che·mise \shə-ˈmēz, sometimes -ˈmēs\ n 1 : a woman's one-piece undergarment 2 : a loose straight-hanging dress
Middle English, shirt, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin camisia
Now that I've finished the chemise dress from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing, I've found myself curious about the history of the chemise dress in general. (Yeah, it probably would have made more sense to be curious about this before I made the dress, but my mind doesn't always work that way.)
Since I've been in possession of VoNBBS, I've pretty much thought of the chemise dress featured as "that dress I don't like." As I made the dress, I gained a new appreciation for it, and also some bemusement. Like I said yesterday, this shape strikes me as so contemporary, and not at all the silhouette I associate with the 50's.
But obviously, the chemise shape is not a modern one. It seems to actually be one of the oldest forms of clothing, which continues to reincarnate itself. It was worn as a unisex tunic in the middle ages, as the scandalous chemise a la Reine popularized by Marie Antoinette, and under ladies' corsets in the 19th century. I've found several self-identified chemise dress patterns from the early 50's, so perhaps it was a shape that experienced another resurgence then. Google the word "chemise" today, and the results are a bit R-rated.
In any case, the 50's patterns seem to have these things in common: no waistline seam and no waistline shaping. In most cases, a belt was worn to cinch it in. But still, the shift silhouette is such a divergence from the wasp waist look of the late 40's and early 50's, and I find that fascinating. Perhaps it was an early 50's idea of comfort wear, instead of leggings or whatever it is that people wear for comfort now.
Anyway, fun stuff. The gathered skirt from VoNBBS is really a dirndl, so perhaps I'll make that my next research project!
P.S. If you want some really interesting insights into the chemise, you must check out this article from MUM, the Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health. Yes, that exists. Apparently.