by admin on April 29, 2011

16th century chemise (from tortora and eubanks)

elaborate chemise under dress

esme was shopping the sale rack at pacific rim the other day (you must check this out if you’re in carmel) when she came upon a pretty white nightgown.  it had tiny lace details at neck, hem and cuffs, and a ribbon woven into the scoop neckline.  it reminded esme of nothing so much as the garment called a chemise that she has been seeing in just about every chapter of her fashion history book!

the chemise was the sole undergarment worn by women for many many centuries.  it may have had it’s origin in the linen tunics that both men and women wore in ancient times to protect their skin from outer garments made of wool.  medieval women wore white linen tunics as a base layer.  these were meant to show under the outer tunics, and had decorative elements such as embroidered hems and wide sleeves. the chemise evolved through the renaissance, with wealthier women wearing chemises of finer fabrics and with more decoration.  the style continued through the 19th century.

in fact, esme had never noticed this before, but if you look closely at almost any woman’s portrait from earlier times, you will notice a white chemise peeking out seductively from neckline, cuffs, and sometimes hems.  some are so shear that they are barely there at all, while others announce themselves with flounces and lace.

so, the chemise survives today in the form of romantic nightgowns.  esme was amazed to discover that the one she saw (and purchased) from the sale rack was made by the same designer (april cornell) as an ancient white gown she has preserved in her lingerie drawer that was a gift from an old (very old at this point) boyfriend!  but really, i’d rather you didn’t share this with mr. noir!

happy en chemise,



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