Manchester Art Gallery

dress (chemise à la reine)

Object description

"Chemise a la Reine"-style robe of white Indian (Jaindanee) cotton muslin, figured with a fine zig-zag design on the loom. Dress is made in 4 straight widths with centre front closure, gathered around the neckline, below the bust and around the waist with drawstrings. The loose, 3/4 length sleeves are of plain muslin. The Chemise a la Reine was popularised by Queen Marie Antoinette in 1783. It was seen as shockingly simple and unstructured, akin to underwear. Maria Antoinette sent 2 chemise dresses to London to the Duchess of Devonshire and Mary Robinson, and they popularised the style in England.

Display label

The simple forms of Classical Greek sculpture became a crucial source of inspiration for dress during the years leading up to the French Revolution in 1789 as the opulent fashions of the aristocracy became increasingly unpopular and ridiculed. Fashionable women felt pressured to exchange their fine silks and lavish embroideries for simpler styles, and even the French Queen, Marie Antoinette, popularised a more informal style of dress at Court in Versailles from about 1783. Dubbed the "Chemise a la Reine", this style was so simple and semi-transparent in appearance, that at first glance, it seemed like little more than underwear. This dress is made from panels of white Jaindanie muslin from Dacca, figured with a tiny pattern on the loom, and it is actually very simply made-up, using full-width panels of muslin threaded with 3 drawstrings for shaping, at the neck, under the bust and at the waist. The high-waisted, neo-classical style persisted until the first decades of the 19th century, as illustrated in a fashion plate from The Lady's Magazine dated 1808.