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.

Monday, 27 December 2010

The Standard Shirt

Just  to start it all off, a few thoughts about the 17th century shirt:

A seventeenth century shirt was made of unbleached linen, the fabric varying from coarse canvas to fine weave, and ranged from brown to off white in colour, although unbleached linen could take on a grey or even greenish tinge.
It should be cut square and long, with front and back each made of a single piece of fabric, gathered into a narrow neckband. It should also be long enough to reach mid thigh or even knee length. Notice Mr Marriot wears his shirt to below the knee. The side seams are left open for about 12 inches to allow the shirt to fit comfortably under a pair breeches.
The sleeves are cut square and gathered to a narrow cuff, which may be secured by ties, small buttons or a t-bar (like a fabric cuff link) if it's posh, with square gussets under the arms. There may also be smaller triangular gussets where the collar meets the shoulder seam, to give extra strength.
At the front there is a simple straight hemmed front opening large enough to let you put it on over your head. This opening is secured by a pair of ties, sewn to the collar or passing through a single sewn eyelet on each side at the neck. Here is a nice repro pair of posh ties by Gina B
The shirt as such should not have any more than a small standing collar of perhaps an inch and a half. To this a falling band may be tacked on. Shirts were not generally made with integral collars in our period. For common soldiers a small band can be used, just large enough to cover the standing collar on the coat.
This is one I made earlier, with a posh vicar's collar attached:

Here are a set of sleeves made up for a copy of a blackwork embroidery shirt in the Warwickshire Museum. Note the construction and the gussets. The picture comes from a blog that tells the story of how it was made. Well worth a look.

Here's another link to a page about an original shirt in the Gallery of Costume in Manchester.


  1. Shirts could have an integral collar formed by simply fitting a wider band, which was folded down to form the collar. The large collars cut as segments of a circle are not correct: period large collars were seperate items, and were shaped into a curve with numerous sewn pleats.

    I dont quite know what you mean by "closed band" with ref to sleeve cuffs.....

    The ends of the side openings were often re-enforced by backing with a small rectangle of cloth. Usually this does not seem to have been done with the end of the front opening, but since this is an obvious weak point it is probably allowable to use a similar re-enforcement at this point. The edges of the front opening was normally a small rolled seam: it was not backed with a seperate piece of cloth, as is often seen in reproductions.

    I have seen a (high status) shirt where the cuffs were secured by T shaped bar (a pit like a modern cufflink) which passed through a worked eyelet on the other side of the cuff. The bar appeared to be formed from a fine roll of cloth, bound in thread, with longer loops from the center sewing the bar to the shirt, and then bound in turn.

  2. Chris,
    I finish my plain soldier's shirts with a circular band for the cuff that has no opening and just slides over the hand. Not sure of the authenticity, but it's practical and difficult to disprove certainly.
    In Janet Arnold's book about linen, the plain-ish shirt from the Stockholm Museum has a spider's web of twisted threads to reinforce the weak point at the bottom of the neck opening. I've experimented with a single bar of 2 or 3 threads, covered with knotted thread to thicken it up. Seems to work ok.

  3. I see: as you say difficult to disprove, but then so is everything! I have never seen this on any period shirts. I did not mention the spiderweb as although the shirt is plain it did belong to an admiral: and this is the only example I am aware is the Tbar fastening, of course.

    Shirt linen could be bleached for quite ordinary shirts, especially as they tend to bleach in use, but it would not have been the bright blue white of modern fabrics, chemical bleeches and detergents. Unbleached linen is more of a greyish/ greenish colour: the less processed flax used for some heavy canvas or sacking can be more brownish.

  4. What material did you use for the ties at the collar?

  5. They're linen ties made by Gina B. Check the link on the right hand side of the page.