17th Century Stitches: Shifts and Shirts

For most people in the 17th century, underwear consisted of a shift/smock or a shirt, it served as a way to protect outer clothing from sweat and body oils.  It also supported the shape of the outer clothing, as seen here:

Henry Rich, Earl of Holland wearing a sumptuous braided white silk doublet with slashed sleeves, braided red breeches and a matching decorated buffcoat. High heeled boots, embroidered gloves and a polished back and breastplate. This is the epitome of a fashionable man of the 1640s
Henry Rich, Earl of Holland c.1640-45. From the Captain Cristie Crawford Collection

Doublet, early 1620s, French, silk. Length at CB: 19 3/4 in. (50.2 cm), one of only two surviving examples of its type from the 1620s. The only other known example is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Made of luxurious silk embellished with pinking and decorative slits, this doublet followed a fashion that existed barely five years. Pinking, or the intentional slashing of fabric, was a popular decorative technique used to reveal colorful linings, shirts, and chemises. Met Museum.
Doublet, French 1620s. Image from Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This differs from what would have been the English style, it is, however, a good example of how the clothing layers work together to create a shape.

Through the earlier part of the 17th century the cut of the sleeves on both men's and women's outer garments was slimmer, therefore the sleeve fullness on their undergarments increased.  As full sleeves became popular for outer-clothing, the sleeve fullness in the under-clothing also increased. 

Shifts/smocks were made of linen, the more expensive being decorated with embroidery or lace insertion. They could have a high collar or a low neckline:
Smock. V&A Museum

Smock 1615-1630. Image from V&A Museum

Men's shirts were constructed in much the same way as woman's smocks, though often they were plainer:

Shirt made in 1st half of 16th century, Walcher, Werke der Volkunst I, 1923
Shirt 1st half 16th Century. Source Unknown.

Shirt shoulder detail 1630-39. V&A Museum 

Next time I will be posting pictures of the doublets and bodices in progress.



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