On the Water

Man's Shirt, 1878-88

In 1883, the United States participated in a sort of world’s fair of fishing called The London International Fisheries Exhibition, held at the Royal Horticulture Society in London. Congress instructed the U.S. Commissioner of Fisheries to prepare “a complete and systematic representative exhibition of the fisheries of the United States,” to be presented under the auspices of the Department of State and to draw upon the resources of the Smithsonian Institution.

It would be an understatement to say that the resulting exhibit was comprehensive. It dealt with the biology of marine and freshwater animals of all species, the geography of American fishing fields, the technology of fishing equipment and food processing, the science of deep sea research, the demographics of people involved in the fishing industry, and the anthropology of fishermen and anglers, which included a study of their games, hobbies, and appearance.

This shirt was displayed in the “Section E. – XXII. FISHERMEN AND ANGLERS” portion of the United States entry at the Exhibition. It featured large photographs, anglers’ apparel, a collection of fishermen’s wool and oiled cotton and rubber apparel such as mittens and boots, and “Lay figures [or mannequins] of fishermen of different classes, showing costumes." A note attached to the shirt when it came to the National Museum at the end of the exhibition states that it was of a type “Worn chiefly by cooks on fisheries vessels and others also in the summer.”

The long-sleeved pull-over shirt is made of cotton woven in a small plaid of white and orange threads on a blue ground. The orange threads appear only in the warp. The unshaped shirt body is cut of one length of fabric from the back hem to the front hem, so that there is no seam over the shoulders. The rectangular collar is double-thickness, folded on the outer edge and seamed on the sides, and is three inches wide before being turned over when worn.

One pair of eyelets is worked on the collar at the front neck, directly above ten pairs of worked eyelets along both sides of the shirt body’s ten-inch-long neck opening. The eyelets are laced with an orange cotton cord. The tapered sleeves are set onto the straight edge of the body, and each has a cuff with one small, four-holed, wide-rimmed white china button sewn onto its front. The back body of the shirt is eased into the collar. The corners of the front and back shirt-tails are rounded below short side vents. The center back length of the shirt body is 32.75 in. (83.19 cm).

To read the catalog of the London International Fisheries Exhibition, including a description of the American exhibits that were on display, link to The Fisheries Exhibition Literature. Volume XII. Official catalogue. Awards of the International Juries . (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1884.)

This Web entry was made possible in part by a generous grant from the National Association of Men’s Sportswear Buyers, in memory of Joseph S. Klein.

ID Number:
1878 - 1888
center back length of shirt body: 32.75 in. (83.19 cm)