It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Today’s topic is another fantastic example about how fashion was a reflection of society. This is a particularly important example, though, because this fashion reflected the early seeds of feminism, as women fought for the right to an education in an age where they were only allowed to pursue domestic endeavors. We’re talking about dishabille.

(Sidenote: This was another section of my masters dissertation, where I also discussed how riding habits reflected another angle of the early feminist movement. You can read my Fact on that here.)

Dishabille, derived from the French word “déshabille” meaning “undressed,” has it’s origins as private homewear in the 17th century, yet it first became commonplace as a fashion to be seen when the banyan rose in popularity in men’s portraits (read here.) Not long after the style became popular for men, though, women began claiming the trend as their own.

There was a huge range of dishabille among women. It could mean anything from a disheveled look to undergarments and a robe. Sometimes stays were simply loosened, other times women went without stays altogether. A woman might wrap herself in a shawl, or wear an banyan and turban very similar to that worn by men. As with the men, these styles were intended to be worn in private, yet it became a common, and very meaningful, choice for portraits.

Some women may have wished to be depicted in dishabille because it seemed shocking and rebellious. More often, though, it appears as though women wished to display their own intelligence by wearing similar fashions to those worn by male scholars and intellectuals. Women strove to demonstrate that they embraced the pursuit of intellectual endeavors, and were fully capable of achieving academic accomplishments. As with men’s banyans, dishabille was a sign of function over fashion. This is emphasized by the fact that over half of all female dishabille portraits depict the sitter with a book in hand, or sometimes a pen. They also are often depicted with a pensive expression. Many of the top members of the Bluestocking Society, an organization which promoted the education of women, were depicted in dishabille. The look was also often melded with classical inspirations, as neoclassicism was simultaneously gaining popularity (read here).

It is important not to confuse dishabille in portraiture with boudoir or toilette genre paintings, which were also common at the time. Those genres were intended to either be seductive images or realistic depictions of everyday life. Dishabille was meant to imply a disregard for high fashion in lieu of more substantive and intelligent pursuits. Of course,  as the dishabille style gained popularity into the late 18th Century, women may have begun to choose to be portrayed in such a manner because it became the fashionable thing to do. Additionally, as it gained popularity in portraits, it also gained more popularity in real life. With the help of Marie Antoinette’s casual cotton chemise (read here) women began to wear mild forms of dishabille outside the house. Naturally, traditionalist were shocked and appalled by the loose, relaxed fashions. But as we know, the softer styles would eventually take over the formal rococo fashions, and by the end of the century, classicism reigned supreme.

Have a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!

There are the nights when no one dreams, or dreams are small and life-sized—broken strings and shipwrecked boats, dishabille, or seagulls.

There are the nights when Newt can sleep, the dawns he doesn’t see.

Of those, there are not many.

But there are some.

(Designations Congruent With Things, cleanwhiteroom)