Chemise set

In the late 19th century, feminist ideas changed women’s fashion, both outerwear and underwear. Rigid bodices and full skirts were abandoned in favour of shorter, narrower dresses. Underwear evolved, too, from loose chemises and pantaloons to “combination” undergarments that reduced bulkiness and better suited the streamlined women’s fashion of the 20th century.


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  • Chemise set

    Chemise set

    Europe: Western Europe, France

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  • Chemise set

    Chemise set

    Europe, Western Europe, France

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  • Chemise

    Chemise

    Europe: Northern Europe, Scandinavia, Denmark

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What does this chemise set communicate about 19th century France?

responded: Jan 27, 2012

Posted by Alison McKibbin

194
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This chemise set is an indication the Belle Époque Era, literally “The Beautiful Age”, which occurred during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As industrial output rose during this time in France, so did quality of life for the French middle and upper classes. This relatively stable and profitable time period led to an increase in consumption and an interest in fashion, versus necessity, by France’s privileged class. In terms of fashion, the constricting corset was increasingly being abandoned for light, practical undergarments which did not manipulate the shape of the body. The establishment of Paul Poiret’s fashion house in Paris, in 1903, had a considerable impact on contemporary fashion in France. Poiret was heralded as freeing women of the early 20th century from both petticoats and corsets and with designs based on draping techniques, which referenced the Japanese kimono and Greek chiton, rather than rigid patterns,this chemise would have suited Poiret’s widely embraced uncorseted silhouette. The lace detailing on this chemise, embodies the focus on style and exquisiteness, characteristic of the era; although the item is intended to be worn under many layers, it is not unadorned. The decorative nature of the chemise reflects an acceptance of women’s evolving sexuality and French society’s acknowledgment of this development, as skin is bared on the torso with thin straps and both outer-clothes and undergarments are cut closer to body. The chemise’s single layer of tightly woven, sometimes sheer fabric, with a sleeveless top, would have complimented the increasingly tapered silhouette and low cut necklines of the time period. The separated leg holes (rather than a skirted bottom) point to the late 19th century French woman as requiring ease of movement and mobility with the pared down, light as air chemise shown. Lace detailing remains a prevalent feature in women’s lingerie and undergarments today as a symbol of sexuality and femininity.

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