Monday, August 16, 2010

Is it a chemise, a chemisette, a corset, a stay, or a shift?

These above five words are ones I'd heard, but I just didn't really know the difference.  Here's a brief rundown.

Corset - I think we all have a preconceived notion of this one:  undergarment that is uncomfortable, confining, and makes you hold your posture; however, if made well, it shouldn't be this way.  It should smooth out your torso and provide the fashionable shape of the period.  Elizabeth Stewart Clark mentions that in period sources, a stay is the same thing.  In modern living history, however, "we often use the term 'corset' to describe a steel-boned, fashion-shaping undergarment, and the term 'stays' to describe a more gently-fitted undergarment with shaping provided from a few bones, or cording and quilting" (The Dressmaker's Guide, 117).

The Workwoman's Guide (1840) gives directions on how to make one starting on page 81 & Plate 11, Figure 22.
Liz also tells how to draft your own in The Dressmaker's Guide page 117.

While reading through The Workwoman's Guide, I ran into the word "shift" on page 46.  The corresponding figures found on Plate 6 looked something like a baggy shirt-dress.   Liz Clark refers to this as a chemise.  A shift/chemise is basically a slip (modern term) worn next to the skin and under the corset.  The Workwoman's Guide teaches how to make a few variations, Liz has an entire chapter on them in The Dressmaker's Guide (chapter 4) as well as a FREE Chemise Pattern.
So is a chemisette the same?  No.  I e-mailed Liz to clarify this one for me.  Here's what she said:

A chemisette is a little different; it's a white accessory piece that can either be shaped like a modern "dickie" or is sometimes a complete white underbodice, sleeves included. Either way, a chemisette is made of very fine, sometimes sheer white cotton or linen. The chemisette is worn to fill in the neckline of a low-bodiced or half-high bodiced dress for daywear. Full underbody styles also fill in a short or open dress sleeve. Chemisettes can be extremely decorative, with tucks, insertions of lace or white embroidery, braidwork, complex embroidery patterns (usually white thread on the fine white cloth.)

Any questions?


Mrs. G said...

I responded to your questions about solid colors. If you have any other questions, please ask!
Mrs. G

Amanda said...

Thank you for the explanation of chemisette. It was the one I had always wondered about.


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