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How The English "chemise" Evolved From French



When you think of a chemise you will often this of a classic smock type outfit that is worn underneath regular clothing to stop it from being damaged by oils and sweat emitted from the body throughout the day/evening. The chemise itself evolved from a mixture of French and Italian words.

The French word chemise stands for shirt but taking the word camisa from the Portuguese and mixing it with camicia from Italy the word chemise came to stand for much more than a shirt.

The chemise we know today slightly resembles the original shirts worn, however they are now made of more delicate materials such as satin and silk. They reveal a lot more than they originally did as women's lingerie became as sensual as practical. The modern day chemise is generally lose fitting, without sleeves and not fitted around the waist. The chemise traditionally doesn't have fastenings like other types of lingerie. It instead is stepped into or put over the head like a shirt without buttons. It's similar to the well-known 'babydoll' however the babydoll is usually a lot looser around the hips.

The first chemise which was created in the 1800s was not sleeveless. It had sleeves that came down to the elbows and was worn underneath corsets. It was first worn in Romania and known as a tunica and this is where the French inspiration is thought to have come from. Worn under the gowns of women men also wore a chemise under their clothing with their trousers and covered them up with robes.

The chemise was the only article of underwear worn by both men and women until the later part of the 18th century. Due to not having washing machines and other modern conveniences for drying clothing the chemise was the article of clothing that was most often washed as it was nearer to the skin than outerwear therefore became soiled a lot faster.

In the western world the chemise was worn not only as underwear but also on the outside as a lone standing outfit. It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that the chemise as underwear came back into fashion due to panties, slips, girdles and bras taking their place. The chemise worn by gentlemen became what we now know as the T shirt which some men still to this day wear as underwear. Through evolution the chemise also became the smock frock which labourers in England wore up until the 20th century. The name is still used to describe modern combat jackets in England, but in Belgium the term is used to describe the smoke vest.

Women of the house would usually create the chemise themselves at home from shapes cut from just one piece of cloth. This meant that very little of the cloth was wasted. The poorer women used rougher cloth to create theirs where as those more affluent could afford softer material including linen.

Although the chemise is now used to describe quite a few different types of underwear and outerwear today the inspiration from France is clear.

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