Empire era

December 18, 2009

The Empire:  1800-1815

The importance of the Industrial Revolution is strongly felt in the economy and lifestyles of all people in the early 19th century.  Since the fashion focus was on France at this time it is natural to consider France an economic power as well.  Actually, England, with its global outreach, extensive trade, and monetary reserves became the most powerful economic center in the world.  There was regular trade with Canada, America, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Cape and the Indies, Far East, Australia.    There were many improved trade routes.  European textile materials and colorants were the first commodities to benefit from this extensive trade:  cotton from America, wools from Ireland, silks from China, dyes from India, etc

The revival of the textile industry and improved quality of materials woven had a noticeable effect on costume.  White or plain cotton which was of such a good quality it did not need to be printed.  However, by 1805 both sexes wore sumptuous fabrics such as velvets, heavy satins, and taffetas.  Napoleon liked these rich fabrics for ceremonial occasions.  See Figure 2, a painting by Jacques-Louis David, The Coronation of Josephine.  It illustrates the rich fabrics used for court functions, but were not worn as everyday dress

Napoleon did for the textile industry what Louis XIV had done.  He developed it through stimulation of the fashion industry. The sumptuous court activities and costumes, the triumphal ceremonies of the Imperial armies, the embellishment of architecture and costume all contributed to an extravagant way of court life and provided greedy customers for the textile industry.   Napoleon made himself the Roi Soleil.  He dictated that women could not wear the same garment to court twice.  Josephine, his first wife, was very interested in fashion and had her own designer, Leroy.  During the War of 1812 the French trading came to a virtual halt for a time and there was a suspension on court pompous activities.  At that period there was an unemployment crisis in the textile industry.

Once the extreme political and social events became to become more conservative with the rise of Napoleon and the change of the French rule of the Directory into an Empire, the clothing was modified.  Again the French court made important especially with the Bonaparte family in the thrones of allied countries through marriages.   The aristocracy was highly fashion conscious, but not the people in the country districts which favored an assortment of national costumes.  The upper classes were surprisingly homogeneous between nations.

Fathers held the control of both the morals of a family and the money even though mistresses continued.  Young ladies were highly chaperoned, educated at home with their mother and governess, taught the fine arts of embroidery and other needle crafts. The quality and subtly of the embroidery showed one’s breeding. Young men were formally educated.

Popular portrait artists of the time were David, Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Romney.

Women’s clothing:

The Empire repeated the silhouette of the Directory in women’s clothing, however, the fabrics became stiffer and more elaborate.  Generally the women were depicted as having a tall, slender, willowy silhouette.  The fabric used was light, supple, and often clung to the wearer.  The round gown or chemise was a very high-waisted sheath, generally with a square, low-cut neckline covering the shoulders and girdled below the bust with a narrow belt. We often refer to this style as Empire and the highwaisted element in it was revived in the early 20th century as well as in the 1950s.

The round gowns or chemises could be transparent garments with tiny slips underneath and long trains.  Often the women would wet themselves down with oil or water to make the fabric even clingier, like the Greek relief of Nike Adjusting Her Sandal.  A severe epidemic of influenza hit Paris in 1803 and gave rise to calling muslin “pneumonia cloth” since the epidemic was in part due to the wet bodies going out in cold weather.

Shorter garments were needed for the working classes.

V-necks were also known.  The round gown generally reached the feet and had a train, although there are many examples of a tunic style that reached the knees with another garment underneath.  Gradually the train was diminished.  The early round gowns were made with no waistline seam.  Throughout the time period a seam was inserted between bodice and skirt.  This gave a greater variation to the skirt silhouette.  The round gown generally had short sleeves that were set in.  The fashionable style was puffy sleeves. The bodice back was highly structured.

The woman on the left is wearing a round gown with a ¾ length tunic over it.  She also has a dickey in her neckline that is raised at the neck into a ruffle.  Her top hat is from the male wardrobe.  The woman on the right has a round gown with short sleeves.  She is wearing a fur shawl, gloves, and a bonnet in the Grecian style.

Since the round gowns were so light and airy, it was essential that heavier outer garments evolved.  The redingote was the warm outer coat, generally made of worsted wool.  Shawls were highly important and were imported from India.

The central figure is wearing an outdoor coat or redingote.  This particular garment has many versions, but basically it is the outdoor coat used by men and women.  Note that there is more attention to the hem line and embroidery or ruffles at the hem.  When so much attention is paid to one area of a garment, evolutionary changes will most likely make that area change.  In this case the hemline will gradually get fuller and fuller.

Often a betsy, a pleated starched collar worn around the neck, was worn. These could have one layer of fabric or many layers.  The woman in Figure 17  wears a white betsy with her brown velvet gown.  In Figure 16   the woman second from the left has a multilayered white betsy.

The central figure is wearing an outdoor coat or redingote.  This particular garment has many versions, but basically it is the outdoor coat used by men and women.  Note that there is more attention to the hem line and embroidery or ruffles at the hem.  When so much attention is paid to one area of a garment, evolutionary changes will most likely make that area change.  In this case the hemline will gradually get fuller and fuller.

Often a betsy, a pleated starched collar worn around the neck, was worn. These could have one layer of fabric or many layers.  The woman in Figure 17  wears a white betsy with her brown velvet gown.  In Figure 16   the woman second from the left has a multilayered white betsy.

The Empire period also played with different sleeves.  You will note short puffy sleeves (generally the favorite), but also slashed sleeves (Figure 17), long sleeves (Figure 15, virago sleeves (Figure 15 and 22), and double sleeves (Figure 25).

The early round gowns followed the example of the Directory, however, gradually corsets began to reappear.  They were lighter and shorter than the 18th century corsets adding support to only the bust.  These were called braces and could often be seen outside the garment.  (See Figure 18).   However, as the Empire progresses these corsets become longer and boning is added

Undergarments became important.  Chemises and petticoats reappeared towards 1809 and had a great deal of attention paid to their embroidery.

Braces were ribbons passed over the shoulders or crossed over the back.  These were reminiscent of the Greek  girdling. (See figure 18 and 20)  However, about 1811 elastic braces appeared.  These were actually knitted rather than having elastic fibers, but it enabled women to support their petticoats.

Many authors identify the use of pantaloons for women that were knitted and close fitting. These were strictly undergarments and women were embarrassed to have anyone see them.  In the next fashion era, the pantaloons will come out of hiding.

Undress – contradictory term really means modest dressing, like covering in the neckline with a dickey.

Textiles:

At the beginning of the Empire period, muslins were the fabric of choice, but gradually, especially with the rise of the textile industry, many other fabrics came into vogue.  Predominantly the fabrics were light in color and weight.   If the fabric was brocade it was a light brocade, etc

Accessories:

As the garments were rather simplified, accessories became very important.  A variety of shawls, especially the paisley shawls (see figure 27), became important.  First these were imported from the mid-east, but gradually the Manchester mills began to reproduce them.  Muffs were also an important accessory (See figure 26).  Bonnets, fans, and gloves were also popular accessory items.

Transition clothing

Between approximately 1812 and 1825 there was a gradually change in the woman’s costume.  The hem grew wider, the waistline slowly moved to a natural waistline, and the sleeves enlarged.  Figures 30-32 show some of these changes.

Men’s Clothing

Men’s fashion which had been so rich and varied before the Revolution now became less interesting.  This followed the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution.  Men became deeply involved with manufacturing, banking, and warfare.  With some exceptions, there was little interest in clothing.  Men still wore the basics:  frock coat, waistcoat, shirt, cravat, and pants/breeches.    The frockcoat had several variations based on the shape at the waist (cutaway) and the shape of the back tail (claw hammer tail).The waistcoat was the most changeable garment for men as they varied in collars, cut, lapels, material.  Often men would wear several on top of each other so you only saw a small edge of the one underneath.

Shirts were rare seen as jackets were always worn over them in fashionable groups.  However, the working man often just wore his shirt. Along with the shirt was the cravat which was a large square folded diagonally then rolled around the neck, tied only with a small knot.  Some men were very fastidious about how this cravat was formed and would take hours tying it, untying, repressing, and retying so that the folds were “perfect.”  Beau Brummel made cravat tying one of the main preoccupations of the Dandies.  Along with the many inventions and innovations of convenience was the col-cravate.  This was a prefabricated cravat that was already tied, mounted to a collar, and just needed to be buttoned to the shirt neckband.

Trousers or pantaloons were very tight and often worn with gaiters attached to the bottom to hold them to the ankles.  Some had a placket at the ankles with buttons.  These were often worn with hussar boots, the tall closely fitted boot with a high front and lower back.


Garrick is the coat or cape with 3 to 5 capes attached to it.  It is often called a greatcoat and is worn throughout the century.  It is identified with coachmen and carolers as the many capes would help keep off the snow.

Hair:

Sideburns were common at this time although not all men wore them.  Napoleons hair shows carefully casual locks and a clean shaven face.

The English dandies grouped around the Prince Regent, the future George IV and George Brummell, George IV’s close companion and advisor.  They gradually imposed the new style of men’s clothing which was studied correctness and impeccable fitting that only the English tailors could do well.  Brummell led English fashion from 1796 to 1816 when he fled the country due to debt. He initiated shoe polish, fresh linen daily, starched cravats, changed clothing 3 times a day.  The dandy at his day wore button waistcoats with pale colors, buckskin breeches and short boots, very tight, ankle buttoned trousers, and low, square beaver hats.

Fabrications:  worsted wool serge, cambric, challis, lace, patent lace which was machine lace but not widely used, cotton muslin of various weights, embroidered muslin and lawn, tissue silk, brocades, velvets.

Movies: War and Peace,

Napoleon and Josephine

Undergarments became important.  Chemises and petticoats reappeared towards 1809 and had a great deal of attention paid to their embroidery.

Braces were ribbons passed over the shoulders or crossed over the back.  These were reminiscent of the Greek  girdling. (See figure 18 and 20)  However, about 1811 elastic braces appeared.  These were actually knitted rather than having elastic fibers, but it enabled women to support their petticoats.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: