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The Empire Style and Court Clothing

The Empire Style and Court Clothing

1802, Musee Carnavalet, Paris. The Empire Style and Court Clothing

The Empire Style and Court Clothing

During the first chaotic revolutionary period a dramatic change occurred in women’s fashion. The chemise dress, so named because of its resemblance to a chemise undergarment, became the dominant fashion. Undergarments such as the corset and pannier, which had been necessary to form the exaggerated shape of women’s rococo costumes in the previous century, were abandoned. Women preferred to wear thin, almost transparent white cotton dresses with few or no undergarments instead.


Madame Recamier by Francois Gerard

Madame Recamier by Francois Gerard. The Empire Style and Court Clothing

A later portrait, this time of Madame Recamier by Francois Gerard (1802, Musee Carnavalet, Paris), illustrates how that dress shape gradually blended into the style of neoclassicism, which celebrated the refined and geometric forms of Greek and Roman antiquity. Diaphanous materials like muslin, gauze, and percale were chosen for their simplicity. These fabrics also suggested that the function of garments was to drape, rather than mold, the body.

However, the European winter was too cold for the thin material of the chemise. In addition, practical, tailored English outerwear such as the spencer and the redingote helped to keep the cold at bay. These outer garments showed a strong influence of Napoleonic military uniforms, which had adopted attractive bold designs to emphasize the power of the troops. Cashmere shawls from Kashmir, India, are said to have caught all when Napoleon brought them back to France following his Egyptian campaign in 1799.

The name “Paisley” grew to be so widely known that it became synonymous with the cone pattern often asso­ciated with cashmere items. The vogue for cashmere shawls continued until the Second Empire period» when an over­sized version worn with crinolines became the dominant style.

Josephine at Napoleon's coronation and depicted in Jacques-Louis Davids famous painting (1805—1807, Mus& du Louvre, Paris) show the typical court style of the Empire

Josephine at Napoleon’s coronation. Jacques-Louis Davids famous painting (1805—1807, Mus& du Louvre, Paris). The Empire Style and Court Clothing

Napoleon made an effort to revive the French industry by imposing customs duties on imports from England and by prohibiting the public from wearing English muslin, but these measures did not turn the tide of the trend. Josephine at Napoleon’s coronation and depicted in Jacques-Louis Davids famous painting (1805—1807, Mus& du Louvre, Paris) show the typical court style of the Empire.

During the first decade of the nineteenth century the outline of women’s clothing did not undergo any dramatic change, but skirt lengths were shortened after 1810.

The Empire Style and Court Clothing

The Empire Style and Court Clothing

Fragment of painting by Jacques-Louis David ‘The Coronation of Napoleon’. The Empire Style and Court Clothing