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, 26 December 2011

Soldier's Costume Guide

Part two of my basic guide for those of us new to 1640s clothes, this time, the soldiers, from inside out:

Part Two: Men*

The basic undergarment for all men is the SHIRT. It is a T-shaped, knee length garment made of unbleached linen, with a lot of fabric in the body and sleeves, gathered into cuffs for the sleeves and into a neckband for the body. Square pieces of fabric are folded into triangles and inserted under the sleeves to form gussets. White cloth was the prerogative of richer men and dyed fabric far too expensive to waste on shirts. A soldier’s shirt can be of a coarser weave than an officer’s, but they are all basically the same shape.  A shirt is cut high to the neck with an upstanding neckband about 2-3cm high. The neck opening should be long enough for the shirt to go over your head and is tied at the top with a single tie or bandstring.

A COLLAR or FALLING BAND is worn with shirts, not part of the shirt, but a separate item.  In this period it is a rectangle of linen, long enough to go around the neck of the wearer and varies from a hands width to about 20cm deep. The top long edge is gathered into sewn darts, matching the length to your neck measurement and shaping the band. A second rectangle forms the neckband.  One edge is turned over and sewn to the underside of the collar’s top edge. Bandstrings are sewn to the ends. The collar’s band sits inside the shirt’s neckband; the collar itself lies outside any jacket. Both shirt and collar are fastened with ties or laces. For common soldiers a tied length of linen tucked into the coat’s standing collar can also be worn

Over the shirt a DOUBLET, or SOLDIER’S COAT is worn. The coats were made for regiments to common patterns in quantity, so their fit was not exact. As far as is known, they were made of wool. The simplest style is a loose-fitting garment with body and tabs cut in one piece and with seams sewn only from neck to lower rib-height. Overall length of doublets is to the hip, not the thighs like jackets worn today. The upper body section may end above the modern waistline.

Soldier’s coats were lined or unlined, depending on how much money a Colonel was prepared to spend, but doublets were generally higher quality items and would be lined and tailored to fit and time was taken to finish them properly. Sleeves are close fitting, sometimes with turned-back cuffs and wings over the sleeve tops. Collars are high, stiffened with layers of canvas or pasteboard. For high-waisted styles, you need matching breeches that are longer in the crotch. Coats are fastened down the front with several closely spaced buttons, a dozen at least on a soldier’s coat, more for a doublet. They should be shaped like a ball and shanked but can be made of cloth, pewter or wooden beads wrapped with thread. Cloth buttons are more comfortable on a soldier’s coat if you are going to wear armour over the top.

 BREECHES are made from wool cloth, using a limited colour range; what were known as sadd colours: brown, grey, dull green etc., unless you are in a regiment where the colonel paid for breeches in his chosen colour. Style depended on class and geography, unless issued by the regiment. Soldiers from country areas far from the cities, London or Oxford perhaps, wore an old-fashioned shape, full and baggy, button flies and fastened below the knee with ties, or buttons. This earlier style of breeches was often held up by hooks on the waistband that located in eyes on the matching doublet’s inner lining. In fact it can be argued that one of the main reasons for wearing a doublet was to keep your breeches up, although during the war many of these kinds of nicety were quickly forgotten.
A more modern style, worn by townsmen and possibly copied for regimentally supplied breeches, has narrower legs, but is still quite saggy. The legs can be buttoned or left unfastened (unconfined) and possibly tapered in below the knee. Both styles may have pockets in the side seams at the hip. Surviving pockets from the period are simple leather bags, though linen works just as well.

HOSE are worn to just around the knee. A contemporary pattern describes a knee high stocking, turned down over a tied garter. You can buy or (get someone to) knit your own woollen hose. A good modern substitute is plain woollen tights or unribbed knitted stockings in any of the drab colours mentioned in the introduction. Shaped linen or cloth hose are also worn. Hose should be held up by GARTERS, either strips of cloth, or knitted.

Low-heeled LATCHET SHOES were worn by most common people and issued to soldiers in the wars, although mounted officers and cavalry troopers wear boots. A closed shoe or ankle-boot referred to as a STARTUP can also be worn as a more protective alternative. No clear evidence has been shown for their issue by armies in Britain during this period, though they were common for rural folk so they can’t be ruled out for soldiers.

Men of all ages kept their heads covered almost all the time. HATS or CAPS were doffed when you met anyone of higher social status or rank or were being polite. For the battlefield, headgear is determined by your fighting role. Pikemen wear morion helmets and musketeers a hat, cap or bonnet. The simplest is the MONMOUTH CAP, a style of knitted woollen cap, heavily felted. It may have been a fairly high conical shape with or without a brim round the edge. 

Knitted and felted BLUE BONNETS are similarly made, but are mainly a Scottish item and should only be worn by Scots units and some northern regiments. 

A MONTERO is a round peaked cap made of segments of woollen cloth with a skirt running around the edge that can either fold down for protection in bad weather or up for a stylish peak. 

Broad-brimmed HATS are also worn, either made from blocked and felted wool/fur or leather.

To summarise, a soldier’s basic costume, regardless of the fighting arm chosen or the Army that you join, consists of a SHIRT, a pair of BREECHES, a COAT (or DOUBLET), HOSE, SHOES and a HAT. The coat or jacket will be of a colour and cut chosen by the colonel who raised the original Civil War regiment. Sometimes, this applies also to breeches and, occasionally hats. Your regiment will provide relevant details. Shoes, hose and hats can be bought from traders. Some soldiers carry sausage shaped SNAPSACKS, worn across the back from shoulder to hip with a strap diagonally across the chest. CLOAKS or a length of ragged wool or leather for use as a CAPE in the rain may be worn. 

*Men can be taken to mean men or women dressed as men. This is an equal opportunities blog!

Photos courtesy of John Beardsworth, Rusty Aldwinckle and Alan Mackinnon

Friday, 9 December 2011

Early Doublet in The Museum of London

Recently I've been visiting the costume department in the Museum of London and have been lucky enough to look closely at a doublet in their collection. It's a bit earlier than our period, but most of the construction techniques in the garment were still being used in the 1640s. Also, because the doublet is in such bad repair, a lot of the internal "workings" are visible which make this such an interesting study. I'm afraid some of this is a bit dry, but I'm reproducing my full report here with a lot of close up shots that you may find interesting.

Thanks to Hilary Davidson at the Museum for help, advice and permission to use the photos.

Anyway, here's the report:

Catalogue entry:

A7577. 1601-1626; Silk; L  515mm; W (shoulders) 510mm; L (sleeve at
back) 660mm. Doublet, black silk cut velvet, time of Shakespeare, worn
by a member of the Isham family (and father of wearer of A7576).
Hooks on the inside waistband date it to the early C17 as before then
eyelets were used to attach points of the hose.
[see also 33.182]


The doublet was worn by a member of the Isham (pron. eye-sham) family, a prominent Northamptonshire family. John Isham (1582-1651) was made 1st Baronet Lamport in 1627 and was succeeded by his son Justinian (1610-1675). Either could have been the wearer of this doublet, which is well made of expensive materials, at least those on show on the outside of the garment and of the fashion current for 1625-30. The style is very similar (although without the braid) to that worn by William Herbert 3rd Earl of Pembroke in an undated portrait by Daniel Mytens (Herbert died 1630) and quite similar to the doublet worn by King Charles in his Mytens portrait of 1629. Although Charles’ doublet has slashed sleeves and 2 visible front slashes on the body, which this garment doesn’t have, the waist is of a similar position to this doublet and the tabs of a comparable size. After this time, the waist moved up the body and the tabs became larger. Charles’ also has ribbon bows and points around the waist in the position indicated by the eyelet holes on the front tabs of this doublet.
Stylistically the doublet is also closely related to the Cotton Doublet in the V&A which is dated c1618, although the V&A example has no metal eyelets, these could have been added to the doublet at a later date. I feel that this garment in style and construction is probably most likely to have been made at the latter end of the date given in the catalogue entry.


The doublet is much degraded but as such shows a wealth of constructional detail that would otherwise be hidden in a finished garment. The body seems to be made of a black silk outer layer, covering a darkish brown melton wool twill fabric (1:1 or 2:1 weave). 
 Much of the black silk has now gone, the remainder is held in several places by some crude over-sewing (couching) in a brown thread. Where the silk is best preserved, on the lower back for instance and the sleeve, a fine pattern of leaves and scrolls is visible.
 This is over a coarse linen interlining which is tacked to the wool using large running stitches in undyed linen thread. Inside the interlining is a layer of possibly wool shoddy/carded wool fleece padding which is covered and quilted by what was originally pink silk taffeta. Some of the pink thread used in the quilting is visible through the threadbare patches and where the collar is detatched from the body.

The collar appears to be made of four layers of thick canvas, one piece folded and sandwiched between two others (as 2 edges and a fold are visible), basted together with undyed linen thread, covered with the same black silk as the body and lined with crimson silk. The lining is still present, though the black silk has almost completely disappeared from the top layer of the collar. There would appear to have been no wool beneath the silk on the collar. There are 3 buttons (see below) on the left hand side of the collar. These would have located into 3 thread worked loops on the right.
The front of the doublet is closed with buttons and buttonholes. 34 worked buttonholes run down the left side to match the buttons on the right. The buttonholes are worked in black thread on the edge of the doublet with a bar on the inner edge and appear to be on a flap formed above the quilted inner. This makes it easier to do up the buttons whilst ensuring the quilting meets in the middle and easier to work the holes with thread. The buttons appear to be thread wrapped with black thread and then partially covered with silver gilt thread in a basket weave pattern.

 Some of the buttons appear to be later reproductions. The sequence of buttons is as follows, from the top down, O represents originals, R replacements and G stands for a gap:

Two small flaps, possibly in linen lining canvas, covered with the pink silk are attached inside the lining, low down, level with the highest point of the waistband. They each have a single worked eyelet hole and if tied with a lace before buttoning, would take the tension caused by a larger waistline, which might cause the lower buttons to pop open.

The top of the armhole sleeves are capped with wings, though they are slashed in several places, or maybe made from several smaller finished tabs, edged with silver gilt braid, the lines of braid running away from the seam. The sleeves are of a 2-piece construction and are open at the lower seam to a length of six inches, fastened with 9 buttons and buttonholes. The internal workings of the sleeve buttonholes are not as neat as the visible stitches.

At the lower edge of the garment are a number of square, or nearly square (10-11?) tabs. These run all the way around the waist and are constructed of a different kind of brown wool cloth to the body of the doublet. This is a thick felted fabric with no discernable weave and at least two slightly different browns can be seen on separate tabs, suggesting that this fabric was not selected for the doublet but taken from off cuts (cabbage) of previous tailoring jobs, possibly common coats for lower class customers. The tabs were wrapped in the covering silk, although only on the front, as an edge of about 1cm is visible on the reverse side, tacked down with large running stitches. 

There are scraps of what appear to be a similar silk to that of the lining which indicate that the tabs were originally faced on the inside with silk and beneath that a strip of linen, presumably from the interlining protrudes down about an inch from the waistline. Through the first 2 tabs from the front at least there are worked eyelet holes, 3 on the first tab and beginning from the second tab on each side a strip of silk taffeta, covering a stiffer material, perhaps the same canvas as the collar, with metal eyelets attached runs around the inside of the waistline.This is to attach the doublet to matching hooks on the waist of a pair of breeches. These eyelets where visible are spaced every 2 or 3 inches. The waistline has no loops for a belt which was often the case if a sword was worn with a doublet.