The white shirt was a necessary part of every man's wardrobe. This was one particular piece of clothing that did not discriminate according to rank. All shirts were cut in the exact same manner. Unlike what is usually seen in movies on the 18th century the shirt was not buttoned down the front. Instead, it was pulled up over the head and had three buttons to close it at the neck.
Also, the choice of fabric was never silk. Even the aristocrats who otherwise understood better than anyone else that beauty means suffering saw the sense in keeping the finer fabrics for another purpose. First of all, silk could be rather expensive and it was therefore more sensible to save the silk for the clothing that could be seen and admired. Secondly, imagine the condition of a silk shirt after a day - or several - without washing under the arms...
|Late 18th century shirt|
Since silk was out of the question the preferred fabric was linen. The sleeves were full and quite wide; usually they were tighter at the wrist. What could be different from a nobleman's shirt was the ruffles of the wrists. While labourers contented themselves with plain sleeves the noblemen might array themselves with ruffles and even a bit embroidery.
Every morning, Louis XIV would have his night-shirt changed. This was necessary for most people but the Sun King was particularly known to sweat heavily during the night The fashions of the 1670-80's in France offered a surprisingly clear view of the shirt. The boxy waistcoat would often be several centimeters shorter than the shirt which meant that it could be seen peeking out. Also, once the coat was removed the extravagant sleeves was the only thing covering the skin on the arms.
|Worn by Louis XVI during his|
first days as a prisoner
The state of the linen shirt could say a great deal of the wearer's status. For the gentlemen at Versailles their linen shirts were cleaned regularly by their servants - having a clean shirt was a symbol of wealth.
Not even the revolutionaries would deny Louis XVI a proper amount of shirts during his imprisonment. A laundry list reveals that he went through seventeen linen shirts in two weeks. Considering that he was accustomed to having his shirt changed daily this was still a change.