My Blog » 1780s Collared Chemisette

1780s Collared Chemisette

When you think of 18th century neckline-fillers, you immediately think of a fichu or kerchief, right? A plain or ruffled triangle, worn tucked in or left out over the bodice. I’m oversimplifying, obviously, but really it’s easy to not go beyond a simple style. However, once you start looking for it in portraits and paintings, the variety of quirky and interesting things they were wearing at the neckline is surprising!

Something that caught my eye a couple of years ago was a sort of proto-chemisette. I know I associate chemisettes with the later part of the 1790s and into the early 1800s, but here it was popping up in portraits and fashion plates, particularly French ones, as early as the mid-1780s. Some were plain, some had ruffles. Almost all of them had a collar, some even looked like a men’s shirt worn open. I spotted them worn with plain simple gowns, with jackets, with redingotes, with historically inspired outfits. There seemed to be a lot of experimentation with this look! My observations are all from a basic visual search, which you can see gathered here. This is by no means comprehensive, but rather a rabbit hole I fell down one day and now I can’t stop seeing collared chemisettes. I also haven’t delved further to see if I can find any primary source written descriptions, but I’d like to one day.  

When I was making my version, I focused on the two portraits above. I loved the large oversized collar and the ruffle. They actually reminded me of my habit shirt worn open, so I used that as my construction reference, as well as the Larkin and Smith Men’s Shirt Guide, making it sleeveless so it could be worn under more things. The chemisette is made from Swiss Muslin from Farmhouse Fabrics, and hand sewn with fine silk thread. I only had a yard of fabric so careful measuring and planning was required. I also took the time to pull threads to get straight lines for all my cuts.

I started by cutting a rectangle for the body of the chemisette. The long sides were hemmed and one short end was gathered into a twill tape band long enough to wrap around and tie in front. At the other end, the middle was split to just beyond the half way point and hemmed to form the center front opening. After that, I made a cut at the top on either side of the center front opening and inserted triangular gussets. The neckline was then gathered in sections and the collar attached. The ruffles were hemmed first and attached to the center front with whip gathers. Finally, the side seams were joined for a few inches with a whipstitch to keep the chemisette in place while it is being worn.

The chemisette made its debut at Costume College this year. I paired it with my new 1780s plum satin gown and styled it simply with a kerchief tied in my hair and some vintage millinery flowers, much like the portrait above. Overall I’m so pleased with this new accessory! I would like to tweak a few things to reduce the bulk under the dress. Its slightly too long in back and too wide at the shoulders, but those are so minor I can leave it as is and still wear it.
Posted: 11/17/2018 12:36:15 PM by Aubry | with comments
Filed under: 1780s, 1780s: Accessories
blog comments powered by Disqus