Fashion in the Age of Datini


A hunter stripped to his shirt and breeches in Bibliotheque Nationale du France, Nouvelle Acquisition Latin 1673 Tacuinum Sanitatis fol. 91v
Crucifixion (c. 1410) by the Meiser der St. Lambrechter Krüzigungsaltäre in Schloss Egenberg, Graz. The guard holds a sheathed sword in hand, the blindfolded prisoner is stripped to his shirt.

The shirt (also known as smock, Latin camisa, Italian camicia, French chemise, or German Hemd) was a linen undergarment pulled over the head, normally with long sleeves. Men’s shirts usually range from just long enough to cover the top of the breeches to just above the knees, women’s tend to be longer. Men’s often have slits at the side below the hips, women’s usually get wider below this point to allow free movement without exposing any skin. There are no applied cuffs and decoration such as embroidery or gathering was very rare. Decent people only appeared in their shirts in public when they were doing hot, dirty work like stoking ovens or reaping grain.

Because linen decays in wet contexts, and was recycled for all kinds of purposes, very few shirts survive before the 17th century. The short shirt of Rodrigo Ximenez de Rada (d. 1247), the shirt of St. Louis of France (d. 1270), a 14th century shirt from Egypt (similar in cut to the coat of Bishop Timotheos of Ibrîm (after 1372)), and the 15th century fragments from Lengberg, Austria are the closest in space and time to Datini’s world (the ‘shirt in which St. Thomas Becket was martyred’ in the care of the Diocese of Arras never seems to have been published). The oldest instructions to make a shirt appear in the late 18th century in books like Garsault’s L’Art de la Lingere (1771) or Zimmermann’s Die junge Haushälterinn: ein Buch für Mütter und Töchter (1792). In account books, shirts usually just appear as a number of yards or ells of linen and a tiny fee for the cutting and sewing; lists of clothing rarely describe them in detail.

Note that most of the diagrams of the St. Louis shirt online are based on examining it through a glass case, and when Tina Anderlini was allowed to take it down and measure it, she found that it was different than it appeared. So be careful with information about this garment from Burnham’s Cut my Cote or Heather Rose Jones’ “Another Look at St. Louis’ Shirt” (jones-st-louis-shirt) (although they are both worth reading!)

The opening for the head varies but usually has the same shape as the garments it is worn with. The Goodman of Paris explains that a decent woman is careful not to expose underlayers at the collar of her coat. In the 15th century, as doublets acquire standing collars, shirts sometimes acquire them too.