What is this?
Dress shirt belonging to John Lord, Gunner, USN
When is it from?
Why is it Important?
The fine fabric and ruffled bosom tell us that this was a dress shirt, worn with the best uniform on formal occasions. There are loose threads on the back of the J. LORD monogram where the thread was carried from one letter to the next. From the condition of these threads it looks as though the shirt was never washed, or if washed, it was done only a few times and without much agitation. It is because of this apparent lack of use that we may assume the shirt was made for Lord near the end of his life.
A gunner was a warrant officer who, along with the carpenter, boatswain, and sailmaker, filled the ranks of the “forward officers.” According to social mores of the period, a man who worked with his hands could not be considered a “gentleman.” And yet, here is a gentleman’s shirt worn by such a man. The status of the warrant officers was in flux during the early nineteenth century. In 1813 they received an official uniform that finally elevated them, sartorially speaking, above the rest of the crew. They still could not wear side arms like a commissioned officer, but their outward appearance was more genteel than it had been previously. Lord’s shirt fits squarely into this trend. It is easy to imagine him wearing it beneath his blue coat with its gilt buttons and his white vest, looking the part of the consummate professional.
This fine linen shirt is marked (at the bottom of the front breast vent) J. LORD, U.S.N., No. 2, all surrounded by a laurel wreath, probably stamped in blue or black ink. The shirt is also embroidered J. LORD. at the top of the right side vent. The overall condition of the shirt is excellent. There are small brown spots scattered throughout, and some minor yellowing overall. The collar may have been cut down at some point, as suggested by its present narrow width and the whipstitching along its upper edge. The bosom is finely pleated of the same fabric as the body- about five pleats per inch. The center front placket closes with three cut mother of pearl buttons and is further ornamented by a sheer linen or cotton lawn frill (3 ¼ inches wide). The cuffs are likewise decorated with a frill, but these are made of the same fabric as the sleeve of the shirt, and are in fact, integral, being simply extensions of the sleeve. The narrow (1/2 in.) cuffs are in reality false and made to close with cuff buttons (cuff links), having two buttonholes at each wrist. One unusual feature is the presence of a gusset at the top of the wrist opening. Gussets also reinforce the tops of the side vents. The shirt’s body is constructed of one breadth of fabric, selvage to selvage, 31 inches wide.