My first item of clothing in my husband’s Regency wardrobe is a white shirt.
Throughout the 18th century, men of all classes wore long white shirts with off-the-shoulder sleeves as a basic undergarment underneath their clothes. The shirts often doubled as nightwear and were usually made from linen or cotton. The only visible part of the shirt during the day was the upper edges of the collar peeking out from underneath the cravat, and maybe the frills on the cuff, which extended below the jacket sleeves in the 18th century. The tails of the shirt were also extremely long, designed to be pulled between the legs as an early type of underwear.
By Regency times, little had changed. The frills on the cuffs were beginning to be dispensed with, and by the end of the Regency the frills on the front opening of the shirt had begun disappearing as well.
The pattern of a man’s shirt was relatively simple. It was made from a series of squares and rectangles sewn together to form an unfitted and comfortable undergarment. Norah Waugh has a pattern in her book, The Cut of Men’s Clothes, and there are also patterns available online (from Kannik’s Korner). All of my pattern measurements below DO NOT include seam allowances.
As the garment is so loose fitting, I found it unnecessary to take oodles of body measurements, but I would suggest taking a few.
Body Measurements to take
- Neck circumference (to make sure the collar fits)
- Wrist circumference (to make sure the wrist cuff fits)
- Armhole measurement around upper arm (I adjusted for this later)
My pattern pieces
- Shirt front – 18″ (on fold) x 20″ – cut 1 on the fold
- Shirt back – 18″ (on fold) x 20″ – cut 1 on the fold
- Sleeve – 22″ (on fold) x 18″ – cut 2 on the fold
- Sleeve binder – see below
- Underarm gusset – 4.5″ square – cut 2
- Shoulder gusset – 3″ square – cut 2
- Side seam gusset – 1.5″ square – cut 2
- Collar – 4″ x 17.5″ – cut 2
- Cuff band – 5″ x 7.5″ – cut 2
- Optional: Front frill
- Optional: Cuff and sleeve opening frill
Step One: Sew the front and back shirt pieces together at the shoulder seams, sewing only 6 inches in from the sides. (I flat-felled – unless stated otherwise – all the internal seams to make it neater and more hard-wearing.) Make a cut 10 inches down the centre front.
Step Two: Fold the shoulder gusset in half to form a triangle and sew it in. (I actually cut it in half instead.)
Step Three: Gather the neckline.
Step Four: Sew the two collar pieces together, with one edge turned up.
Step Five: Turn the collar right side out and attach the unturned edge of the collar to the neckline, adjusting the gathers to fit. The turned edge can then be folded under on the inside and hand sewn to the neckline.
Step Six: Sew the underarm gusset to the sleeve underarm. (For greater detail on how to sew square gussets, see my post on making a chemise.)
Step Seven: Sew the sleeve seam, leaving a 4 inch opening in the bottom end of the seam for the wrist to fit through. Gather the sleeve head and the sleeve bottom.
Step Eight: Sew the sleeve to the body. It can be a good idea to try it on at this point to ensure the arm fits nicely. If it is too tight, you can loosen the gathers around the sleeve head which effectively makes the armhole larger.
Step Nine: Fold the cuff band in half longways and sew short edges together, with one edge turned up similar to the collar. Turn inside out and attach the unturned edge to the lower sleeve edge. The other edge is folded over and hand sewed to the inside, just like the collar.
Step Ten: Sew the side seams down 17.5 inches from the armhole. (Adjust this amount if you made the armhole bigger.) Fold the side gusset in half to form a triangle – or if you cut in half (like me!) hem it – before setting it in the seam.
Step Eleven: Hem the rest of the side seams by turning over the seam allowance and sewing. Hem the bottom edge. (Note: I made my tails much shorter than period examples of up to 40 inches.)
Step Twelve: Many period examples have both sleeve binders and shoulder binders, and these served to reinforce and bind the seams. For the sleeve binder, I cut a length of material 3 inches wide and long enough to go right around the sleeve seam and a little below it. It was sewn on the same line as the armhole seam and then turned to the main body of the garment, thereby covering the raw seam edge in the armhole. (This was a great way to avoid flat-felling or zig-zagging a gathered seam!) Then the remaining edge was sewn down through all thicknesses. I have seen sleeve binders reach as far inwards as the collar. I did not do a shoulder binder, choosing to flat-fell those seams instead, but it is effectively a piece of material with raw edges folded under and sewn on the inside to cover the raw shoulder seam.
Step Thirteen: The raw edges at the centre front slit are turned over and sewn. (Cutting an upside-down V-cut at the bottom of the slit helps when sewing the bottom part, similar to when setting a gusset in a corset or doing a welt pocket). In order to reinforce the base of the cut, hand-sew a heart-shaped piece of material on the inside.
Step Fourteen: Attach a frill around the front opening and/or cuff/sleeve opening, depending on the look you would like to achieve. As a general rule, gentlemen had frills and working class men had none, but this does depend on the particular era you are interested in. I only did a front frill.
Step Fifteen: Attach a button to each cuff and one to the lower edge of the collar. The collar could have as many as three buttons.
The next item in Mr Knightley’s wardrobe will be a cravat.
To read all my posts on MY Mr Knightley, go to My Regency Journey.
My Regency Journey – A group of posts about women’s Regency costumes
Sources and Relevant Links
The details of an 18th Century shirt from the picture above, in the Victoria and Albert Museum
The Cut of Men’s Clothes, by Norah Waugh – buy on Amazon
A pattern for a man’s shirt available online (as well as other men’s period clothing patterns), by Kanniks Korner
An 18th Century reproduction of a man’s shirt, by Kanniks Korner
Making an 18th Century shirt – cutting and sewing instructions from 1760