18th Century Women’s Shifts

Last updated: March 31, 2024

  • MFA 43.1244, a heavy linen shift
  • MFA 43.1245, a heavy linen shift
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1984-79, white linen with ruffled neckline and hollie-point neck slit, England; 1700-1750, altered 1790-1820
  • V&A T.26-1969, linen; United Kingdom, 1730-1760; “Shift of fine linen, hand-sewn. With a low round neck and straight-cut sleeves set with a gore beneath. They are elbow-length, gathered and pleated into an arm-band with worked eyelet holes. The shift reaches to below the knees and is flared in the front, and with triangular gores inserted at each side of the back.”
  • Manchester 1969.237, 1740-1780; “Fine white linen. Low round neck, bound with narrow linen tape. Elbow length, straight cut sleeves, with a gore below, and gathered and finely pleated into an armband with worked eyelet holes. Body of shift reaches below knees, flaring to the front with triangular gores. Marked below centre front neck edge: "4 / SH" in red cotton cross stitch. Identical to two shifts at the V&A [T.25-1969 & T.26-1969] with the same inscription.”
  • V&A T.248-1931, Great Britain, 1740-1780; “Woman’s shift made of two qualities of linen, one known as 'coarse holland' with a thread count of 70 warp × 60 weft per inch for the body, and a finer one of 88 warp × 96 weft for the elbow-length sleeves, sewn with linen thread. The full width of the coarse linen can be calculated from the cut and was probably 29¾ inches (75.5 cm) wide. There are no shoulder seams in this example; front and back were cut as one, the selvedge on one side, cut diagonally on the other. Triangular gores were sewn to the selvedge edges of the front and back. The neckline is deep and V-shaped, with a narrow hem. The body and sleeves were bound separately with linen tape, then loosely sewn together. The sleeves retain their original pleating with starch. The cuffs are closed and there are no laundry marks.”
  • V&A T.25-1969, a linen shift made in England 1740-1780; “With wide oval neckline and cut very low in the front. It is mid-calf length and flares from the underarm to the hem. At the back, two triangular gores run from the middle of the armhole to the hem. The sleeves are set in straight with a triangular gore beneath. They are gathered and pleated in the pressing. They are open a short way up from the band and have two worked eyelet holes in the band. The neck is faced with a narrow linen tape. Embroidered at the base of the neck in red cross stitch with '4 / S H'. The chemise is very finely stitched.”
  • Met C.I.41.161.7, linen, French, 3rd quarter of the 18th century
  • Met 2005.369, linen and cotton, American, c. 1780
  • KCI AC6289 89-4-6, linen, c. 1780-unknown
  • MRAH, linen, with lace trimming the neckline and sleeves, c. 1750-1800
  • MFA 99.664.26, linen; Lexington, Massachusetts, late 18th to early 19th century
  • Livrustkammaren 21161 (61:41), shift of Queen Lovisa (1720-1782)
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1990-7, white linen with cotton sleeve ruffles and linen tape neck-edging and linen drawstring, New York, c. 1780
  • Linen shift from the 1780s
  • Linen shift, United States, c. 1780-1800
  • Connecticut Historical Society 1966.64.13, linen, c. 1780-1805
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1983-234, white linen with lace-trimmed scooped neckline and ungathered short sleeves, c. 1780-1810
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1986-207, white linen with drawstring and ungathered sleeves, England or America, c. 1780-1810
  • Connecticut Historical Society 1950.93.0, linen, c. 1780-1810
  • Connecticut Historical Society 1979.68.789, linen, c. 1780-1810
  • Connecticut Historical Society 1966.64.14, linen, c. 1780-1820
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1940-172, white linen with scooped neckline and short sleeves, America, c. 1780-1820
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1990-5, white linen with scooped neckline, long sleeves, open front (probably for nursing), and under-bust drawstring, New York, c. 1790-1800
  • Met 2009.300.392, linen, American, c. 1790-1810
  • Chemise said to have been worn by Marie Antoinette during her imprisonment
  • V&A T.467:1-1997, a woman's chemise from the early 19th century, linen, Great Britain, 1800-1820; “A woman's shift of linen, with a 3/4 inch band around the neckline and short, ungathered sleeves. The shift is cut in one piece with diagonal shaping at the sides. The sleeves are of a slightly coarser weave than the body. There are three groups of three tiny buttonhole stitches embroidered in pink silk thread at the centre front edge of the neck band.”
  • MFA 49.900, a French linen chemise with cotton embroidery, worn in Boston, Massachusetts about 1821

Illustrations with good details of women’s shifts

See Sharon Burnston’s “The Cognitive Shift” for further discussion & analysis on this subject.