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What is "Chemise" - Definition & Explanation

The chemise, called a "smock" or "shift" in the 16th century, was a simple garment worn next to the skin to protect clothing from sweat and body oils. Chemise is the French term. Italians called it a "Camicia". The English called the same shirt a "Smock" and the Irish called it a "Léine" (pronounced LAY-na).

A chemise or shift was the foundation of most multilayered garments. As such it varied from utilitarian to decorative according to type of material used and visibility. It was used in various forms from early 10th century to 15th century Italian through to the end of our period. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was usually the only piece of clothing that was washed regularly.

The earliest smocks were simple shirt-like garments, and came into being in Anglo-Saxon times. Many European countries also used smocking on their garments. They gradually developed in the 18th and early 19th century into a fuller garment with much more room to move while working. The fullness was gathered in tubes or reeds at both back and front. These garments, known as ‘smock frocks’, were worn in England by the shepherds, carters and wagoners in the 1700s. Not much is recorded of the wearing apparel of the working class up to this period, but occasionally in paintings of rural life one can see them.

Smocks were made of fine linen; many of the better quality smocks were made of what we now call "handkerchief-weight" linen. These smocks hung to just about knee to calf-length, on average. There were several varieties of smocks worn in the 16th century; below is a listing of the main types.

THE ROUND SMOCK as worn by the girls of Woodend School is considered to be the most traditional. It usually has a peter-pan collar and a generous neck opening in either front or back. This made it very easy to slip on. There was smocking at the centre back, front, upper sleeves and wrist. The round frocks were reversible and were not washed until both sides were dirty. They were mostly knee-length or shorter. SHIRT SMOCKS are thus named because they are similar to a nobleman’s shirt and have a short opening at the front. They are usually shorter than round frocks.

COAT SMOCKS were worn mainly by the Welsh shepherds. They were buttoned at the front and had a large, cape-like collar to protect the wearer from the wet and misty conditions in Wales. They were knee length or longer and usually made of wool.

The tradition of wearing a smock had declined by the 1800's, and it was rare to see them being worn after this time. It was about then that smocking became a fashion statement on tea gowns, children’s wear and nightdresses. When lawn tennis became popular in the 1800's, bodices were smocked with silk and caught at the waist by a sash. Today, once more, smocking is very popular on babies’ and children’s wear.

A Light Undergarment Made From Linen, For Both Sexes.
A short slip or garment designed to wear under dresses. Structured like a camisole, but longer in length. Current trends show women wearing chemises over jeans as outer garments. Chemises can also be worn as lounge or sleepwear.
An undergarment made of finely woven soft material worn by both sexes, usually in the form of a basic t-tunic with straight sleeves.
A loose undergarment resembling a shirt. Often also used as a sleeping garment from the 15th well into the 20th century.
A loose straight-hanging dress.

Some other terms

Some more terms:

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Term used to describe the depression on the deck of a sofa or chair created where the front band meets the deck, and is sewn to the underlying layers of cloth. This also creates a slight rise in the...
A fabric from alpaca fibers or blends, (originally a cotton cloth with alpaca filling) that is used for dresses, coats, suits, and sweaters. It is also used as a pile lining for jackets and coats....
Term used to describe a fabric used in outerwear, which allows for a minimum pack volume and weight. These lightweight, packable garments offer the most versatile weather protection. Some of these...
(Two-piece) - When two identical pieces of fabric are placed back-to-back at the top of a pant, raw edges turned inside, and joined with two widely spaced rows of stitching. the pant body is inserted...

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