Monday, February 18, 2013

Riding Shirt: The Quest

Forgive the lapse in posts, this blogger has been indulging in her other obsession, ballroom dance, the last few weeks have been lessons and practice with frantic sewing to keep up with what I need to do to keep up, even though I never keep up.  One must make the attempt.

As the riding habit workshop approaches, the quest for the answer to the "Habit" shirt has become an imperative.  Unfortunately so far no real 100% positive answers.  We have some visual clues from portraits, some verbal clues from text, but no extant garment that I am aware of.  If someone knows of one, please let me know.  There are Regency and later shirts, but so far the quest for an original 3rd quarter 18th c shirt has been fruitless.

Some Questions

Was the shirt full length like a shift?

Was the shirt constructed like a man's?

Was the shirt worn over the stays?

Was a shift worn under the stays and the shirt over the stays?

What was it called?

Some Answers Which are Pure Speculation

Full length.

Made like a boy's or a man's.

Worn under the stays.

No shift, the shirt replaced the shift.

It was called a riding shirt and that is not speculation, it is based on these quotes from the Old Bailey.

Catherine Thomas, Bridget Ward, Bridget Leedham, John Leedham, Jane Leedham, Theft > grand larceny, Theft > receiving, 18th May 1763.

"bought a riding shirt of her for 4 s. "

Jane Robert Faulkner, Theft > pocketpicking, 7th June 1764.

"bought a riding-shirt for 7 s."

ESTHER the, GEORGE BROWN, Theft > grand larceny, 8th September 1773.

"a woman's linen riding shirt, value 3 s."

At least in England, we can document that the term is not "habit shirt" but rather "riding shirt", so from here on out that is the term that I will use.  

The Collar

Miss Vernon, National Trust

What we can learn from portraits of women wearing riding habits is limited to collar and sometimes cuffs if we are lucky.  This portrait shows us one type of collar, a round robin style, similar to that of a little boy, closed with a ribbon and possibly a button underneath.  

This portrait of a young boy by Francois Hubert Drouais is very similar to the collar of the shirt of Miss Vernon.  Her shirt is imitating the boy's style rather than the man's.  Her hat with the feathers can also be interpreted as following a boy's fashion, as young men wore feathers on their tricorns, but that is a stretch, the collar of the shirt is not.  The similarity of collars is quite obvious. Hers is lace and so is his, another interesting detail.  You gotta love the down and dirty details.  More on collars next post.


  1. I thought there was a vest worn over the shirt under the jacket(?), if so then: shirt would be short and worn over the stays over a shift.

  2. Theresa.. one has to wear a shift under the stays, the riding shirt would come above the stays all the way to the neck, like a man's shirt. It would be unnecessary while wearing a waistcoat to have another piece of clothing on top of the shift, if the shift had been made into a man's shirt style. The idea of the short shirt came from a diagram of a short riding shirt in one of Cunningtons's books, and ever since then people have been trying to incorporate the short shirt into the 3rd quarter. It is my opinion (note it is an opinion) that the short shirt in that book is a regency shirt and not relevant to the time period of the 1770s.

  3. Thanks Hallie. What would the sleeves be like? Would they be poofy or more form fitting? I know from wearing Elizabethan that more poofy the sleeve the more restrictive your arms are. I've also seen that there are pretty lacy hems showing out from the cuffs too.

  4. Had to share these two links with you about riding jackets.....beautiful....