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.)
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.
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).
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
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.