Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Pirate Shirt

So if I run out of time to finish Chris's outfit before the next Jane Austen Evening, the good news is that he can just wear a pirate outfit to look authentically 19th Century, right?

Not just for Halloween! ;)

Okay, not quite, but the pirate/poet shirt is based on period shirts -  and chest hair aside, this one has the correct general look. Oversized body, dropped shoulder, big blouse sleeves, deep neck slit and a ruffle down the front. But period shirts have some differences from modern shirts, especially the ones of the pirate costume variety.

Lord Byron inspired
"poet" shirt trends for centuries
Shirts were primarily made of linen and sometimes cotton. These fabrics are easy to clean and hardwearing, so they can take a good scrub without falling apart. Bright white and high thread count is good for a gentleman - if you're portraying a lower class, you can have use an unbleached, coarser fabric. Stay away from the shiny polyester!

The fascinating thing about period shirts is that they were made entirely of different sized rectangles - every seam is a straight line. Gussets are inserted at the neck, underarm, etc to help curve around the body, and the excess fabric is gathered up into the collar and the cuff. That's why the shirts are so blousy. If you make your own shirt, decide if you want to use a modern costume pattern that has shaped pieces, or a period pattern with all straight pieces. (A modern pattern might not be "accurate", but it might look perfectly nice and will use modern sewing techniques.)

There are a few decorative options to consider. Do you want a front ruffle or plain front? Do you want sleeve ruffles (though these fell out of fashion by the early 19th C.)? Are you going to use traditional thread buttons, or find some metal or shell buttons instead? Be sure to consider the class you're representing and the formality/informality of the event, but have fun with your choices.

Extant* 1807 Shirt from The National Maritime Museum
Front View

Close-Up of Collar

At the blue door - a lovely blog entry about making a period shirt. Fantastic pics and info!
Kannik's Korner - Shirt Construction
Vintage Shirt Company - Repro shirts, shows a variety of options

*Extant means "existing". I just recently looked that up!

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