Thursday, 17 March 2011

Keep your Shirt on!

The beautifully made smock shirts that were worn by French workmen during the 19th and early 20th C. have lasted well into modern times and are still worn, but now mostly by women, but rarely by French women!
Made of linen or hemp, hand sewn, they are square-cut like most English smocks, and the shoulders, collars and cuffs are double thick to take the wear of tools and hard work. The buttons are sometimes of bone or m.o.p. and the stitching is unbelievably even and fine, almost like machine work. These shirts were worn everyday only by men, over strong serge or corduroy trousers and stood up to endless washing in the 'lavoirs' of the villages and towns. When I first started buying from the old armoires in the country, I was offered hundreds for almost nil Francs -later they found a market at seaside resorts as beachwear for the tourists who loved the blonde look; but they had one disadvantage - because the French body was smaller and narrower than Anglo Saxons' and had very short and narrow arms, they could be uncomfortable to wear and work in. Nearly all have beautiful red embroidered initials and frequently my clients have found their own. The fine stitching and gathering, and numerous little gussets are so very skillful, and one cannot imagine how they sewed such fine seams on such rough and heavy cloth, and the fine, even gatherings at neck and sleeves must have been incredibly difficult to do.

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