Shirts appeared first in European dress in the seventeenth century as a kind of underwear, designed to protect expensive waistcoats and frock coats from sweat and soil. By the early eighteenth century, shirts had assumed importance as garments in their own right. The emphasis placed by Beau Brummel and other dandies on wearing clean, perfectly styled linen brought the shirt into increased prominence as an essential male garment. Before the middle of the nineteenth century, only those considered to be gentlemen could afford to wear white shirts, as only they had the means to buy, change, and wash them regularly. Because shirts soiled so easily, men involved in manual labor found it completely impractical to wear them. The development of improved laundry techniques after the mid-nineteenth century expanded the market for shirts, but they remained emblematic of upper-class, or at least "white-collar" middle-class men.
At first, shirts were put on by being pulled over the head. Shirts that opened all the way down the front were unknown before 1871, when Brown, Davis & Co. of Al-dermanbury registered the first "coat style" of shirt. Striped shirts became fashionable in the late nineteenth century, but some viewed them with the suspicion that the color was hiding dirt.
In the early twenty-first century, a similar style of shirt to those originally produced by Brown, Davis & Co. is available in either plain or placket front. The placket is used to give the shirt extra strength and consists of an extra fold of fabric where the shirt is buttoned. Other essential requirements for a shirt of the highest quality include gussets for reinforcement between the breast and the back of the shirt, mother-of-pearl buttons, and re movable collar bones (preferably made from brass) to prevent the collar tips from curling upwards. On the other hand, a good shirt will never feature a breast pocket as these only appeared much later with the demise of the waistcoat. Use of a shirt breast pocket to carry pens, cigarettes, and other paraphernalia can spoil the lines of the shirt. By the turn of the twentieth century, the traditional stand-up collar was supplanted by the turndown collar— a development that coincided with the demise of the cravat in favor of the necktie. Although there are as many as twenty different styles of collar (both attached or detachable), the most formal remains the broad turndown. With the rise of the Windsor tie knot (invented in the 1920s, and revived periodically), the cutaway collar has become the collar of choice for younger shirt wearers.
Although the word "shirt" has been expanded to include a number of men's and women's garments, with dress shirt, sports shirt, sweatshirt, T-shirt, and shirtwaist counted among them, a plain white shirt cut from the softest sea-island cotton is a sartorial must for any man. The tailored shirtwaister or shirtwaist blouse with starched and coat-style front is the women's version that evolved from a man's shirt, beginning in the late nineteenth century and enjoying great popularity beginning in the 1930s. Many formerly exclusively male shirt styles have been adopted essentially unchanged for women's wear in the late twentieth century.
See also Neckties and Neckwear; Shirtwaist; Suit, Business; Tailored Suit; T-Shirt; Waistcoat.
Amies, Hardy. A, B, C's of Men's Fashion. London: Cahill and Co. Ltd, 1964.
Byrde, Penelope. The Male Image: Men's Fashion in England 1300-1970. London: B. T. Batsford, Ltd., 1979.
Chenoune, Farid. A History of Men's Fashion. Paris: Flammarion, 1993.
De Marley, Diana. Fashion for Men: An Illustrated History. London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd., 1985. Keers, Paul. A Gentleman's Wardrobe. London: Weidenfield and
Nicolson, 1987. Roetzel, Bernhard. Gentleman: A Timeless Fashion. Cologne:
Konemann, 1999. Schoeffler, O. E., and William Gale. Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Fashions. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.
SHIRTWAIST The shirtwaist dress, also known as the shirtmaker or simply the shirtdress, is one of the most American of all fashions. It has endured throughout the entire twentieth century into the early twenty-first. It owes its origins to the shirtwaist blouse, that very early product of the American ready-to-wear industry that emerged as part of the uniform of the New Woman in the 1890s. Its styling is based on a man's tailored shirt
Advertisement for McMullen shirt frocks. The shirtwaist has been known by many names since its development in the late twentieth century. The McMullen Company helped popularize the style when it introduced its "shirt frocks" in 1935, in an attempt to overcome declining sales in men's dress shirts. Courtesy of The Chapman Historical Museum. Reproduced by permission.
with a skirt added, either as a one-piece dress or as separates. If separate, the skirt and shirt are usually made from the same material.
It began as a practical, washable nurse's uniform, usually cotton, sometime around the turn of the twentieth century and continued in this mode into World War I, where it became the uniform for the Red Cross and other organizations needing practical, washable clothing for their women workers.
Trim and becoming, the shirtwaist's practicality lent itself to the postwar enthusiasm for active sports, and by the 1920s, occasional "sports dresses" based on it but not using the name were adopted for golf and tennis. Caroline Millbank notes that by 1926, Best & Co. promoted what they called their "shirtmaker frocks" for sports, made of cotton and ready to be monogrammed. As a fashion, it hit its stride in the 1930s, in large part because of the upscale men's shirt manufacturer, the McMullen Company of Glens Falls, N.Y. who, in its attempt to overcome the falling market in fine men's shirts during the Depression, introduced to the retail industry a line for women, the "shirt frock," in 1935. These were two-piece cotton, linen, or lightweight wool dresses, with choices of either skirts or culottes that looked like skirts.
The term "shirtwaist," derived from "waist," the nineteenth-century term for what we would now call a blouse (in itself so-called because it bloused over the waistband as it was tucked into the skirt), was commonplace by the 1890s. However, the name as applied to sports dresses was not generally used until considerably later. Women's magazines from the 1930s and into the 1940s referred to it rather clumsily as "the button-down-the-front style" or, more vaguely, the "sports dress" even as they acknowledged that it had become a classic of American style. In a very early version, Simplicity Patterns offered a "shirtmaker" in 1937, but The Ladies' Home Journal did not consistently use the name in their articles and advertising until sometime around 1941, and even Best & Co. called its dress a "golfer" that same year. However, a major article in Life (9 May) on "Summer Sports Style" devoted two full pages showing 18 illustrations of various "classic shirtwaists," in all price points and in both day and evening wear. By so doing, perhaps they helped to codify the name that has stuck. Full-skirted versions following the New Look's dictates became the outfits of choice for the American housewife of the 1950s and early 1960s. Later in the century, in the late 1970s and 1980s, Geoffrey Beene and Bill Blass took it to a new and elegant high, introducing the classic shirtmaker in luxurious and unusual fabric combinations for evening wear. It continues to remain staple of American style in the twenty-first century, by now a conservative classic whose practicality and versatility make it a necessary part of many women's wardrobes.
See also Beene, Geoffrey; Blass, Bill; Blouse; New Look;
Shirt; Ready-to-Wear; Uniforms, Sports.
Ladies Home Journal, February 1938, p. 63.
Millbank, Caroline Rennolds. New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.
Payne, Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume.
2nd edition. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.
SHOEMAKING Shoemaking continues to be the work of a family member in many cultures of the early 2000s. Inuit and other circumpolar peoples continue the tradition of footwear production by the mother of the family—the craft learned from her mother and passed on to her daughters, as it has always been.
The earliest professional shoemakers can only be supposed from Egyptian friezes where laborers are depicted making sandals, using tools not dissimilar to tools still used by hand shoemakers. However, leatherworkers also used the same tools as the shoemaker, and so it is impossible to define the period in which shoemaking as a singular profession developed.
During the Roman Empire shoemaking progressed from artisans working alone in small settlements to congregating in streets near the town's center or marketplace, where guilds became established. Guilds protected and regulated the shoemakers, their suppliers, and their clients from unfair business practices and pricing, and ensured quality products. Apollo was chosen patron deity of Roman shoemakers, with images and statues of him gracing the entrance to streets reserved for members of that profession.
Similarly, images of the Christian patron saints of shoemakers adorned the churches and guildhalls of medieval Europe. During the third century, noble Roman brothers Crispin and Crispinian were converted to Christianity and went to Gaul to preach the gospel, working as shoemakers at night. They were eventually tortured for their faith and put to death. Although the legend is unreliable and Saints Crispin and Crispinian have lost their status of sainthood, they have remained the patron saints of shoemakers since the fifteenth century, and their feast day, October 25, is still celebrated as a holiday for the shoe industry in France.
There is evidence that by the fourteenth century, shoemakers were already making footwear for speculative sale, essentially "ready to wear." This was aided by the adoption of standardized measurement. In England in 1324, measurements for distance were standardized under King Edward II. Consistent in size, three barleycorns laid end-to-end equaled one inch and the foot-long "ruler" became the foot measurement of King Edward, the ruler of England. The other standard of measurement was the hand, used since biblical times, and used to this day for measuring the height of horses. A hand equals 4J inches or 13 barleycorns. When a standardized mea
surement for shoe sizing began in the late seventeenth century, children's sizes were deemed to be less than the measurement of a hand and adult sizes were those over a hand. Adult sizes began with the deduction of 4s inches, so an adult woman's size 4 shoe means it is made for a foot 8 s inches long. Under Louis XIV the Paris Point system was standardized as S centimeter, and became the standard for most of Europe, but Germany continued to follow the English measuring system.
By 1400 most large European cities had shoemakers' guilds. This did not include cobblers, who were shoe repairers and not part of the shoemakers' guild. Shoemakers are capable of doing repairs but this is considered inferior work. In England shoemakers were more properly known as cordwainers, and in France as cordonniers, after the fine Cordwain leather tanned in Cordoba, Spain, and imported in great quantities. Their very name suggested the quality of their goods.
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