18th Century

What do you wear under a chemise a la reine?

Stays? Transitional stays? Jumps? Just another chemise?

I know most costumers wear stays, because making a pair of jumps or transitional stays just for chemise a la reines is a hassle.

I’ve been studying lots of chemise paintings, and trying to determine what the wearers are wearing underneath. I’ve sorted images of chemise a la reines into three categories: stays (quite firm); jumps (some support); and au natural which is well…unsupported.

What do you think? Have I got it right? I’ve arranged each category from earliest to latest

Stays:

Portrait of Madame du Barry 1781

Vigée le Brun, Portrait of Madame du Barry, 1781

There seems to be quite a rigid line below the bust, so stays. Perhaps strapless ones?
Portrait of a Lady with a Book, Next to a River Source

Antoine Vestier, Portrait of a Lady with a Book, Next to a River Source, ca 1785

A very interesting variant on a chemise a la reine. I’m not sure I have figured out what is happening with the bodice, but the models extreme slimness, with the slight bulge of bust at the top indicates that stays were worn underneath.

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Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of Monsieur de Lavoisier and his Wife, chemist Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, 1788, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Seems like fairly heavy stays. The line of her torso and bodice is quite rigid, and the way she is leaning on her husband is a comfortable, and instinctive, body position if you are wearing stays.

Countess Anna Protassowa with niece by Angelica Kauffmann, 1788

The way the chemise falls over the sash and then goes straight up from their looks just like what my chemise looks like over stays on me.  Also, that brooch looks quite heavy, and would probably be supported much better if it was pinned through to stays.

Jozef Faworski, Portrait of Wiktoria Madalińska. 1792, National Museum, Warsaw

Jozef Faworski, Portrait of Wiktoria Madalińska. 1792, National Museum, Warsaw

The primitive style of the portrait makes it hard to tell for certain, but the bodice is very stiff and rigid. The robe and belt worn over the chemise are most interesting. I wonder if this was a particularly Polish style? And I am rueing the black and red striped silk kimono that I didn’t buy a few months ago because I figured I would never have anything to make from it…

Thomas and Anna Maria Jenkins by Angelica Kauffmann, date unknown

It’s hard to tell exactly what this dress is – it seems to be a transition between a chemise and a wrap front robe.  Notice the open front with the lacy petticoat.  It’s also hard to tell what Anna is wearing under her dress, but there does seem to be a distinctly straight line of the back and a bust-cliff, indicative of stays or firm jumps.  The waistline suggests they are short stays/jumps.

Jumps

Selfportrait of Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun 1781-82

Vigée-Lebrun, Self portrait of Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, 1781-82

Unless Vigée-Lebrun had 18th century bust enlargement before all her other portraits were done, she was wearing some type of undergarment for this one!

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Vigée le Brun, Portrait of Izabela Lubomirska (Elzbieta Czartoryska) The Blue Marquise, 1782

This chemise might be worn au natural, but there seems to be some support to the bust, though it is too soft and round for full stays

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Vigée le Brun, Marie Antoinette, 1783

I’m think either very soft jumps or strapless stays that end right at the nipple. There is a very distinct roundness to her bosom and a sinking that you just don’t get with anything that extends further up.

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Portrait of the Duchess de Polignac, 1783, The Rothschild Collection, The National Trust

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Portrait of the Duchess de Polignac, 1783, The Rothschild Collection, The National Trust

It’s hard to tell exactly, but it looks to me like the sitter was a fairly small busted woman wearing fairly good support, but not quite as structured as full stays. (eta. And Wikipedia backs me up, describing this is a more formal portrait of Polignac than the one I have identified as unstayed below – Thanks Minerve!)

Portrait of Empress Elisabeth Alexeievna of Russia by Madame Vigee-Lebrun, 1795, Castle of Wolfsgarten

Vigée le Brun, Portrait of Empress Elisabeth Alexeievna of Russia, 1795, Castle of Wolfsgarten

As you can see, minor restraint. Isn’t the finishing details around the neck fascinating? It’s like a transition from a chemise a la reine to the later Regency frocks.

Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of Emilie Seriziat and her Son, 1795, Musée du Louvre

Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of Emilie Seriziat and her Son, 1795, Musée du Louvre

Fairly robust jumps. Her torso is quite flat and lifted, but still retains some roundness

Au Natural

Angelica Kauffmann, Self-portrait, 1780-1785

Angelica might be wearing a very light pair of jumps, the type that divides the bust.  Or she is under-garmentless.

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Portrait of the Duchess de Polignac, c1789

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Portrait of the Duchess de Polignac, c1789

I don’t think she is wearing anything. Her bosom is very soft and round, and the plunging neckline would reveal most undergarments.

Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755, Paris – 1842, idem) Self Portrait in a Straw Hat.

Vigée le Brun, Self Portrait with a Straw hat, after 1782

The fabric is so soft across the bust, and the neckline is so plunging, that it doesn’t seem likely that she was wearing anything more than a chemise in the way of undergarments.

Dominique Vivant, baron Denon, Portrait de Madame Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Dominique Vivant, baron Denon, Portrait de Madame Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Her bust seems too round to be confined in any sort of undergarment

Marie-Victoire Lemoine. Atelier of a Painter, Probably Madame Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842), and Her Pupil, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Marie-Victoire Lemoine. Atelier of a Painter, Probably Madame Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842), and Her Pupil, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I think the nipples are enough evidence that the models chemise a la reine variant is not worn with undergarments!

Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of Anne-Marie-Louise Thélusson, Countess of Sorcy, 1790

Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of Anne-Marie-Louise Thélusson, Countess of Sorcy, 1790

It’s hard to tell with so much of her chest covered, but her bust seems so soft and round that it must be unsupported.

Princess Louise Augusta by Anton Graff 1791 Collection: Rosenborg Castle

Anton Graff, Portrait of Princess Louise Augusta, 1791, Rosenborg Castle

You just don’t get a bust like that if you are wearing stays or jumps!

Anton Graff: Bildnis der Dichterin Elisa von der Recke, 1797 Gallery: Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

Anton Graff, Bildnis der Dichterin Elisa von der Recke, 1797, Nationalgalerie Berlin

I know this is an odd variant of a chemise a la reine, but I still thought it was too interesting not too include.

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I really doubt she is wearing any type of under-support, but as this is a ca 1800 posthumous portrait of Marie Antoinette, you can’t depend on it for historical accuracy

Conclusion:

Anything goes? Whatever you seem most comfortable in?

OK, jumps or transitional stays seem to be most common, but in a pinch both full stays and a chemise a la reine with a chemise or nothing at all seems to have been acceptable (though I think you would have to be very bold and artistic to skip any type of undergarment at all!)

7 Comments

  1. GentlewomanThief says

    This is brilliant! So useful – thank you. I had always thought that it seemed as if shapes were very different in different chemise a la reine portraits, but I'd never compared them like this. I do agree with your assessments. I also suspect that the useful thing about the fit of this type of gown is that it could be worn with any of those under garments, which wouldn't be the case for other styles.

    Seeing the curved (ie, non-stay) shape I have always wondered when corded 'Regency' stays came about, because from what I've seen of costumers making this style of stay, they seem to produce a soft-yet-supported (and even clevage-y) shape very well. Is there some sort of definitive date for corded stays?

    (And, I have never seen that second portrait before – I LOVE it, that stripe fabric is amazing.)

  2. Hana - Marmota says

    What are jumps, please?

    That Polish portrait is interesting indeed, and one of the things that make me wonder is the lacing – I've always read that spiral-lacing was used until well into 19th century, with exceptions that were usually purely decorative. So, is this purely decorative, or not?

    I guess the gown Elisa von der Recke is wearing in the portrait is not chemise a la reine at all, but rather a romantic attempt at Roman or Greek dress. I.e., in execution it might have been a variant on the ch.a.l.r., but resulting in a different garment altogether. It'd desrve it's own name. Let's say, chemise a la Elisa? 😉

    Aaand… re Elisabeth Alexeievna: I have a feeling that I must have seen a red variation on that dress somewhere. I thought I had saved it on my computer, but it seems not… But here's a yellow one, by Vigée-Lebrun as well, and Russian as well: http://www.abcgallery.com/V/vigeelebrun/vigeelebrun6.html

  3. Amber says

    Wow. This is a great post! I've also wondered about the bending at the waist. Wasn't it considered a little saucy if a woman bent at the waist (i.e. unstay-ed) When did the trend go out? Or was it even one at all?

  4. Minerve says

    Very interesting post! Kudos to you for gathering all these different paintings and carefully examining them.

    There were of course a few of them I already saw, but I also discovered new ones. The second one is very unique; I love it.

    The 8th painting is of Madame de Polignac. You are right when guessing she was a fairly small busted woman. It looks like she was, according to what I remember reading recently on Wikipedia. When she went to England in the 1780s, she was nicknamed ''Little Po'' due to her delicate constitution.

    The 11th painting (1st in your Au Natural category) is also depicting Madame de Polignac. I'm pretty sure it is by Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun.

  5. The Dreamstress says

    GWT – I don't know about a definitive date for corded stays, I'll have to look into that.

    Hana – jumps are soft, unboned stays. There is a very scandalous story about a girl who committed suicide because her mother wouldn't let her wear stays, with accompanying outrageous newspaper ditty: "For want of stays/she took to jumps". I'll have to look up the exact reference.

    Amber, I've never heard of the bent at the waist thing. I'll have to try to research it.

    Minerve – thank you so much! I was sure the 11th painting was by Vigée-Lebrun but couldn't find it in my catalogue of her works.

  6. Sarah says

    this is a great post! from the looks of it, anything seems to go! even though i don't think i'd go au natural… haha.
    so far with my chemise a la reine, i've worn my mid 18th c stays, but i've got a 1780s pair (with the curved horizontal boning) in the works that i'll use eventually.

  7. So grateful to stumble across this as I am about to embark on making Chemise a la Reine. You’ve provided so much valuable information beyond settling what to wear underneath. Thanks!

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