall length: 114.5cm (approx)
  • Waist circumference: 162cm (Note: Measured by Conservation)
  • Chest circumference: 162cm (Note: Measured by Conservation)
  • Nape hem length: 104cm (Note: Measured by Conservation)
  • Across back width: 65cm (Note: Measured by Conservation)
  • Sleeve length length: 55cm (Note: Measured by Conservation)
  • Cuff circumference: 18cm (Note: Measured by Conservation)
  • Shoulder length: 23cm (Note: Measured by Conservation)
Marks and Inscriptions
'H 6' (Cross-stitched in blue silk near right side seam.)
Gallery Label
  • 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'. Shirt British, 1775-1800 Linen V&A: T.360-1984 Breeches France, 1775-1800 Linen 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 Linen V&A: T.360-1984 Drawers, embroidered with the monogram 'TL' in blue silk France, 1775-1800 Linen V&A: T.608-1996(16/04/2016 - 12/03/2017)
Summary
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.
Collection
Accession Number
T.360-1984

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record createdJuly 20, 2007
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