The History of the Chemise


The chemise is one of the clothing items that became a standard undergarment in 1800s fashion. The term has been traditionally referred to as a dress cut straight at the sides and left unfitted in the waist. It was a basic garment designed to be worn closest to the skin, preventing the outer clothing from sweat and bodily oils. It is the precursor of modern shirts.

The term “chemise” is a loanword from the French. It might sound sexy in French, but it only basically means “shirt.” Approximate equivalents to the chemise include the Latin camisia, the Italian camicia, and the Spanish camisa, all of which are likely derived from Celtic.

Traditionally, chemise was made from soft and smooth fabrics like silk and cotton. Nowadays, chemise can also be made from synthetic fabrics and other materials, such as polyester. Meanwhile, if you want to know the best dressed-up looks during fall, open the given link. 

Origins of the chemise

Until the late 18th century, chemise (or shift) was the primary undergarment for women. It was the only underwear worn until the end of the Regency era in the 1820s and the only piece of clothing that was frequently washed. Most chemise at the time were loose, knee-length undergarments with a straight or slightly triangular shape. 

white chemise, 1830
Chemise from 1830
white chemise, 1863
Chemise from 1863

The term “chemise” was first used to refer to an outer garment in the 1780s when Marie Antoinette, queen of France, popularized a kind of loose-fitting informal gown made of sheer white cotton, resembling the undergarment chemise in both cut and material. It came to be known at the time as chemise à la reine. During the early 19th century, the term “chemise” also came to refer to as an outer garment.

Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette wearing a dress that came to be known as chemise à la reine

Chemise in the 20th century to present

As the 20th century loomed, the chemise dwindled in popularity in favor of the newer types of undergarments, such as the brassiere (bra), girdle, and the full slip. Women at the time also started to wear panties.

However, the chemise still exists and is worn mainly as an undergarment. But the modern chemise is remarkably different from the chemise of the olden days. Nowadays, the chemise dress has become an important part of women’s lingerie. 

a woman wearing a purple chemise

The modern chemise is different from the conservative-looking chemise of the 18th and 19th centuries. They are mostly made of loose, sleeveless (usually with spaghetti straps), a low-cleavage cut, and generally go up above the knee. Usually, chemises are worn as lingerie under formal clothes and also as sleepwear.

Chemises are often made of comfortable fabrics like cotton, satin, or silk, while some are made of lace, mesh, and velvet. They are considered quite a fashion statement for ladies who love the feel and style of sexy lingerie. A crushed velvet chemise is a classic, thanks to its seductive flair and soft texture. Silk and satin chemises are also sensual and soft and can be combined with other materials like lace, mesh, sequins, or embroidery.

Chemises are also called slips, which is a light or flimsy pieces of undergarment. While some may wonder about the difference between the two, the terms are actually used interchangeably. Until the 19th century, it was commonly called a “shift” when worn by women and a “shirt” when worn by men.

How to Wear a Chemise

An image of A woman posing while wearing a chemise with a matching kimono

It’s hard not to feel beautiful in an elegant chemise, as this soft and stylish piece of garment can instantly make you feel put together. But a chemise is not only sexy and flattering – it can also turn out to be one of the hardest working pieces of lingerie you may own. It’s a versatile piece of soft, fluid, and oh-so-feminine clothing. Here’s how you can wear it:

As a nightwear

You may prefer wearing snuggly pajamas most of the time, but special nights (like when you’re on vacation or checked in at a gorgeous hotel) call for a special night dress. Wear chemise as nightwear for your next trip – it takes up hardly any room in your overnight bag. But even if there’s no special occasion or a sweet vacation, you can upgrade your nightwear to a sexy chemise from time to time. It’s also a fabulous lingerie to wear to bed to surprise your spouse in the bedroom.

As an outerwear

In the past years, we’ve seen innerwear being worn as outerwear. The trend of wearing a bralette or a sports bra in public shows no signs of going away. For a sophisticated look, you can wear a chemise as part of your outerwear look – plus, it’s less revealing than a bralette. A chemise can make a lovely summer dress on its own. Some even got built-in support, so you don’t need to deal with bras to spoil the “barely there” look. For extra warmth, you may also want to layer it with jackets, cardigans, or tights.

As business attire

An elegant chemise with a bit of flair can make your business wear look more feminine. Having a soft and sensual chemise next to your skin can help lift your spirits faster than your office coffee. You can also let the delicate lace trim peek out over the top of your attire. Or, you can wear it as an inner layer under a professional blazer.

To help prevent static

Don’t you hate it when your dress clings to your tights, rides up your body, and reveals everything? You have static to blame. Wearing a chemise underneath dresses and skirts will help prevent static fabrics and skirts from riding up. It offers an additional layer between your skin and clothes, adding extra style to make you feel more comfortable.

As a shapewear

A chemise can act as a shapewear, only sexier. Any sheer, unlined, or tight-fitting dress can look better if you wear a suitable satin slip underneath. It can also hide all underwear lines beneath your clothing. Slips tend to help your clothes hang better, letting the fabric skim comfortably and gracefully over your body. It creates a smoothing effect that can help you look more put together.

To flatter your curves

Chemises are made of soft fabrics designed to flow over the body to flatter the curves and create a soft and romantic silhouette. Whatever your body shape may be, you’ll look great in a chemise.

To wear in any season

Chemises work well as a little dress during the summer. Lightweight and breathable chemises can keep you cool during the summer. During spring and fall, it’s lovely to layer a chemise with a denim jacket or a cardigan paired with pretty boots. Then, you can opt for a longer chemise made from jersey fabric to keep you warm during the winter. It’s an excellent undergarment layer to keep yourself warm during the snowy months. It’s an all-around, four-season lingerie!


Chemise has come a long way from a plain, conservative undergarment to a sexy lingerie item. Some of them are pretty small, skimpy, and provocative, leaving little to the imagination! And if you are planning to start an apparel business, this post is for you.

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