Brian (shurhaian) wrote in little_details,

Clothing on sailing ships?

I'm trying to find out what would have been worn by sailors back when the term was literal. The setting has a mix of anthropomorphs and humans, and some fantasy elements - magic is known, and access to it is regular enough to simplify some otherwise labour-intensive tasks, though not everyone has the ability to use it. The world has relatively few large landmasses - much of the known and hospitable world is in the form of archipelagoes, and ships are extremely important for any sort of long-distance trade.

Ships have been around long enough for technology to be at something of a turning point. Many shipboard cannon are still muzzle-loaders, but breech-loading weapons with cartridges, both artillery and small arms(such as revolvers), are starting to gain ground.

I've tried searching for "clothing in the age of sail", but that lead to a bunch of false hits - books, a computer game - and even where I did find things discussing the clothing of the time, it was either incidental mention, or not specific enough to be useful, and sometimes referred to what was worn by people in cities of the time, rather than the sailors themselves.

I also looked on Wikipedia for both "textiles" and "maritime history". On the former I couldn't find any comparison for how well different fabrics work with water, and on the latter, no mention of what people were wearing. I also specifically looked at linen and cotton, but cotton doesn't seem very suitable(too vulnerable to mildew, for instance, and I couldn't tell one way or another how it performed when wet), and linen does seem to absorb water quickly, but I couldn't be sure how it compared to, say, wool.

So: What might sailors have worn? I'm presuming their clothes are loose enough not to restrict mobility, but not so baggy as to catch on things. It's more the fabric itself that I'm trying to identify - something that doesn't absorb so much water as to make sailors sink like a stone overboard, or make them miserable in wet weather(I think linen might have an advantage in that it doesn't FEEL wet until it's quite saturated, but am not sure that's actually practical). But it also has to be something that's comfortable. This particular captain treats his people VERY well, and the person he's involved with is nobility, so in each case, money is no object.

Thoughts? Is linen perhaps better than I give it credit for, especially if a touch of magic can streamline the otherwise labour intensive process? Or is there another fabric that would've been used at the time?

Suggestions appreciated.

Thanks in advance,


EDIT: Thanks all for the responses, looks like I've got a fair bit to work with now.
Tags: ~age of sail, ~boats and other things that float, ~clothing
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic
    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.