$3,625 For a Shirt

(From the book Stuffocation: Why We’ve Had Enough Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever)

Think we have inflated prices today? A shirt, before the Industrial Revolution, would have been worth around $3,625 in today’s money!

Take a standard medieval man’s shirt, long sleeves, yoke, some smocking, band collar, hemmed, wrists, etc. Estimate it takes 7 hours to sew a shirt like that by hand – cutting the fabric, sewing, finishing inside and out, etc. Now, you have to have the cloth to sew. This would have been relatively fine, dense cloth. A historical reconstruction site (National Geographic) figured a good weaver could produce 2 inches an hour. It would have taken at least 4 yards of fabric, but you can’t just have the 4 yards on the loom. It takes at least 1-2 feet at each end for a warp, and so 4 X 3 = 12 feet plus 3 feet at the end = 15 feet, 15 X 12 = 180 inches, divide by 2 = 90 hour. And you have to produce the thread/yarn to weave with. There would have been 15-20 threads per inch, we’ll say he’s poor and only gets coarse cloth, 15 threads. The fabric would have been a yard wide, so that would be 15 X 36 = 540 threads, each 15 feet long, just for the warp, a little less for the weft, but we’ll just double it, so 1,080 X 5 yards = 5,400 yards of thread. This would have taken about 400 hours to weave.

So 7 + 90 + = 497, or round to 500 hours of hand labor to make one shirt. Multiply that by today’s Federal* minimum wage of $7.25 = $3,625 for a shirt. Just one shirt. No wonder fabric was never, ever thrown out, but worn to pieces, and then cut down for the kids, and then turned into diapers, rages, etc. Also this is why peasants had one set of work clothes, and a set of “best” clothes (Sundays, holidays, etc.) Because that of course is just the shirt – you’d still need breeches/stockings, vest and jerkin for a man; skirt, bodice for a woman. And a cloak would be nice.

The great thing is buying a nice shirt to wear at the Renaissance Festival doesn’t have to set you back thousands of dollars or take 500 hours to make. We have wonderful clothing vendors that will fit you up. Or check out our costume page to make your own or buy one already made.

*As of May, 1, 2009, it is $7.25 in the U.S. However 29 states have an even higher minimum wage (District of Columbia is at $11.50!), making these shirts even hundreds if not thousands of dollars more!