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Man's shirt, white linen

1775-1790, remodeled 1810-1820
Origin: America or England
OW including sleeves: 76 1/2" OL: 41 1/2" Linen W about 29" Neck circumference 14 1/8"
Linen tabby, mother of pearl buttons
Bequest of Grace Hartshorn Westerfield
Acc. No. 1974-268
Man's shirt of handspun and woven linen; square cut bottom with side vents and back slightly longer than the front; the fullness of the body is gathered into a narrow neckband, which is fastened by a single button; a small triangular gusset is found on each side of the collar with the point towards the shoulder; a gusset is also found under each arm; the shirt is reinforced at each shoulder with a linen lining running from front to back; the fullness of the sleeve is gathered into the cuff, which is fastened with a single button. Cuff is of a finer linen than shirt body. Cotton sewing thread indicates that cuffs and collar were replaced in the nineteenth century, possibly 1810-1820.
England or America, 1775-1790; altered probably 1810-1820
G1974-268, Bequest of Grace Hartshorn Westerfield
Shirts had the dual function of being underwear and outerwear. Most shirts were made of linen, the utilitarian material of the eighteenth century. Linen ranged from very coarse and inexpensive to very fine. Dress shirts were fine bleached linen or imported Indian cotton. This shirt is of medium-quality linen, not fine enough for formal dress, but appropriate for a man of the middling sort. Depending on the quality of their textiles, similar shirts were also worn by laborers. The most common material for workers' clothing was osnaburg, an imported but coarse, cheap, and unbleached linen. Most slave shirts were made of osnaburg. Indentured whites and free laboring men wore osnaburg, too, but some of them had access to better fabrics such as checks, stripes, and finer linens.
The construction of men's shirts began with the flat length of textile. They were cut from the yardage in a jigsaw puzzle of rectangles and squares. The resulting garment was geometric in conception, without tapering or shaping in the body. The shoulder slope and underarm ease were produced by square gussets folded on the bias into triangles. Shoulder ease was achieved by gathering the textile into the collar. Sizing up or down usually required selecting linen of appropriate width, rather than changing the cutting method. The cuffs and collar of this shirt were replaced, probably because the originals had gotten frayed and worn. In keeping with shirt style evolution, the original earlier cuffs were probably narrower bands about one inch in width.