Wednesday, 17 September 2014


This post will be very boring, all about the shirts of France, so do skip it unless you are a collector of these attractive costume items or deal in them.    French rustic shirts were made in their thousands for wear by the working people of France for well over 100 years.   The material was usually linen, often home grown, hemp which was also grown for making into textiles, sometimes mixed with cotton, not homegrown, from overseas., and known as metis (mix)  The earliest shirts seem to have been very simple and plain, with bone(mutton) buttons at the neck opening and various different kinds of pleating down the front to allow for movement.  All were made with square shaped pieces of cloth, for economy and curved seams were not known - just as with English smocks.
They were however, amply fitted with folded square gussets to give space and movement while working - the gussets in different sizes were placed under the arm, at the joint of the tails, at the wrists, and at the neck.
The main body and the arms were fairly standard, also the yokes, but the fronts had several different treatments,   - flat pleats, gathers or stitched pin tucking (rare), all from the yokes. There were no waist seams but when pleated, the fronts often ended in a straight short bar of material applied just above the waist.  Others had a 'plastron' or triangular bib shaped piece applied over the chest,     Two or three buttons sometimes m.o.p. or ceramic and hand stitched holes completed the garment and there was usually a single button and hole at the sleeve cuff.   The back was always gathered into the yoke piece and secured with very strong fine stitching.  The collar was one of the main differences, possibly varying from one district or department and also from one convent, or another,  where most of the sewing was done.  I always found the most attractive were large, slightly floppy square collars with big points, rather like Puritan dresses, whereas the low-cut, stand-up collars were more difficult to wear for most women.  And, yes, it was the modern women who bought these becoming, hand sewn garments, from the eighties onwards.   They bought them as leisure wear, for cooking, gardening, safari wear, tropical wear, for music, for art, for sculpture and every kind of activity - they were everlasting and could be boiled clean in a day.  I sold hundreds and their friends came back for more - they were £8 or £12 each and I could buy them then in France by the dozen, thrown out of the linen stores in the old farmhouses and vineyards, once  I GOT TO KNOW THE GOOD SOURCES.  They were part of every girl's marriage dowry, so there were thousands beautifully stitched!

  I have told the story of how the fashion editor of Vogue found herself trying one on which had her two initials correctly embroidered on the tail.  Another good story was how a very leading socialite client of mine went on holiday to a most exclusive Mediterranean resort and simply dyed 7 shirts in 7 different colours in her washing machine and wore a different one every night which impressed her house party mightily.


  1. I wear them all the time!
    Different lengths and styles add to the variety and I dye them too. Black, navy and my favourite... A mix of grey and brown dye gives a great colour.
    Julie x

  2. How I love reading these shirt tales. How I do wish that I had some of these beautiful garments myself.

    It's a pleasure to read your posts, even if over here in New York, I experience the pleasure vicariously. The Web can be a wonderful place.

    Best wiehes.

  3. An excellent piece to read as usual.
    I've been dyeing ones I find in Indigo and they look wonderful. Diane ( in Brittany )