Sunday, 25 April 2010

Chemise De La Reine - Underwear to outerwear....

The Chemise began as underwear, worn beneath a women's dress, but nearing the end of the Georgian Era the Chemise De la Reine was the height of fashion. The fashion was started by Marie Antoinette who, whilst visiting her private get away the Petit Trianon, insisted on wearing loose fitting simple gowns, in stark contrast to her ostentatious extravagant styles from her early years as queen. This new style of gown was made of cotton lawn or muslin. The early versions of this gown were much like an actual chemise, made of four rectangular cotton yardage, gathered at the neck and waist and tied with a broad sash. Sleeves were full and gathered, stopping just below the elbow. The dress also frequently had a gathered fabric or lace collar.
Portrait artist VigĂ©e le Brun scandalized the masses in 1783 by producing a painting of Queen Marie Antoinette in what appeared to be merely her underwear. However, the queen and women of quality had been going ‘en chemise’ for many years and not just in the privacy of their boudoir. However, as the classes didn't mix, the masses had not been exposed to the new styles of the aristocracy. Ironically, the shocking aspect of the portrait was the lack of formality shown by a monarch, one who had already become infamous for flouting tradition. The Queen was shown without any of the outward symbols of her position and status and, to the culture of those times, naked before her people. At the time this was taken as an insult to her position as queen and the mother of her people, however it also influenced the changing styles of the Georgian era.
Le Brun was forced to remove her painting from the public eye, but like all scandals, it inspired rather than deterred and the Chemise became the symbolic frock of the 1780’s

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