As I mentioned in a recent post, I have decided to attend 2 events this month that will require clothing from the period 1775-1799 which I do not currently own and from a period I am not intimately familiar with. Thus I began this project in a flurry of research. After thinking of the popular styles, Robe a l’Francaise, Robe a l’Anglaise, Robe a la Polonaise, and Skirt and Jacket combination, I am left with one more possibility that was particularly popular in the late 1780s and 1790s: the Chemise Dress or Chemise de la Reine.
The Chemise Dress is a descendant of the style of dress first worn by Marie Antoinette, called the Chemise de la Reine. This quote does a fantastic job of relating the social values surrounding this style in a quite amusing fashion! Aren’t you as amused as I am by this quote?
1784. When down dances my ribbon white, but so bepuckered and plaited, I could not tell what to make of her: so turning about, I cried, ‘Hey, Sally, my dear, what new frolic is this? It is like none of the gowns you used to wear.’ ‘No, my dear,’ crieth she, ‘it is no gown, it is the chemise de la rein’. ‘My dear,’ replied I, hurt at this gibberish, which I was half ashamed to own I did not understand; ‘What is it? You know I am not like you, master of French; let us have the name of your new dress in downright English.’ ‘Why then,’ said she, ‘if you must have it, it is the queen’ shift.’ Mercy on me, thought I, what will the world come to, when an oilman’s wife comes down to serve in the shop, not only in her own shift, but in that of a queen. (From Lady’s Magazine: Printed in The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930 by Norah Waugh)
Well, at first I was thinking “Ah! This is the dress for me! It is fairly simple (and therefore quick) and looks very elegant.” But then I thought about three big deterrents: 1-the similarity of a simple white gathered dress to the clothing from the turn of the 19th century, when afternoon dresses were white and somewhat similar in character and style, 2-the amount of extra fabric needed for petticoats to achieve the soft draping of the skirt and 3-the two events I plan to wear this to (#1: a vintage ball, for which an elegant train would be entirely impractical and #2: an American Revolution colonial fair, for which I would be cold, have a train that would just get dirty, and a style of dress that is about 15-20 years in the future). Those arguments eliminated this style as a possibility, but I wanted to share it with you anyway, because I think it is lovely.
Here are some more examples of Chemise Dresses in various other paintings. (Also, take a look at the hats, aren’t they fabulous? They remind me of the scale of hats in the early 20th century. Can you see the resemblance?)