I just saw it again, that beautiful Caravaggio from 1593 on which a young man peels an apricot in a white shirt. What struck me suddenly was the nonchalant collar and the loose cut that gave the shirt a modern look. Quite exceptional for that time, in which a shirt mainly functioned as underwear for men.
Until well into the Middle Ages, a shirt served as a kind of first layer to protect the precious outerwear from sweat and dirt, actually more like an undershirt. The garment that was put on the head had no collar or cuffs, but a hole for the head that was closed with a rope or lace. The buildings were also a lot longer than now. They were put in the pants and served as underwear at the same time. For that reason, it was not done to show your shirt in company. Only the collar – you could opt for a fixed or loose – which was often exuberantly decorated, could be shown. Mostly linen was used as fabric and sometimes silk.
In the 18th century the function of the shirt changed, it was no longer only used as underwear. The collar grew to enormous proportions and was decorated with embroidery and lace. Later the collar became smaller again. In the middle of the 19th century the shirt finally got a more elegant shape and the button closure was introduced. Only after the first world war the shirt with a full button closure at the front became popular. From then on, the development goes fast, also because the fabrics become finer, there are different fashion influences and the trade makes its appearance.
For most people, the white shirt is a natural basic piece in their wardrobe. But that has not always been the case. Not so long ago a white shirt was a status symbol. It showed to which social class the wearer belonged. White collar (white collar) for the managers and blue collar, (blue collars) for the workers. That time is over. Today, a white shirt says something about the style or taste of the wearer, but nothing more about social status. You can also opt for a blue shirt or a black shirt.