The chemise was the basic underwear worn by women for centuries; it was basically a white knee-length dress. It is also known as a shift or a smock. Interestingly, the undershirt worn by men was fundamentally the same garment just cut significantly shorter. Unlike the outer layers this was a rather democratic piece of clothing since they were always made from linen; of course, the quality varied but the basics were the same. Holland linen was preferred by ladies of quality but it could also be made from cotton.
Marie Antoinette used her chemises for bathing, too, although this was done primarily to avoid the stares of her entourage.
|French linen chemise|
In the world of Versailles the chemise could take on ceremonial meaning. It was considered a great honour to hand the queen her chemise at her morning levée and at the official presentation of young ladies at court, the new-comer's skin was compared with her chemise to establish if it was white enough.
The low-cut bodices of the 18th century gowns meant that the chemise would often peak up over the edge. A similar garment was used to sleep in but would be referred to as a "night-chemise". Occasionally a chemise would be embroidered but the day-time chemises were normally kept somewhat plain. Likewise, lace could be added to enhance the fineness of the garment.
Unlike many of the more elaborate pieces of clothing, the chemise was often washed which must have been a relief.
|Madame de Châteaurenard's chemise is fairly|