Or "So, what do you wear under your shift?!"
For 1578, the look for most women should approximate that shown on the right, which is taken from the "Wedding at Bermondsey". Most women should wear a smock with a high collar and ruffles (low status) or seperate, starched ruffs (middling to high) at neck and wrists. Over this is worn a long skirt pleated to a waistband, with a contrast coloured bodice over the top. The bodice is front laced, with a point at centre front. It may have details such as stuffed rolls at the shoulder, or tabs at shoulder and/or waist. Lace on sleeves are optional, but recommended. An apron is worn over the two. The costume notes suggest that the two are made as seperate garments. The process is essentially like making a kirtle except that the two garments aren't sewn together at the waist, so that guide is as good a place as any to start. I've always found this a highly unsatisfactory arrangement, as the skirt tends to slip down allowing the shift to poke through. Belly cleavage is never a good look. One solution to this is to lace the two garments together. That's certainly a valid technique for menswear, in which doublet and hose definately were laced together, but there's no evidence that women's clothing was made this way. My preferred solution is to attatch the skirt to a lightweight, minimalistic bodice to make what was probably in period referred to as "a petticoat upperbodied with..." and then wear a second garment, be it square-necked bodice, waistcoat or English gown over that. Be warned, though, that that isn't the solution the costume notes advocate, and it does involve considerably more sewing.
Discourse over, lets go on to the garments...
The first layer is the shift. This is one of mine. It's made of cream linen and is entirely hand sewn. For 1578 square neckline shifts like this are rather old-fashioned. Ideally, your shift should have a high neckline gathered onto a narrow band. A narrow ruffle at neck and wrist is fashionable and, for the gentry, ruffs are all the rage. You'll find more details on each of these options in the shift notes.
The sleeves on this shift are just a narrow tube with a neat hem at the end. They're a bit too narrow, to be honest, and replacing them with slightly wider ones is on the list of things to do. As is mending the tear near the hem. One day...
You'll see lots of shifts on the manor with fuller sleeves gathered onto a cuff. It's a little more time-consuming to sew, but looks neater and is easier to roll up if you're scrubbing out pans or whatever. Here's a closeup...
If you're going to be on the manor for more than two or three days you will want two of these. There are, I think, two showers on site, and so a few days in the sun and you get pretty smelly. A change of shift is a wondrous thing!
It's amazing how risque it feels posting a picture of me in the Tudor equivalent of bra and knickers! This really is it: there's nothing under there but skin. If your bodice is well fitted you won't need a bra (and shouldn't wear one - it gives the wrong line) and, although the jury is still out on this, consensus of opinion seems to be that there's little evidence that knickers were worn. Informal surveys suggest that about half the women on the manor wear them. Do what you feel comfortable - costume check don't police this.
Over the shift you wear a petticoat. Again, this is made of linen, and can be coloured. Mine is a rather boring pale green/beige. This is hand-sewn and unlined. It's pleated onto a narrow waistband and, like my cuffs, closes with ties. A button is acceptable, too. It opens in the back but could open at the side, if you find that easier.
It's well worth making a couple of petticoats if you have time. You'll see them when you 'kirtle up' - hoik the skirt of the kirtle up into your belt when it's hot. So a second petticoat in a different colour adds variety. Plus linen soaks up water terribly: if it's very wet, water and mud will seep up it to your knees and it's hard to get it dry on site. Putting on a cold, wet and muddy petticoat and heading off to face another day of rain is one of the lowpoints of life on the manor.More details on making petticoats is here.
Over the petticoat is the kirtle. This is in effect the dress. It's made of wool and both the bodice part and the skirt part are lined with linen. It should be front lacing through eyelets. The sleeves can be sewn on or separate, lacing onto the shoulder straps. I would advise keeping them seperate so you can take them off for comfort on hot days.
The green kirtle was my first, and it has lots of errors. The arm-hole is too big, expecially at the back. This means that the shoulder straps are very long and tend to fall down under the weight of the sleeves. I initially cut it too short and too low, hence the dark grey bands at hem and neckline. Errors are opportunities for embellishment ;). It's also a bit loose, although that's because I've changed shape, which means all the weight hangs from the shoulders. It really is more comfortable to have your bodice tight, inspite of how odd that initially feels, as it means the weight of the skirt is supported over your whole torso.
I love this picture. It looks so real. That's partly, of course, because I'm actually doing something, rather than posing somewhat awkwardly for the camera. But, rather more, its because I'm wearing all the 'bits' that makes an outfit come to life. Of particular note - and something every woman with perhaps the exception of the most gentle of the gentlefolk must wear - are the coif and the apron.
The apron is worn over the kirtle, and helps protect it from whatever you're working with. Kentwell is pretty mucky. Here I'm spinning wool, which is inevitably coated with everything a sheep likes to roll in, and it's much better to get that on an apron - which can be easily washed - than on a kirtle, which can't. The apron is a simple, hemmed rectangle of linen that is sewn onto a strip which ties at the back. It is made linen and can be white, black or coloured. As a rule of thumb, inside workers or those of status wear nice white aprons; those who are likely to get filthy are better in coloured. It's nice to have a spare, particularly if you're on a station where you're likely to get mucky, and there's good evidence that women in period had several, including fine wool or silk for best.
The final finishing touch is something to cover your hair. There are several different options, and I discuss them all in some detail here. I wear a coif and you'll see lots of different styles of these about the manor; you can also wrap your head in a large square of cloth. Like the shift, this should be white or off-white linen.