Fashion in the period 1800–1815, or the Empire style fashion, in this period, fashionable women’s clothing styles were based on the Empire silhouette — dresses were closely fitted to the torso just under the bust, falling loosely below. This styles are commonly called “Empire style”. Women’s clothes were generally tight against the torso from the natural waist upwards, and heavily full-skirted below (often inflated by means of hoop skirts, crinolines, panniers, bustles, etc.). The high waistline of 1795–1820 styles took attention away from the natural waist, so that there was then no point to the tight “wasp-waist” corseting often considered fashionable during other periods. Without the corset, chemise dresses displayed the long line of the body, as well as the curves of the female torso.
Neoclassicism fashion influenced the much greater simplicity of women’s dresses, and the long-lasting fashion for white, from well before the French Revolution, but it was not until after it that thorough-going attempts to imitate ancient styles became fashionable in France, at least for women. Classical costumes had long been worn by fashionable ladies posing as some figure from Greek or Roman myth in a portrait (in particular there was a rash of such portraits of the young model Emma, Lady Hamilton from the 1780s), but such costumes were only worn for the portrait sitting and masquerade balls until the Revolutionary period, and perhaps, like other exotic styles, as undress at home. But the styles worn in portraits by Juliette Récamier, Joséphine de Beauharnais, Thérésa Tallien and other Parisian trend-setters were for going-out in public as well. Seeing Mme Tallien at the opera, Talleyrand quipped that: “Il n’est pas possible de s’exposer plus somptueusement!” (“One could not be more sumptuously undressed”). In 1788, just before the Revolution, the court portraitist Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun had held a Greek supper where the ladies wore plain white Grecian tunics. Shorter classical hairstyles, where possible with curls, were less controversial and very widely adopted, and hair was now uncovered even outdoors; except for evening dress, bonnets or other coverings had typically been worn even indoors before. Thin Greek-style ribbons or fillets were used to tie or decorate the hair instead.
Very light and loose dresses, usually white and often with shockingly bare arms, rose sheer from the ankle to just below the bodice, where there was a strongly emphasized thin hem or tie round the body, often in a different colour. The shape is now often known as the Empire silhouette although it predates the First French Empire of Napoleon, but his first Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais was influential in spreading it around Europe. A long rectangular shawl or wrap, very often plain red but with a decorated border in portraits, helped in colder weather, and was apparently laid around the midriff when seated—for which sprawling semi-recumbent postures were favoured. By the start of the 19th century, such styles had spread widely across Europe.
During the first two decades of the 19th century, fashions continued to follow the basic high-waisted empire silhouette, but in other respects neoclassical influences became progressively diluted. Dresses remained narrow in front, but fullness at the raised back waist allowed room to walk. Colors other than white came into style, the fad for diaphanous outer fabrics faded (except in certain formal contexts), and some elements of obvious visible ornamentation came back into use in the design of the dress (as opposed to the elegant simplicity or subtle white-on-white embroidery of the dress of ca. 1800).
Women fashion in 1800s: short hair; white hats; trim, feathers, lace; Egyptian and Eastern influences in jewelry and apparel; shawls; hooded-overcoats; hair: masses of curls, sometimes pulled back into a bun
Women fashion in 1810s: soft, subtle, sheer classical drapes; raised back waist of high-waisted dresses; short-fitted single breasted jackets; morning dress; walking dress; evening dress; riding habits; bare bosoms and arms; hair: parted in the center, tight ringlets over the ears
Empire silhouette is a style in clothing in which the dress has a fitted bodice ending just below the bust, giving a high-waisted appearance, and a gathered skirt which is long and loosely fitting but skims the body rather than being supported by voluminous petticoats. The outline is especially flattering to pear shapes wishing to disguise the stomach area or emphasize the bust. The shape of the dress also helps to lengthen the body’s appearance.
This style, which broke with the opulence and sumptuousness of the clothing that characterized women’s fashion in the previous century, features a fitted bodice that ends just below the bust, which gives the appearance of a tall, long skirt loose and gathered, but touches the body instead of being supported by voluminous petticoats. The outline is particularly flattering for pear-shaped bodies because it can hide a heavy belly, camouflage a thick waist, but to emphasize the bust. The shape of the dress also lengthens the appearance of the body.
While the style goes back to the late 18th century, the term “Empire silhouette” arose over a century later in early 20th-century Britain; here the word empire refers to the period of the First French Empire; Napoleon’s first Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais was influential in popularizing the style around Europe.
The style began as part of Neoclassical fashion, reviving styles from Greco-Roman art which showed women wearing loose fitting rectangular tunics known as peplos or the more common chiton which were belted under the bust, providing support for women and a cool, comfortable outfit suitable for the warm climate.
The last few years of the 18th century first saw the style coming into fashion in Western and Central Europe (and European-influenced areas). In 1788, just before the Revolution, the court portraitist Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun had held a “Greek supper” where the ladies wore plain white “Greek” tunics. Shorter classical hairstyles, where possible with curls, were less controversial and very widely adopted. Hair was now uncovered even outdoors; except for evening dress, bonnets or other coverings had typically been worn even indoors before. Thin Greek-style ribbons or fillets were used to tie or decorate the hair instead.
Very light and loose dresses, usually white and often with shockingly bare arms, rose sheer from the ankle to just below the bodice, where there was a strongly emphasized thin hem or tie round the body, often in a different color. A long rectangular shawl or wrap, very often plain red but with a decorated border in portraits, helped in colder weather, and was apparently lain around the midriff when seated—for which sprawling semi-recumbent postures were favored. By the turn of the century such styles had spread widely across Europe. In France the style was sometimes called “à la grecque” after the decorations found on the pottery and sculpture of Classical Greek art. The adoption of this style led to a drastic contrast between 1790s fashions and the constricting and voluminous styles of the 1770s (with a rigid cylindrical torso above panniers). The change is probably partially due to the French political upheavals after 1789, as aristocrats feared appearing overtly wealthy during the Reign of Terror. The early styles often featured entirely bare arms, as in the ancient exemplars, but from about 1800 short sleeves became more typical, initially sometimes transparent as in David’s Portrait of Madame Récamier (1800), then puffed. The style evolved through the Napoleonic era until the early 1820s, becoming gradually less simple, after which the hourglass Victorian styles became more popular.
1.French lady in 1808; the style was often accompanied by a shawl or similar wrap, or a short “Spencer” jacket, as the dresses were light and left much uncovered
2.Portrait of Thérésa Tallien by Jean-Bernard Duvivier (1806) with Empire waist Brooklyn Museum
3.Madame Rivière, 1806, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Louvre.
4.Painting of a family game of checkers (“jeu de dames”) by French artist Louis-Léopold Boilly, c. 1803.
5.Madame Raymond de Verninacby Jacques-Louis David, with clothes and chair in Directoire style. “Year 7”, that is 1798-99.
Inspired by neoclassical tastes, the short-waisted dresses sported soft, loose skirts and were often made of white, almost transparent muslin, which was easily washed and draped loosely like the garments on Greek and Roman statues. Since the fabric clung to the body, revealing what was underneath, it made nudity à la grecque a centerpiece of public spectacle. Thus during the 1795–1820 period, it was often possible for middle- and upper-class women to wear clothes that were not very confining or cumbersome, and still be considered decently and fashionably dressed.
Among middle- and upper-class women there was a basic distinction between “morning dress” (worn at home in the afternoons as well as mornings) and evening attire — generally, both men and women changed clothes in preparation for the evening meal and possible entertainments to follow. There were also further gradations such as afternoon dress, walking dress, riding habits, travelling dress, dinner dress, etc.
In the Mirror of Graces; or the English Lady’s Costume, published in London in 1811, the author (“a Lady of Distinction”) advised:
In the morning the arms and bosom must be completely covered to the throat and wrists. From the dinner-hour to the termination of the day, the arms, to a graceful height above the elbow, may be bare; and the neck and shoulders unveiled as far as delicacy will allow.
Morning dresses were worn inside the house. They were high-necked and long-sleeved, covering throat and wrists, and generally plain and devoid of decoration.
Evening gowns were often extravagantly trimmed and decorated with lace, ribbons, and netting. They were cut low and sported short sleeves, baring bosoms. Bared arms were covered by long white gloves. Our Lady of Distinction, however, cautions young women from displaying their bosoms beyond the boundaries of decency, saying, “The bosom and shoulders of a very young and fair girl may be displayed without exciting much displeasure or disgust.”
A Lady of Distinction also advised young ladies to wear softer shades of color, such as pinks, periwinkle blue, or lilacs. The mature matron could wear fuller colors, such as purple, black, crimson, deep blue, or yellow.
Many women of this era remarked upon how being fully dressed meant the bosom and shoulders were bare, and yet being under-dressed would mean one’s neckline went right up to one’s chin.
Due to the importance of showing social status, the fashion industry was very much influenced by society during the Regency era. One’s position was determined by the person’s wealth, etiquette, family status, intelligence, and beauty. Women financially and socially relied on their husbands. The only socially-acceptable activities in which women could participate centered around social gatherings and fashion, the most important component of which was attending evening parties. These parties helped to build relationships and connection with others. As etiquette dictated different standards of attire for different events, afternoon dress, evening dress, evening full dress, ball dress, and different type of dresses were popular.
Women’s fashion in the Regency era started to change drastically. It popularized the empire silhouette, which featured a fitted bodice and high waist. This “new natural style” emphasized the beauty of the body’s natural lines. Clothing became lighter and easier to care for than in the past. Women often wore several layers of clothing, typically undergarments, gowns, and outerwear. The chemise, the standard undergarment of the era, prevented the thin, gauzy dresses from being fully transparent. Outerwear, such as the spencer and the pelisse, were popular.
The empire silhouette was created in the late 18th century to about early 19th century, and referred to the period of the First French Empire. This adoption had been linked with France’s Relation and adopted of Greek and Roman principles. The style was often worn in white to denote as a high social status. Josephine Bonaparte was the one of the figureheads for the Empire waistline, with her elaborated and decorated Empire line dresses. Regency women followed the Empire style along the same trend of raised waistlines as French styles, even when their countries were at war. Starting from 1780s and early 1790s, women’s silhouette became slimmer and the waistlines crept up. After 1795, waistlines rose dramatically and the skirt circumference was further reduced. Few years later, England and France started to show the focus of high waist style and this led to the creation of Empire style.
The style began as part of Neoclassical fashion, reviving styles from Greco-Roman art which showed women wearing loose fitting rectangular tunics known as peplos which were belted under the bust, providing support for women and a cool, comfortable outfit especially in warm climate. The empire silhouette was defined by the waistline, which was positioned directly under the bust. The Empire silhouette were the key style in women’s clothing during the Regency era. The dresses were usually light, long and fit loosely, they were usually in white and often sheer from the ankle to just below the bodice which strongly emphasized thin hem and tied around the body. A long rectangular shawl or wrap, very often plain red but with a decorated border in portraits, helped in colder weather, and was apparently lain around the midriff when seated—for which sprawling semi-recumbent postures were favored. The dresses had a fitted bodice and it gave a high-waist appearance.
The style had waxed and waned in fashion for hundreds of years. The shape of the dresses also helped to lengthen the body’s appearance. The clothing can also be draped to maximize the bust. Lightweight fabrics were typically used to create a flowing effect. Also, ribbon, sash, and other decorative features were used to highlight the waistline. The empire gowns were often with low neckline and short sleeves and women usually worn them as evening dresses. On the other hand, day gowns had higher neckline and long sleeves. The chemisette was a staple for fashionable ladies. Although there were differences between day dresses and evening dresses, the high waistline was not changed.
Hairstyles and headgear
During this period, the classical influence extended to hairstyles. Often masses of curls were worn over the forehead and ears, with the longer back hair drawn up into loose buns or Psyche knots influenced by Greek and Roman styles. By the later 1810s, front hair was parted in the center and worn in tight ringlets over the ears. Adventurous women like Lady Caroline Lamb wore short cropped hairstyles “à la Titus”, the Journal de Paris reporting in 1802 that “more than half of elegant women were wearing their hair or wig à la Titus”, a layered cut usually with some tresses hanging down.
In the Mirror of Graces, a Lady of Distinction writes, Now, easy tresses, the shining braid, the flowing ringlet confined by the antique comb, or bodkin, give graceful specimens of the simple taste of modern beauty. Nothing can correspond more elegantly with the untrammeled drapery of our newly-adopted classic raiment than this undecorated coiffure of nature.
Conservative married women continued to wear linen mob caps, which now had wider brims at the sides to cover the ears. Fashionable women wore similar caps for morning (at home undress) wear.
For the first time in centuries, respectable but daringly fashionable women would leave the house without a hat or bonnet, previously something often associated with prostitutes. However most women continued to wear something on their head outdoors, though they were beginning to cease to do so indoors during the day (as well as for evening wear). The antique head-dress, or Queen Mary coif, Chinese hat, Oriental inspired turban, and Highland helmet were popular. As for bonnets, their crowns and brims were adorned with increasingly elaborate ornamentations, such as feathers and ribbons. In fact, ladies of the day embellished their hats frequently, replacing old decorations with new trims or feathers.
Fashionable women of the Regency era wore several layers of undergarments. The first was the chemise, or shift, a thin garment with tight, short sleeves (and a low neckline if worn under evening wear), made of white cotton and finished with a plain hem that was shorter than the dress. These shifts were meant to protect the outer-clothes from perspiration and were washed more frequently than outer clothes. In fact, washer women of the time used coarse soap when scrubbing these garments, then plunged them in boiling water, hence the absence of color, lace, or other embellishments, which would have faded or damaged the fabric under such rough treatment. Chemises and shifts also prevented the transparent muslin or silk dresses from being too revealing.
The next layer was a pair of stays or corset. However, high-waisted classical fashions required no corset for the slight of figure, and there were some experiments to produce garments which would serve the same functions as a modern brassiere. (In the Mirror of Graces, a “divorce” was described as an undergarment that served to separate a woman’s breasts. Made of steel or iron that was covered by a type of padding, and shaped like a triangle, this device was placed in the center of the chest.) “Short stays” (corsets extending only a short distance below the breasts) were often worn over the shift or chemise (not directly next to the skin), and “long stays” (corsets extending down towards the natural waist) were worn by a minority of women trying to appear slimmer than they were (but even such long stays were not primarily intended to constrict the waist, in the manner of Victorian corsets.)
The final layer was the petticoat, which could have a scooped neckline and was sleeveless, and was fitted in the back with hooks and eyelets, buttons or tapes. These petticoats were often worn between the underwear and the outer dress and was considered part of the outer clothing not underwear. The lower edge of the petticoat was intended to be seen, since women would often lift their outer dresses to spare the relatively delicate material of the outer dress from mud or damp (so exposing only the coarser and cheaper fabric of the petticoat to risk). Often exposed to view, petticoats were decorated at the hem with rows of tucks or lace, or ruffles.
“Drawers” (underpants with short legs) were only beginning to be worn by a few women during this period. They were tied separately around the waist.
Stockings (hosiery), made of silk or knitted cotton, were held up by garters below the knee until suspenders were introduced in the late 19th century and were often of a white or pale flesh color
Outerwear and shoes
During this time period, women’s clothing was much thinner than in the eighteenth century so warmer outerwear became important in fashion, especially in colder climates. Coat-like garments such as pelisses and redingotes were popular, as were shawls, mantles, mantelets, capes and cloaks. The mantelet was a short cape that was eventually lengthened and made into a shawl. The redingote, another popular example, was a full-length garment resembling a man’s riding coat (hence the name) in style, that could be made of different fabrics and patterns. Throughout the period, the Indian shawl was the favoured wrap, as houses and the typical English country house were generally draughty, and the sheer muslin and light silk dresses popular during this time provided less protection. Shawls were made of soft cashmere or silk or even muslin for summer. Paisley patterns were extremely popular at the time.
Short (high-waisted) jackets called spencers were worn outdoors, along with long-hooded cloaks, Turkish wraps, mantles, capes, Roman tunics, chemisettes, and overcoats called pelisses (which were often sleeveless and reached down as far as the ankles). These outer garments were often made of double sarsnet, fine Merino cloth, or velvets, and trimmed with fur, such as swan’s down, fox, chinchilla, or sable. On May 6, 1801, Jane Austen wrote her sister Cassandra, “Black gauze cloaks are worn as much as anything.”
Thin, flat fabric (silk or velvet) or leather slippers were generally worn (as opposed to the high-heeled shoes of much of the 18th century).
Metal pattens were strapped on shoes to protect them from rain or mud, raising the feet an inch or so off the ground.
Gloves were always worn outside the house. When worn inside, as when making a social call, or on formal occasions, such as a ball, they were removed when dining. About the length of the glove, A Lady of Distinction writes:
If the prevailing fashion be to reject the long sleeve, and to partially display the arm, let the glove advance considerably above the elbow, and there be fastened with a draw-string or armlet. But this should only be the case when the arm is muscular, coarse, or scraggy. When it is fair, smooth, and round, it will admit of the glove being pushed down to a little above the wrists.
Longer gloves were worn rather loosely during this period, crumpling below the elbow. As described in the passage above, “garters” could fasten longer gloves.
Reticules held personal items, such as vinaigrettes. The form-fitting dresses or frocks of the day had no pockets, thus these small drawstring handbags were essential. These handbags were often called buskins or balantines. They were rectangular in shape and was worn suspended by a woven band from a belt placed around the figure above the waist.
Parasols protected a lady’s skin from the sun, and were considered an important fashion accessory. Slender and light in weight, they came in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.
Fashionable ladies (and gentlemen) used fans to cool themselves and to enhance gestures and body language. Made of paper or silk on sticks of ivory and wood, and printed with oriental motifs or popular scenes of the era, these ubiquitous accessories featured a variety of shapes and styles, such as pleated or rigid. An information sheet from the Cheltenham Museum describes fans and their use in body language and communication.
Empire style gallery
1 – 1804
2 – 1804
3 – 1804
4 – 1805
5 – 1809
6 – 1809
7 – 1810
8 – 1810
9 – 1810
10 – 1813
1.Dolley Madison wears short sleeved, light-pink dress with a high waist line. She also wears a thin, chain necklace, a golden-colored shawl, and her hair in a bun with loose waves; the simplicity, yet elegance, of her attire is typical of the era.
2.1804 French painting by Marguerite Gérard showing two different dresses, one more elaborate than the other. Note the low neckline then in fashion.
3.Paris Fashion of 1804. Note the even more generous neckline.
4.Conservative fashion: Mob cap of c. 1805 is pleated in the front and has a narrow frilled brim that widens to cover the ears. America.
5.Mrs Harrison Gray Otis wears a dress with a sheer top layer over a partial lining and a patterned shawl. She wears a gold armlet on her left arm. Her hair is styled in loose waves at the temples and over her ears. Massachusetts, 1809.
6.1809 evening gown worn with elbow-length gloves.
7.1810 evening gown, shown with elbow-length gloves.
8.1810 sketch of woman in “Schute” bonnet and blue-striped dress with flounces.
9.Portrait of a woman by Henri Mulard, ca. 1810.
10.Marguerite-Charlotte David wears a simple white satin evening gown and the ubiquitous shawl. Her headdress is trimmed with ostrich plumes.
Source from Wikipedia