Back in March of this year, the New York Times ran a piece about the famous Regency period shirt that turned British actor Colin Firth into an international heartthrob virtually overnight.
If you’d like to see it in the flesh, as it were, the shirt is on show at a free exhibition organized by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity,” which opened on August 6, and will run until November 6, 2016.
But for those who cannot go, here’s the next best thing. “The Shirt”, in all its glory!
Considered by many to be the definitive adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 BBC/A&E co-production is one of the most successful period dramas ever created.
And it’s not hard to see why: superlative acting, attention to detail in costume and sets, and faithfulness to Jane Austen’s 1813 novel … that is, except for one scene—the Lake Scene.
Although absent from Jane Austen’s novel, the Lake Scene has garnered adulation the world over from an army of fans, and spawned a host of imitations, including this reenactment by Benedict Cumberbatch for charity.
— DundasCommunications (@DundasComms) September 16, 2014
It’s one thing to see Colin Firth donning a wet shirt clinging to his well-honed physique in today’s context, but from the perspective of the early 1800s, what we’re really looking at is Darcy in his underwear. Prior to the 20th century, shirts were worn as undergarments. Not until the seventeenth century were men’s shirts allowed to show; but when they did, it carried the same suggestive undertone as visible underwear today. And as late as 1879, a shirt with nothing over it was considered improper.Showing the typical cut of the late 18th century, this finely finished shirt has gussets below the arm for freedom of movement and a shoulder gusset for a better fit through the neck and chest. Approximating the shape of the body, it allowed for more fullness at the front without adding bulk at the waist.
Created from linen fiber in 1816 by Elizabeth Wild Hitchings for her husband Benjamin Hitchings, a sea captain. Hand-stitching shirts for the family was common practice for wives or servants prior to about the mid-19th century. Elegant stitching was a hallmark of the care taken prior to the widespread use of the sewing machine.
- Some Thoughts on Men’s Shirts in America, 1750-1900 by William L. Brown III The History of Underclothes by C. Willett and
- Phillis Cunnington What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America by Linda Baumgarten
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. I only recommend products or services that I believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”