Renaissance Costumes: A Basic Guide
By Jeremy David Clos
Historical Director, The North Carolina Renaissance Faire
Renaissance Costumes: An Introduction | Renaissance Costumes: Building Blocks | Undergarments
Renaissance Costumes for Men | Renaissance Costumes for Women | Other Renaissance Garments
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For both men and women the basic undergarment was a shirt or chemise made of linen (usually, holland or cambric), cotton, or silk. The garment served as an absorbent, comfortable, and washable layer between the body and the seldom-cleaned outer clothes. Shirts and chemises had long sleeves and were pulled over the head. Shirts tended to be simple in cut with straight seams, though it was typical for there to be quite a bit of gather at the collar and cuffs. Fancier shirts would be adorned with lace and embroidery in black or red at the collar and cuffs. Small ruffs might be attached to the shirt at the neck and cuffs, but larger, stiffer ruffs of the later periods would be separate garments.
A man's shirt typically reached to the crotch or mid-thigh; a women's chemise would be between knee- and floor-length. A man's neckline was typically high, while a woman's neckline might be high or low.
It is important never to forget that the shirt was an undergarment. People who were not manual laborers would never been seen in public in just a shirt, except in rare cases when gentlemen might strip down to their shirt to play tennis or some other respectable sport. Working people might strip to their shirts for heavy manual labor, but women would almost always wear a sleeveless bodice over their shirt at the very least.