Chemise à la Reine
Manchester City Galleries
A few days ago, someone requested to see the “chemise à la reine,” or “the queen’s chemise.” It got its name after Elizabeth Vigée Lebrun painted a portrait of Marie Antoinette wearing one. Because it was generally viewed as an informal garment, the fact that she was painted wearing one caused quite a stir (also, it didn’t help that at that point everyone pretty much hated Marie Antoinette and they were just looking for reasons to hate her. Not unlike we do with famous women today). The chemise marked the beginning of the loosening of the strict and elaborate fashion rules of the 18th century and the beginning of the loose, comfortable clothes of the regency era. Also, one could go into the decline of the opulent royal court and the rise of the self-made, educated industrial bourgeoisie, but that’s another history lecture. Just another example of how dramatic changes in fashion often reflect dramatic changes in society.
Anyway, after Marie Antoinette’s portrait was made, it became somewhat fashionable for women to be painted in similar chemises, so there are quite a few portraits out there, but unfortunately, actual chemises that are around today are pretty rare. This is the only extant example of one that I know of.