Saturday, June 9, 2012

Men's Shirt Cuffs

This was posted on the Old Picture of the Day blog this morning and as much as I love ice cream, what really caught my eye was the cuff of the shirt on the fellow turning the crank. The photo was taken in ca. 1940 but the wide cuff had the button placed at the rear, a characteristic that emerged in the very late 18th/early 19th Century, seemingly coinciding with the lengthening of the coat cuff. This characteristic endured at least through World War I, as can be seen on the ca. WW I military issue shirt:

The book Thoughts on Men's Shirts in America 1750-1900 by William L. Brown III documents this being common throughout the 19th Century with extant examples, the button continuing to be placed at the rear of the cuff even as they narrowed as coat sleeves of a more familiar length took hold. The modern, center placed button was well in place by this 1920 shirt ad:

Here is an example from 1939 of the two versions coexisting (the older man on the right has a rear placed button while the two men in the center have center placed):

This seems to have been familiar so recently that I always find it surprising that most manufactured "reenactor shirts" that I see with wide cuffs intended for use from the 18th Century through the Civil War have center placed buttons, an adaptation that seems to have taken decades to gain acceptance and existed seldom if at all through the 19th Century.


  1. Very interesting- my male friends at Dickens will now have you to thank for me going around and peering at their cuffs :-)

    1. Oh yes! Rear placed buttons are a must for Dickinsians! :)

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