Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Mercenary en Chemise

There is little excuse for it, but given roses and a chemise dress (also known as a robe en chemise or chemise a la reine), the temptation to pose as Marie Antoinette did will rise in anyone with a passing knowledge of French Revolutionary history. Or so the Mercenary could but justify this to herself.

Granted, I do not look half as grand as the French Queen in her infamous portrait by √Člisabeth-Louise Vig√©e le Brun. (More about the portrait, Marie Antoinette en Chemise, and its complex symbolisms and scandal can be found at Tea at Trianon.) I did rather lack the feathered straw hat, gold stripped sash and a talented painter, but I was quite pleased with the outcome.

This chemise, frequently glimpsed underneath other gowns I wear, is made from a sheer white cotton (muslin or mousseline). It's modelled after the one in Norah Waugh's The Cut of Women's Clothes, 1600-1930. There is very little else to say about it other than that it could (and perhaps should) have been cut more full and I really should have worn a sash.

I'm not sure how magazines can still write as though the whole underwear as outerwear businss is in any way new. The long history of the chemise a la reine and its scandalous, revolutionary, decadent roots has been written about widely if not extensively. On the Interweb, there is, for example, this article and the more recent musings of the inimitable Dreamstress.

Even as it scandalised France, the chemise dress was immensely popular in England, "made a fashion statement for the 'natural woman', suggesting simplicity and honest sentiment."* It is also considered the ancestor of the Empire fashions of the early nineteenth century that feature heavily in any Jane Austen adaptation (which is, of course, only slightly ironic given the chaste, modest, mannerly reputation of her heroines).*

There is an abundance of portraits of women clad in chemise dresses. Kirsten Dunst wears a great variety of them in Marie Antoinette, especially in the Trianon scenes. There's also a livejournal group (Chemise Dress Madness!) devoted wholly to them.

If you would like to commission a chemise a la reine from the Costume Mercenary, it would cost in the region of £45-55.

More photos under the cut.


* Mary D. Sheriff, "The Portait of a Queen", in Marie-Antoinette: writings on the body of a queen, edited by Dena Goodman (2003) pp.45-73

* Stella Blum, Eighteenth-century French Fashion Plates in Full Color: 64 engravings from the "Galerie des modes," 1778-1787 (1982)


  1. Ooh, pretty! Looks like it would definitely work as both underwear and outerwear at larp- generic things to go under other things are always useful, but it's nice enough to work by itself, providing weather is warm and dry.

    The stuff about criticism of Marie Antoinette is fascinating too.

    Am intrigued by the thing in the blastmilk article that says:
    "By 1790 classical lines and revolutionary ardor had taken the beau monde by storm and women of fashion and culture appeared in portraits and the salons as idolized Roman matrons or Greek godesses. This was primarily achieved by losing the gathered waist and broad sash and the fullness of the sleeves. Sleeves were either close fitted into the armhole, and no longer than just above the elbow, or non-existant, a la toga."

    I'm having difficulty visualising how that would work- how would you hypothetically adjust the design to make it more classical, e.g. for Odyssey purposes?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...