The Empire style dress has a high waist, a style that appeared in the late 1790s and has reappeared frequently in women's clothing design for the past 200 years. The period is significant in that women did not need to wear the stiff, restrictive corsets that ruled fashion from the Middle Ages, and except for this brief time, until the 20th century.
The Empire styles at the beginning of the 19th century were made of a soft, light weight fabric gathered just under the breasts. It featured a low square neckline, and small, short, puffed sleeves with a low shoulder line.
Although lawn and batiste were used, muslin was the fabric of choice as it was easy to clean. The thin muslin clung close to the body and emulated styles worn in ancient Greece. Shades of white predominated, with the addition of pale pastel shades worn for day wear.
The thin, fine fabric used to create Regency dresses proved chilly during the winter months and demanded additional undergarments for modesty as well as for warmth. Flesh toned pantalettes, a loose kind of trouser, fell to just below the knee or to the ankle. Pantalettes were basically two tubes of fabric, one for each leg, joined by a drawstring at the waist.
The gowns we often see associated with Empire or Regency style have a low neckline and short sleeves and were usually worn for evening, dress, or dancing. Toward the end of the era, dancing dresses featured high hemlines that rose several inches above the ankle. Day dresses had a higher neckline and long sleeves.
The chemisette was a wardrobe staple for fashionable ladies.This white undershirt or short dickie, made of a flimsy fabric, was used to fill in a neckline, giving the appearance of an under-blouse for day wear. Evening wear exposed the neckline.
After Napoleon returned form Egypt, a new eastern look began to appear in ladies' clothing. While still an Empire style, the Egyptian influence showed up in 1804 - 1807 with embroidered borders along the hemline.
Mameluke sleeves took the place of tiny capped sleeves. In 1808, sleeves grew longer. The tiered sleeves extended below the wrist and were trimmed in velvet or braiding.
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