Fashion Plate, Morning Dress for 1802
The beginning of the nineteenth century featured a radical turn in fashion with the introduction of neoclassical styles. Simplified white chemises with empire waistlines dominated the streets of London, where this fashion plate was printed. Marie Antoinette helped shape this trend after wearing a scandalous chemise gown, considered underwear at the time, in a 1783 portrait.
Excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum originally sparked interest in the classic antiquity of Greece and Rome, but the French Revolution was what really pushed interest in the ancient world forward. People were buzzing with democratic thoughts, so it only made sense to wear dresses similar to those that were worn at the rise of democratic society thousands of years earlier.
This fashion plate features two white chemise gowns with high empire waistlines, most likely made from muslin, which allowed for a better drape than wool or even silk fabrics. Both dresses feature short straight, narrow sleeves, reflecting the popular silhouette of straight lines. While the necklines of these dresses were typically low so that the bust line could be exposed, they could be filled in for daytime wear with chemisettes or tuckers. Both women in this illustration are wearing stylish bonnets that feature decorative feathers and ribbons to add to their personal style.
This plate dates to January 1802, so outerwear was definitely a must for this time of year, providing some warmth over their lightweight dresses. The woman on the left wears a fur-trimmed capelet in a rose color that matches her bonnet. The woman on the right wears a spencer jacket, a cropped fashionable coat that features fur trim and decorative ribbon that corresponds to her bonnet. These ladies are also holding a muff, which was a big furry tube used to warm hands. The simplicity of their styles is a direct reflection of the political atmosphere at this time.
Nevinson, John L. Origin and Early History of the Fashion Plate. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Press, 1967
National Portrait Gallery, “Fashion Plates Introduction.” London.
Franklin, Harper. “1800-1809.” Fashion History Timeline, 25 June 2020, https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/1800-1809/.