Jerkins of the 17th Century and Their Contemporary Adaptations

The definite elements of the costume and dress which are typical for a certain historical and cultural period can characterize the development of the society during this period of time. It is important to note that the details of the costume can often reflect the social status of a person who wears the certain clothes, and they can help determine the occupation or position within the social hierarchy.

Discussing the elements of the European costume for men worn in the 17th century, it is necessary to concentrate on such a garment as jerkin worn by men belonging to different social categories. From this point, jerkins worn by military men and by civilians differed significantly as well as jerkins worn by the representatives of the social upper and middle classes. Thus, a jerkin was an important part of the man’s costume during the 17th century.

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Today, jerkins are not presented in that form which was typical for the 17th century. The details characteristic for jerkins are represented in the modern leather jackets with sleeves and sleeveless vests for men. Although there are no jerkins for men used for the everyday costume, modern leather jackets and vests can be discussed as the contemporary adaptations of jerkins because of the number of similarities in the form and materials.

The Characteristic Features of Jerkins in the 17th Century

During the 17th century, jerkins reflected the silhouettes typical for garments of the 16th century, but with adding certain details to this type of clothing. A jerkin can be discussed as a kind of the leather jacket for men, and a jerkin can be short or long, with sleeves or sleeveless.

Jerkins were traditionally close-fitting, and they were worn over the male doublet (Cumming and Cunnington). It is necessary to focus on the leather jerkins because the typical material for jerkins was the light-colored leather. Jerkins were made with or without sleeves depending on the period of the 17th century.

At the beginning of the 17th century, it was possible to observe the upper-class men in jerkins with elbow-length sleeves worn over doublets (Bradley 193). Moreover, the sleeves of jerkins could be puffed to elbow according to the fashion traditions of the period. However, it is important to pay attention to the fact that first jerkins were made of ox-hide or thick leather, and they were worn by soldiers (Cosgrave). These jerkins were typically sleeveless, with high waists, and they were also belted (Fig. 1).

It was rather easy to use jerkins for military purposes, and they were later adopted by civilians for the everyday use. Thus, jerkins acquired the details which were typical for the garments of rich persons, for instance, elements of decoration.

Jerkins were traditionally worn open to demonstrate the doublet. Later, jerkins were buttoned at the waist according to the fashion trends of the late 17th century. Thus, the balance between the open and buttoned parts of jerkins helped create the narrow-waisted silhouette of the leather jerkin (Bradley).

The narrow-waisted jerkins were traditionally worn by the representatives of upper classes because of the high quality of the leather used to manufacture the jerkin of that silhouette (Fig. 2). During the second part of the 17th century, the representatives of the upper classes began to wear high-waisted jerkins with long skirts and long vertical folds reaching to knee.

The Description of Contemporary Adaptations of Jerkins

Today, jerkins are associated with the definite garment characteristic for the military clothing. Thus, the definite elements of the military costume have many details similar to classic jerkins, and this garment is often referred to as a jerkin (Tortora and Eubank).

Jerkins as the military garments are traditionally buttoned to preserve the person from the strong wind, and they are practical in wearing. However, dark colours of leather are used to manufacture contemporary jerkins worn by soldiers in comparison with the traditional light colours of the leather jerkins.

Nevertheless, to define modern leather jerkins for men which have the features of classic jerkins, the notion ‘jacket’ is used. Contemporary adaptations of jerkins in the form of jackets with sleeves are the comfortable alternatives to the coats for men (Fig. 3). The modern variant of a jerkin without sleeves is the leather vest which is rather close-fitting (Fig. 4).

It is significant to pay attention to this detail of the jerkin’s silhouette and its contemporary adaptation because this detail helps distinguish between such two garments as a plain vest and a jerkin (Kaiser).

Contemporary close-fitting vests made of leather can be discussed as the adaptation of the traditional sleeveless jerkin. However, today the practical significance of this garment is accentuated with references to adding pockets and other details to the form of a vest or a jacket.

The modern leather jackets are perceived as the adaptation of jerkins because of their practical convenience and similarities in the form. Thus, the model presented in the picture has the close-fitting silhouette, and it is made of the light-coloured leather (Fig. 3).

If jerkins of the 17th century worn by the representatives of the upper classes were decorated with the help of different buttons and even lace, today close-fitting leather vests and jackets are not decorated because they have more similarities with the traditional clothing of soldiers worn during the 16th-17th centuries.

Jerkins within the Social and Cultural Context of the 17th Century

Jerkins made of thick leather were created to use for military purposes because of the possibilities to protect soldiers in battles. The leather jerkins used by soldiers during the 16th-17th centuries had rather long sleeves which guaranteed more protection against weaponry.

Military jerkins were quite plain in their forms, and they had no elements of decoration (Fig. 1). Thus, jerkins were recognized by the public only as the element of the military clothing during a long period of time. Later, jerkins were adopted by civilians, and this kind of garments became typical for the representatives of the upper and middle classes of the society (Hart and North). Jerkins worn by the representatives of different social categories were various in their forms and decoration.

During the 17th century, the decorated jerkins worn by the higher class individuals helped draw conclusions about the person’s wealth and social status.

Thus, jerkins for the representatives of the upper classes were made of the best leather which was rather thin, and it could accentuate the silhouette of the garment. High-waisted jerkins with long or short skirts were often sleeveless, but they were decorated with the help of lace (Cosgrave). Moreover, golden ornaments accentuated the status of the person who wore the garment.

Only the representatives of the higher social categories could afford the best ornamented jerkins because of the costly craftsmanship and leather used as material (Fig. 2). From this point, the public could distinguish between plain soldiers’ jerkins and ornamented or decorated close-fitting jerkins worn by upper-class individuals.

The status of the person wearing a jerkin could be recognized with references to the quality of the leather and ornaments used. Thus, a jerkin can be used to determine the social status of a person and occupation. Furthermore, jerkins can be discussed from the point of the gender characteristic because jerkins were the part of the men’s clothes during the 16th-17th centuries.

The Role of the Contemporary Adaptations of Jerkins

The word ‘jerkin’ is not used today to discuss the model of a jacket which has a lot of similarities with the classic variant of a jerkin (Tortora and Eubank). However, modern military jackets without sleeves and leather jackets with sleeves as well as modern models of vests have many features characteristic for the form of the classic jerkins.

Nevertheless, contemporary adaptations of jerkins cannot be used to determine the social status of a person because they are worn by a lot of men without references to their status or occupation (Fig. 3, Fig. 4). Modern variants of jerkins are different in the quality of the leather used, but these differences do not influence the price of the garment significantly to state the social status of the person who wears it.

Furthermore, traditional jerkins were a kind of the garments worn by men because of the jerkins’ practical features. Today, contemporary models of vests and leather jackets are the clothes which are worn not only by men but also by women. That is why, modern jackets as the adaptations of jerkins cannot be used to focus on the gender or status of a person. Leather jackets for men and women differ in form and decoration, but they follow the standard close-fitting silhouette.

Conclusion

The first models of leather jerkins used during the 17th century were the traditional garments worn by soldiers because of their practical convenience. These jerkins were often sleeveless, and they were made of thick leather of the low quality.

Later, military jerkins were adopted within the upper social categories, and jerkins were made of light leather of the high quality, they began to be characterized by the close-fitting silhouette and much decoration such as lace. Today, the elements of jerkins are reflected in modern leather jackets and vests for men.

Annotated Bibliography

Bradley, Carolyn. Western World Costume: An Outline History. USA: Courier Dover Publications, 2001. Print.

The work by Carolyn Bradley is important to examine the general picture of the costume’s development through history with references to the particular features of dresses typical for different historical periods. The book is structure in the form of a specific outline which provides the necessary details about costumes from various historical periods.

Moreover, it is possible to refer to cross-referencing of material in order to compare the details of various costumes and dresses. Thus, the book is useful to compare the peculiarities of jerkins typical for the 16th and 17th centuries.

Cosgrave, Bronwyn. Costume and Fashion: A Complete History. USA: Hamlyn Publishing, 2000. Print.

The purpose of Cosgrave’s book is to provide the complete history of costume and fashion. The author pays much attention to analyzing the details and elements of costume with references to their historical, cultural, and social significance. From this point, the book is useful to make conclusions about the role of jerkins and male jackets to determine the social status of a person.

The information from such chapters as ‘Seventeenth Century: Influence of the Baroque, ribbons and embroidery, wigs for men’ and ‘Twentieth Century: The age of diversity, global style, mini-skirts, supermodels, street fashion, new fabrics’ is important to compare and analyze classic jerkins and their contemporary adaptations.

Cumming, Valerie, and Willett Cunnington. The Dictionary of Fashion History. USA: Berg, 2010. Print.

The book by Cumming and Cunnington is important for research on any topic associated with the history of fashion and costume because it provides a wide range of specific terms and notions used to define different garments, materials, types of manufacture, and other aspects connected with the sphere of fashion. The book provides possibilities to use references and find the necessary material according to the type or period.

Hart, Avril, and Susan North. Historical Fashion in Detail: The 17th and 18th Centuries. USA: V & A Publications, 1998. Print.

The book by Hart and North is focused on the analysis of the particular features of costume during the 17th and 18th centuries. The purpose of the book is to provide the detailed information about the historical clothing typical for this period of time.

It is important to note that authors develop the idea of modern adaptations of the garments worn during the 17th and 18th centuries. That is why, discussing and comparing jerkins and modern adaptations, it is useful to refer to the authors’ opinions presented in the book.

Kaiser, Susan. Fashion and Cultural Studies. USA: Berg Publishers, 2012. Print.

In her book, Kaiser concentrates on the cultural aspect while discussing the development of fashion and costume. The author’s work is helpful because it presents a variety of examples to discuss the role of the cultural and social context in analyzing this or that costume. Kaiser pays much attention to the notion of fashion and its development. This discussion is important for the research because of the possibilities to explore the role of such concepts as class and gender in forming fashion and elements of costume.

Tortora, Phyllis, and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress. USA: Fairchild Publications, 2009. Print.

In their work, Tortora and Eubank present the detailed survey of historic costume, paying attention to the analysis of the Western dress from the ancient periods to the modernity. This book is useful to be used in the research because of the provided possibilities to change the elements of the historical costume with modern garments which can be discussed as the contemporary adaptations. The authors also present the full analysis of fashion tendencies with references to the definite historical periods.

Works Cited

Bradley, Carolyn. Western World Costume: An Outline History. USA: Courier Dover Publications, 2001. Print.

Cosgrave, Bronwyn. Costume and Fashion: A Complete History. USA: Hamlyn Publishing, 2000. Print.

Cumming, Valerie, and Willett Cunnington. The Dictionary of Fashion History. USA: Berg, 2010. Print.

Hart, Avril, and Susan North. Historical Fashion in Detail: The 17th and 18th Centuries. USA: V & A Publications, 1998. Print.

Kaiser, Susan. Fashion and Cultural Studies. USA: Berg Publishers, 2012. Print.

Tortora, Phyllis, and Keith Eubank. Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress. USA: Fairchild Publications, 2009. Print.

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