In the Middle Ages, a shirt was a plain undyed garment worn next to the skin and under regular garments. The traditional sailor shirt seems to have developed from the Roman tunica that originally was just a shapeless, canvas, bag-like garment with a hole for the head and two more holes for the arms - but it was waterproof, which is what mattered. It did not have a collar, but instead was either open or gathered around the neck.
Since shirts were considered undergarments, it was generally not fashionable, particularly at court, to wear it uncovered. Thus, the shirt was usually worn under a tunic, cloak, doublet, jerkin or any other form of outerwear.
However, it became fashionable to show the fringes of the shirt, such as the collar or the sleeves, in the form of a gathered collar, and/or fancy cuff.
The Oxford English Dictionary traces the "collar" in its modern meaning to around c. 1300. Originally, the collar was designed in the form of a ruffle or plait created by the drawstring at the neck of the medieval chemise (shirt), and it evolved into the Elizabethan ruff and its successors, known as the whisk collar and falling band. Appearing in the mid-16th century, separate collars sometimes existed alongside attached collars, to allow starching and other fine finishing.
A seaman's shirt was typical of the peasant worker, loose fitting and flowing so as to not constrict movement. The shirt may or may not have a collar depending on when and where it was fabricated. Collars became more typical in the mid-sixteenth century onwards as a fashion statement, known as a ruff.
The Elizabethan Ruff
The earliest ruffs were shirt frills which overlapped the collar of the doublet, and thus stood to attention. However by 1570, as the doublet collar grew higher up the neck, the ruff developed into something larger, more complicated and eventually detachable. Ruffs came in many shapes and sizes but the one which often comes to mind is the large "Shakespearian" cartwheel ruff.
Doña Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda -
Sir John Hawkins
Gaspard de Coligny
Admiral of France
The largest and fanciest ruffs could be nearly two feet wide, and use up to six yards of fabric. The more elaborate ruffs were often constructed from very fine soft materials such as lawn or cambric. The higher up the social ladder a person was, the more elaborate and flashy their ruff would be.
Despite their elaborate elegance, ruffs were not restricted to the aristocracy. They were worn by almost everyone. The working classes, restricted by cost, had to put up with inferior, and probably more uncomfortable ruffs, since, although smaller, they were made of a coarser and cheaper fabric.
Setting a ruff involved sending it off to be 'set' by a professional laundress. Following specific instructions, she could 'set' the ruff with big wide curves, or smaller curves, depending on the mood of the owner. In addition to all the frills, one's ruff could also be decorated with lace, jewels, or embroidery if one had the means.
To keep ruffs upright, starch was often used. The ruff was washed and allowed to dry then liberally plastered with starch before being set by the laundress: 'One arch or piller, wherewith the devil's kingdome of great ruffes is underpropped, is a certain kind of liquid matter which they call starch, wherein the devill hath learned them to wash and die their ruffes, which, being drie, will stand stiff and inflexible about their neckes. And this starch they make of divers substances — of all collours and hues, as white, redde, blewe, purple, and the like.
Sometimes, an "underwire" support called a suppertasse was used to give the ruff an even firmer support. The Suppertasse was a wire support attached to the clothes to which the ruff could be pinned. The ruff's plaits were adjusted by 'poking-sticks made of iron, steel, or silver, that, when used, were heated in the fire'. These poking sticks were used to pleat the ruff and came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Originally made of wood or bone, by 1573, the ruff makers had realised that heated sticks worked much more efficiently.
By the reign of King James I, the ruff fell out of favour in court, and was replaced by the lacey flat collar.
For the Sailor at sea, the ruff required too much in the way of maintenance, and was best reserved for appearances at court. Indeed, many of the famous explorers preferred a simple lacey flat collar or instead of a ruff, a knotted kerchief was tied around the neck in its place.
A portrait of Sir Francis Drake
pictured wearing a kneckerchief.
A common sailor generally favoured the gathered neck, and a loose flowing shirt. It became common to place a knotted kerchief around the neck as an enclosure. The black neckerchief or bandana first appeared in the 16th century and was utilized as a sweat band and a collar enclosure. Black was the predominant color as it was practical and did not readily show dirt. It is often rumoured that sailors began wearing a black coloured kerchief as a sign of mourning after the English Admiral, Lord Nelson, was killed at the battle of Trafalgar. However, this appears to simply be an old sailors' myth as there is no truth that the black neckerchief was designed as a sign of mourning.
The Sailors' Kneckerchief
Neckerchiefs worn by sailors are shaped like a square, and are folded in half diagonally before rolling, with rolling occurring from the tip of the resulting triangle to its hypotenuse. The neckerchief is then placed on the wearer's back, under or over the shirt collar with the ends at the front of the wearer. The rolled ends then pass around the neck until they meet in front of it, where they are secured together, either with a knot, such as a reef knot or a slip knot, or with a rubber band or other fastener (called a woggle or neckerchief slide) and allowed to hang.
|Sailor's neckerchief belonging to Samuel Enderby, Volunteer 1st class in 'Defence' at Trafalgar. Red with a cream and black border. Handprinted "S.E." in ink in the centre. Circa 1805. © National Maritime Museum Collections||
A posthumous picture of Admiral Horation Nelson
circa 1805 wearing a black kerchief/cravat.
How To Tie A Sailors' Kneckerchief
The cravat is a neckband, similar to a kerchief, the forerunner of the modern tailored necktie and bow tie, originating from 17th-century Croatia.
Example Of Cravat
The continental navy 1776-1777, lieutenant,
midshipman, captain, and seaman.
1818 Necktie Advertisement
How to Tie A Cravat - Youtube Video By Jas. Townsend and Son
Besides the ruff - traditional lace, and flat collars have also been popular since the 16th century. By the early 17th century, during the reign of James I, the ruff was replaced instead by the more conventional lacy or silk collar.
A portrait of Thomas Cavendish wearing a collared shirt.
Jabot collars, frills and lace
Eventually, detachable frilled collars and frilled shirt fronts became popular in the 17th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries, a frilled detachable collar known as a jabot consisted of cambric or lace edging sewn to both sides of the front opening of a man's shirt, and partially visible through a vest worn over it. This style arose around 1650. Originally the term jabot referred to the frilling or ruffles decorating the front of a shirt.