By the end of the eighteenth century, heavy, thickly decorated gowns dropped out of fashion as lighter styles, such as the robe en chemise, became popular. In the 1780s English and French women began to wear sheer white cotton dresses with high waists wrapped with satin sashes. These dresses had simple straight silhouettes inspired by ancient Greek and Roman styles. Although the first of these dresses had elbow-length sleeves, many ruffles, and were worn with petticoats, the relative visibility of the female form beneath these thin gowns shocked the public. Upon seeing a portrait of Marie-Antoinette (1755–1793), who was married to Louis XVI of France (1754–1793), in a robe en chemise in 1783, some Parisians considered her to be without clothes. But fashion soon accepted the gowns, and women began to wear even more revealing versions of the robe en chemise. The neckline dipped low in front and the sleeves came to cover only the shoulders. These dresses remained fashionable into the nineteenth century.
Lister, Margot. Costume: An Illustrated Survey from Ancient Times to the Twentieth Century. London, England: Herbert Jenkins, 1967.
Payne, Blanche, Geitel Winakor, and Jane Farrell-Beck. The History of Costume. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
[ See also Volume 3, Nineteenth Century: Dresses ]