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A camisole… the underarmor of the 18th century

As my excitement builds about getting out into the woods this weekend for a historic winter hike andcamp-out, I have decided to post a little blurb on my most recent sewing project. After reading Nathan Kobuck’s blog posting on under-waistcoats, I decided to also make one.

This garment is not just a British garment but was common all over Europe. Among the French it was known as a camisole or gilet. It could be believed that the gilet was a sleeveless version and the camisole, sleeved as is seen in the some period descriptions. Andre and Suzanne Gousse translate Furetiere (1690) describing a camisole as,

“… it is made with or without sleeves; this last one is called a gilet… The camisole, otherwise gilet, is worn next to the skin or over the shirt… It can be with or without sleeves, & is cut much like a waistcoat with no skirts or tabs; the back is almost straight…”

Following the explanations above, mentions of these gaments in various inventories, and a couple extant British and American examples; I made the following garment.

I made this of scrap pieces of wool flannel and recycled some wool and linen tape for the ties. I made this with the seams “inside-out” in order to cut the possibility of chaffing and for general comfort. Overall, I am very pleased with how it turned out. I think the length of the body could be longer so that it goes farther down my torso, but my scraps of fabric did not allow this. I may piece in some additional length at a future date.

I will also add that I had the opportunity to try this garment out for an afternoon during the Grand Portage film shoot and it was very comfortable and warm. I wore it under my shirt and directly agains my skin. I am looking forward to a longer test trial this weekend.

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