The last week of Georgian month, did you enjoy it? I certainly did! I’m going to be doing a Regency-themed month in a few months time, so let me know which topics you’d like me to cover.
This week I’m going to be covering the Chemise à la Reine. This post isn’t going to be as long as the others as this style of dress didn’t last as long as the open robe or saque, but I just had to cover this iconic Georgian dress that serves as the transition into the Regency period.
The Chemise à la Reine (Chemise de la Reine, round gown, gaulle or robe à la Creole) translates literally to 'underwear of the Queen'. The name originates from the portrait of Marie Antoinette in 1783 that served to popularise this new style of dress.
When it was first displayed, the dress depicted was deemed too 'informal' for royalty and the artist was asked to remove it from exhibition. Some even thought that she had been painted in her chemise which would have been scandalous; at a time when suspicion and dislike towards the Queen was already on the rise, this portrait only served to add fuel to an already simmering fire.
‘All the sex now– from fifteen to fifty and upwards (I should rather say downwards) appear in their white muslin frocks, with broad sashes, with their hair curled over their foreheads, and hanging down behind, to the bottom of their backs– and all without caps.’ Lady’s Magazine, 1789
The style was initially brought over by Frenchwomen from the West Indies, where trade was thriving at the time, hence the alternative name, 'robe à la Creole'. They also introduced the practice of washing whites with a diluted blue dye, something that's still included in our washing detergents today!
The Chemise à la Reine was mostly made from white linen, oftentimes worn with a coloured sash, but they were not exclusively made from white linen. There are extant examples made from different fabrics and dyed linens.
It was truly a transitional garment. The loose-fitting, unstructured style was a rebellion against the overly stiff, padded styles of the earlier decades. A more 'natural' look for the body became en vogue. Stays became softer, supporting the bust more, but they weren't quite at the point of lifting the bust as high as it's worn in the Regency period. They also discarded the profusion of skirt supports; now, only a small bustle pad was worn. The waistline sat high on the body, but it wasn't quite as high as empire-line just yet, there was still a little room for it to rise further as we go into the Regency period.
Round gowns were often made with a fitted under-bodice to keep the dress in place, with the excess fabric gathered on top to give it that floaty, romantic look.
Initially, the Chemise à la Reine was worn to show a rejection of fashion and its ever-changing nature. Ironically, it then became the height of fashion.
Keira Knightley in 'The Duchess.'
You can see an example of the Chemise à la Reine in the film 'The Duchess', and there are some really nice examples in 'Marie Antoinette' (2006). If you want to make your own, American Duchess has instructions on how to make one in their book: 'The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking.
From the examples you've seen so far, I'm sure you can see how this style then gradually softens into the Regency style, with the empire-line waists and columnar skirts.
I really love the Chemise à la Reine, and it's understandable why Georgian women loved it too. It was looser and more relaxed than any other style of day dress that existed in previous decades, and the fact that it was made from linen would have made it a lot cooler too, which would have been a godsend, especially in warmer countries.
So that's the end of Georgian month! Let me know what you want to see for the upcoming Regency month, but until then look forward to some less regimented blog posts from me!
Until next time,
‘Costume In Detail’ by Nancy Bradfield
‘18th Century Dressmaking’ by Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox (good instructions on how to make your own!)
‘Aristocrats- The Illustrated Companion to the Television Series’ by Stella Tillyard
‘The Cut of Women’s Clothes’ by Norah Waugh
'Patterns of Fashion 1' by Janet Arnold
‘Draping Period Costumes’ by Sharon Sobel