Friday, 29 March 2013

Riffling the Queen's knicker drawer

... well not our current monarch, but yesterday I did get to look at Queen Victoria's underwear during a special research visit. The lovely curators of the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Historic Royal Palaces kindly agreed to let me look at some items in their collections, picking out some pieces with monograms and laundry marks.

Hampton Court Palace
Queen Victoria's split drawers, dated circa 1900, were made of fine linen and marked on the waistband with an exquisite, self-coloured, embroidered monogram and crown. The style of embroidery was much more elaborate than the marking on the Prince's Shirt and was also slightly larger. In short a completely different style of marking although it would have served the same purpose because it also had an number for laundry. You can see images here.

Queen Alexandra's nightdress had an almost identical style of monogram to Victoria's, this time below the front opening. Being from a similar date, it would seem this was a universal style for marking items in the royal household of this period.

Going back to 1810 (around the period of the Prince's Shirt) George III's white linen shirt was fascinating to see. The shirt was of a similar style to the Prince's Shirt, with a high standing collar and ruffled front opening, however it was less exuberant; the collar was shorter, the ruffle narrower, containing less fabric and the cuffs very short. The fabric of George's shirt was a fine linen but certainly nowhere near as fine as the Prince's Shirt, and there was no decorative embroidery around buttonholes. This completely took me by surprise as I had expected it would be comparable in quality. It would seem our Prince 'AF' had exceptionally fine taste indeed!

What was really wonderful to see was that the style of laundry marking was rather like to ours. On the right above the side vent was a tiny red cross stitch crown, the initials GR and the date 1810. The George IV shirt exhibited at Dress for Excess at Brighton Pavilion had a similar laundry mark.

Although there is no, one individual proof everything seems to point to The Prince's Shirt being exactly what it looks like. Fantastic news!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Mr Darcy's shirt

Something for comparison; a clip from the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth (in the shirt!).

Although this might not be useful in terms of historical research, it is interesting in bringing to life period style garments; understanding how they might look in real life, how they might move, etc.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall

This morning I had the opportunity to visit The Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall, Manchester. I arranged to look at their collection of shirts dating from 1800 to 1850. It was interesting to make comparison with the Prince's Shirt in terms of garment cut, style and weight of the cloth.

The box that was brought out to me was crammed with 13 linen shirts, folded between layers of tissue paper. Each was different. None of them quite matching the style of the Prince's Shirt, but finding familiar features amongst them.

Most of the shirts were quite yellow and stained. Marks from water, wear, staining, fold marks, etc. Some also showed signs of mending; darns, patches alterations and replacement sections. It made me aware what a wonderful condition the Prince's Shirt is in and how white it is. Has it been washed with modern detergents or just very well cared for?

The main thing I was able to observe was the difference in quality and weight of the fabric. From the collection at Platt Hall I found nothing even close in quality to the Prince's Shirt. The Prince's Shirt is a floating, transparent lawn, by comparison the other shirts seemed heavy. Dr Miles Lambert confirmed my thoughts about this and agreed that the shirt was of extremely high quality and something of very high status.

It made such a difference to see 'the real' thing rather than looking at images online. Handling the shirts and looking at their construction allowed me to see the similarities and understand how styles gradually evolved. I also found it fascinating to see the mended shirts, to realise how clothing and textile was valued and preserved.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Cut My Cote

This is an excellent reference and has helped me enormously in understanding the evolution of the shirt form. I also found it helpful to see how the different pieces could be cut from the width of cloth and hope to make some comparisons from my own research.

The more you look, the more you see.

One of the many things I have found fascinating so far about this research process is that by having the luxury of time to look at and study something in great depth, the more you look the more you see. Things that I barely noticed initially become fascinating elements requiring thorough visual study to understand construction.

I have also found that by starting to read about costume history alongside this it has made me interrogate the garment differently. A good example of this is that I read about a shirt in a museum collection being made from one piece of cloth for the body, folded at the shoulders. Now I had assumed (crucial error!) that the shirt was made from a front and back piece joined at the shoulder because I had seen a line of stitching there. On closer inspection after reading this I have ascertained that sure enough the main shirt body is one piece of fabric. The stitching across the shoulders is the addition of a narrow strip of fabric, stitched to the inside of the shirt, possibly this would have strengthened the garment.

So I feel more than ever that although it is good to look, study and record without bias, we already have bias and assumption. What is needed sometimes is further information to help us frame relevant questions.

Below are some more details that help to unpick the form and function of the shirt.

Button and buttonhole at cuff
Side vent/gusset
Triangular neck gusset
There is a very good reference to this neck gusset and other elements of the shirt in 'Cut My Cote' by Dorothy K. Burnham.