This is the webpage of a group whose aim is to improve the kit and clothes of a UK seventeenth century Civil War reenactment group, using the most up to date references and research. Feel free to comment on any of the subjects raised here and return often as I want to keep the discussion lively and ongoing.

Please look at the extra tabs on the right hand side. The newbie section is the place for basic kit if you're just beginning to reenact the 1640s. Haberdashery has lots of detail about colours, buttons, tapes etc.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Smocks (not shifts)

The basic item of underclothing for a woman in the seventeenth century the smock was a long T-shaped garment, made of linen with sleeves and reached down to below the knees. As with most linen garments of our period, the only surviving examples are of the best quality cloth and are highly embroidered. However, it’s probably safe to assume that the pattern was basically the same for everyone. The purpose was probably the same too, to protect the outergarments that would tend not to be washed as often from body oils and perspiration. Picture left from A Juniper Lecture by John Taylor 1635.

The extant smocks from the first third of the seventeenth century mostly have a standing collar, a single slit neck opening and long full sleeves. Sadly there are none exactly datable to the 1640s, but these examples are a good guide to what was worn.  This one in the V&A, picture from Drea Leed of Elizabethan Costuming is a nice one dated 1630 with a standard pattern and embroidered over the upper body. Much like a man’s shirt, they would be cut from a standard width of linen, anything from 30 to 36 inches wide. There is usually, like this example, a square gusset under the arms, but unlike a shirt there are either long triangular gores inserted in the sides or a looser cut to make the garment fuller and as such easier to walk around in. The V&A example also has a gusset inserted either side of the collar to provide strength.

 A few really high status smocks have lower necklines that are gathered and tightly stitched onto a narrow neck band (not with a drawstring). This clears the neckline for an off the shoulder look, but these are really ornate with acres of fabric requiring such finely detailed needlework that they should be only considered the preserve of someone of serious wealth, not a common serving girl or army follower. All the museum examples have lines of embroidery, very similar to those on surviving men’s shirts which is no surprise really as both garments, in fact anything made of linen, was considered women’s work. This image, from the Bath Museum of Costume, also photographed by Drea shows a woman's smock from 1610, and a man's shirt from the late 1500s. The smock is on the right. Below is a detail of the decoration.

Smocks were worn both day and night,high class people may have had a separate night smock to change into, but it can be safely assumed that most common folk slept in the smock they wore during the day.
Detail from Come Buy A Mousetrap. Pamphlet by Humphrey Crouch 1647

Picture on the right shows a plain (in the sense of undecorated) reproduction smock from Angela of Peggy's Necessities.

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