Tuesday, September 2, 2014

18th Century Men's Shirts in Spain and Latin America


A member of the Facebook group, "Authentic Pirate Living History," https://www.facebook.com/groups/455778251185874/ recently mentioned our lack of information on Spanish shirts from what has been called "The Golden Age of Piracy," (c. 1690-1725).  She also suggested that the "casta" paintings might be a possible source.  She was right.


For those who might not be familiar with them, casta means "caste" or "race" in Spanish, and these paintings are a remarkable kind of genre art that attempts to classify the various race mixtures found in the New World.  Most are from the 1700s, mainly from Mexico though there are a some casta paintings from other Latin American countries and the Philippines.   I love these artworks because they include countless details of the appearance of various classes over the course of the century.  


Getting back to 18th century Spanish shirts, for whatever reason, museums and scholars in Spain and Latin America have never done much collecting and documenting of their costume history, at least compared to most of the rest of Europe and North America. It is possible, I believe, that Spanish and/or Latin American shirts from the pirate era survive, but they are bound to be very hard to find.  Complicating the search would be the fact that the word for a man's shirt and a woman's chemise are the same in Spanish - "camisa." That fact alone will double any researcher's efforts.  Also, Spanish and Latin American collections tend to assign very vague dates to things, often just "18th century." 


What I've found from years of searching period images is that the18th century man's shirt for most classes in Spain and Latin America followed the style and construction of other Euro-American societies: wide sleeves gathered into the shoulder, with narrow band cuffs and collar.  Though Latin America produced cotton fabric, of course, linen was in wide use for shirts, chemises, drawers, etc. by all classes right into the early 1800s.  

For more information about casta paintings, two of the best books are:

For more information on casta paintings, two of the best books on the subject, full of beautiful illustrations, are: 

Ilona Katzew, et al. New World Orders; Casta Painting and Colonial Latin America, New York: Americas Society Art Gallery, 1996.

Ilona Katzew, Casta Painting; Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2004. 

Here is a link to a Wikipedia article that has several good examples: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casta 

And, since Spanish and Latin American shirts followed the styles of other Euro-American countries, here's a link to a rather good online article, "Male Dress - Shirts, Brooches, & Buttons" by The 18th Century Material Culture Resource Center," and published on Scribd. http://www.scribd.com/doc/210008634/Male-Dress-Shirts-Brooches-Buttons

A. Detail from a hand drawn plate showing the clothing and equipment of Spanish royal navy seamen, 1725. 

B. "Mestizo and Indian Produce a Coyote" (detail) attributed to Juan Rodríguez Juárez, c. 1715. Hispanic Society of America, New York.

C."Castizo and Spaniard Produce a Spaniard" (detail) attributed to Juan Rodríguez Juárez, c. 1715. Private Collection.

D. "Mestizo and Mestiza, Mestizo" (detail), unknown artist, Peru, ' 1770. Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Madrid. 


  1. Interesting how they prefer linen or was it still cheaper than cotton

  2. A book written by Ilona Katzew called "Casta Paintings" has many great images of how people dressed in Spanish Colonial Mexico.

    1. Yes, where would we be without the casta paintings, and great scholars like Ilona Katzew?