Male Clothing II – The Shirt

Dada a extensão deste artigo, achei por bem publicar as versões inglesa e portuguesa em separado. Para a versão portuguesa, cliquem aqui.

In the first post of this series, I stated that the most intimate pieces, or undergarments, of any set of fifteenth-century men’s clothing were the braies and the shirt. Let us now look at what the shirt looks like during this period.

Origin & Evolution

Shirt 2.png
Detail of the
Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus by Dieric Bouts, the Elder.
(ca. 1458).

Little is known about the Portuguese men’s shirt of the fifteenth century – perhaps because it wasn’t that much different from the shirt  (camisa or alcândora [1]) worn in previous centuries. It was usually made of linen – rough bragal linen for the lower classes, finer linens as one went up the social ladder. A curious Portuguese peculiarity (which could perhaps be extended to the other Christian kingdoms of the Peninsula) is the influence Moorish culture and aesthetics exerted on this garment: not only could it be made out of cloth other than linen – other fine fabrics [2], printed or damask fabrics, or silks [3] – but it could also be adorned with decorative embroidery [4].

Given the inherent fragility of its materials, no shirt of the era has survived to the present day [5]. It is therefore impossible to empirically determine  how they were designed, or whether there existed distinct and habitual decorative patterns (either Portuguese or foreign) [6]. However, we have a reasonable amount of works of art, scattered all over Europe and in various formats – paintings (like the detail above, on the right), illuminated manuscripts (like the detail below, on the left), woodcuts, etc. -, which allows us to have a very solid idea not only as to how these items of clothing were made, but of some of their more usual ‘types’ as well.

Shirt 3
Detail of the chapter “The Madness of Lancelot” in the romance Lancelot du Lac (ca. 1470).

According to the well-researched summary provided by the Companye of Saynt George [7], 15th century shirts are T-shaped, with tubular sleeves made of a single rectangle of fabric (sometimes including a triangular gusset for added mobility). There may be lateral openings near the bottom hem, which falls somewhere between the knees and the middle of the thigh (and never as low as the depiction presented left, for example). As for the neck opening, it could be circular or be a simple slit/aperture through which the head went through. Just as with the braies, there seems to have been no major difference between the shirts of the rich and the shirts of the poor, at least as far as shape is concerned – the distinction would be made only in materials and decoration, not in different configurations.

The Shirt in Reenactment

Just as with the braies, it’s important to pay attention to the linen from which the shirts are made – by making sure that the fabric is indeed 100% linen, first and foremost, and not a mixture of linen and cotton (or, worse, linen and artificial fibers). For more affluent recreators looking to have their shirts made of other fabrics, rigorous research for the use of patterns and embellishments, as well as certain types of fabric, is imperative [8].

Any kind of frill, lace, standing collar, button or drawstring is to be avoided at all costs. Drawstrings are particularly frequent in “reenactment” shirts, to the point where they can sometimes worm their way into the catalogue of otherwise reputable tailors. They are, however, completely anachronistic [9] . A final word of caution regarding colours: silks and fancy fabrics aside, all other shirts must come in white or écru.


[1] Oliveira Marques, A. (2010). A Sociedade Medieval Portuguesa – Aspectos do Quotidiano, p. 58.

[2] Oliveira Marques, A. (2010), op. cit., p. 52

[3] Oliveira Marques, A. (2010), op. cit., p. 58

[4] Oliveira Marques, A. (2010), op. cit., p. 58

[5] There are artefacts, like Saint Loui’s shirt (ca. 1270) preserved in the treasury of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which may help us establish some general principles vis-à-vis stitching techniques and the use of materials in later models of shirt: “The burial shirt of Saint Louis shows that scraps cut from the neckhole were cleverly fashioned into neckline facing and gores for the armscye (the armpit region of the sleeve)” (Eustace, 2017).

[6] Possibly akin to so-called blackwork embroidery. Although usually regarded as an embroidery technique of the 1500s, pieces like the Altarpiece of St. John the Baptist in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya point to its existence in the third quarter of the 15th century.

[7] Harlaut, M. (2010). Company of Saynt George – Clothing Guide (Men), p. 12.

[8] For an overview of Portuguese cloths during the Middle Ages, I recommend the excellent study O Pano da Terra: Produção têxtil em Portugal nos finais da Idade Média (in Portuguese), by Joana Sequeira, researcher at the University of Porto.

[9] Drawstrings are not to be mistaken for simple ties, for which there is some evidence (at least in Italy). See, for example, the portrait of Giuliano da San Gallo by Piero di Cosimo , which shows the collar bands extending forwards to become ties for the neck opening.


Harlaut, M. (2010). Company of Saynt George – Clothing Guide (Men)

Oliveira Marques, A. (1971). Daily Life in Portugal in the Late Middle Ages. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press

Oliveira Marques, A. (2010). A Sociedade Medieval Portuguesa – Aspectos do Quotidiano. Lisboa: Esfera dos Livros

Sequeira, J. (2014). O Pano da Terra: Produção têxtil em Portugal nos finais da Idade Média. Porto: U. Porto Edições.


Lancelot du Lac (ca. 1470). Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Fr. 116, fol. 598v

de Benabarre, P. (ca. 1480). Altarpiece of St. John the Baptist [oil and tempera on wood]. Barcelona: Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

di Cosimo, P. (ca. 1482-1485). Portrait of Giuliano da San Gallo [oil and tempera on wood]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum.

Bouts, D. (ca. 1458). Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus [oil and tempera on wood]. Leuven: Sint-Pieterskerk


Eustace, E. (Last updated: 2017). Sherts, Trewes, & Hose .i. : A Survey of Medieval Underwear. Retrieved from

Pedersen, S. (2016, 16 November). Medieval Men’s Underwear [blog post]. Retrrieved from





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