Tuesday, June 3, 2008

High Waistlines and Low Necklines

When we think of 18th and 19th century women's fashion we envision tightly laced corsets and cumbersome petticoats or hoops. But for a brief time at the end of the 1700s and beginning of the 1800s women enjoyed freedom from these constraints.

Although corsets were worn they were more to ensure erect posture and were less confining than in later years. But the big difference was in the dresses. During this period from about 1790 to 1830 the ideal was based on classic simplicity. You can see the similarity between dresses worn during these years and those on the statues and engravings of ancient Greece. The high, Empire waistline and lightly draped skirts were far more elegant than dresses were in the years before or after.

As you might expect the skirts as short as ankle length, bare arms and in some cases a revealing neckline were considered a bit daring by some folks. But what would you expect from a culture that put its emphasis on youth and beauty? (I'll bet you thought the culture of youth was something new.)

I can't help but think of the popularity of the Empire waist and softly draped skirts in fashion today. I just returned from a lunch with friends and wore such a dress, a short and lightweight version. It was perfect to wear on a day that passed 100 degrees. The formal dress to the left is another example. Note the Grecian elegance.

Amusingly one of the reasons fashion moved back to the full skirts and heavier fabrics is that "classic simplicity" in dress was hurting the textile industry. Political pressure was applied.

(Thanks to sensibility.com for the top graphic)
(find the modern formal dress at Amazon.com)