Privateer & Pirate Clothing - Shirts

Sailor Shirts

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. 

Medieval shirt

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.

Examples of Elizabethan Cartwheel Ruffs
Doña Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda, Princess of Eboli, Duchess of Pastrana Sir John Hawkins Gaspard De Coligny - Admiral of France

Doña Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda -
 Princess of Eboli & Duchess of Pastrana

 Sir John Hawkins
English Seadog
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. 

Admiral Nelson
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

How to tie a Sailors Kneckerchief


The Cravat

The cravat is a neckband, similar to a kerchief, the forerunner of the modern tailored necktie and bow tie, originating from 17th-century Croatia.

From the end of the 16th century, the term band applied to any long-strip neckcloth that was not a ruff. The ruff, a starched, pleated white linen strip, originated earlier in the 16th century as a neckcloth (readily changeable, to minimize the soiling of a doublet), as a bib, or as a napkin. A band could be either a plain, attached shirt collar or a detachable "falling band" that draped over the doublet collar. It is possible that cravats were initially worn to hide shirts which were not immaculately clean.
The cravat originated in the 1630s; like most men's fashions between the 17th century and World War I, it was of military origin. In the reign of Louis XIII of France,Croatian mercenaries  were enlisted into a regiment supporting the King and Cardinal Richelieu against the Duc de Guise and the Queen Mother, Marie de Medici. The traditional Croat military kit aroused Parisian curiosity about the unusual, picturesque scarves distinctively knotted at the Croats' necks; the cloths that were used, ranged from the coarse cloths of enlisted soldiers, to the fine linens and silks of the officers. The sartorial word "cravat" derives from the French "cravate," a corrupt French pronunciation of "Croat" — in Croatian, "Hr̀vāt".
Considering the interdependence of many European regions (particularly the French) with the Venetian Republic, which occupied most of Croatia's coast, and the word's uncertain philologic origin, the new male neckdress was known as a cravate. The French readily switched from old-fashioned starched linen ruffs to the new loose linen and muslin cravates; the military styles often had broad, laced edges, while a gentleman's cravat could be of fine lace. As an extreme example of the style, the sculptor Grinling Gibbons carved a realistic cravat in white limewood which is now on display at Chatsworth House.
On returning to England from exile in 1660, Charles II imported with him the latest new word in fashion: "A cravatte is another kind of adornment for the neck being nothing else but a long towel put about the Collar, and so tyed before with a Bow Knott; this is the original of all such Wearings; but now by the Art and Inventions of the seamsters, there is so many new ways of making them, that it would be a task to name, much more to describe them". (Randle Holme,Academy of Armory and Blazon, 1688.)
During the wars of Louis XIV of 1689–1697, except for court, the flowing cravat was replaced with the more current and equally military "Steinkirk", named after the Battle of Steenkerque in 1692. The Steinkirk was a long, narrow, plain or lightly trimmed neckcloth worn with military dress, wrapped once about the neck in a loose knot, with the lace of fringed ends twisted together and tucked out of the way into a button-hole, either of the coat or the waistcoat. The steinkirk was popular with men and women until the 1720s.
The maccaronis reintroduced the flowing cravat in the 1770s, and the manner of a man's knotting became indicative of his taste and style, to the extent that after the Battle of Waterloo (1815) the cravat, itself, was referred to as a "tie".
Images Of The Cravat
U.S. Continental Navy 1776


Example Of Cravat

The continental navy 1776-1777, lieutenant,
midshipman, captain, and seaman.


1818 Necktie (Cravat) Advertisement
1818 Necktie Advertisement

How to Tie A Cravat - Youtube Video By Jas. Townsend and Son

Flat Collars

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.

Thomas Cavendish
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.

Jabots made of lace and hanging loose from the neck were an essential component of upper class, male fashion in the baroque period. Examples can be seen in the movies, "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Dangerous Liaisons". In the late 19th century a jabot would be a cambric or lace bib, for decorating women's clothing. It would be held in place at the neck with a brooch or a sewn-on neckband.
Today, Jabots continue to be worn as part of formal Scottish evening attire and was a former part of Scottish highland dance costumes from the 1930s to the 1970s. They are usually worn with high-necked jackets or doublets, often with matching cuffs for both genders and a tartan-patterned fly plaid draped over-the-shoulder for girls.
Jabot ExampleHenry Morgan
Examples of Jabots
Shirt Examples:
Shirt patterns are pretty much the same as they are today. Listed below are a few examples of a common sailor shirt, as well as an example of Enlish Military dress.
A simple sailors shirtSpanish style shirt

Admiral Nelson's Shirt from Trafalgar