Empire Ensemble

May 31st, 2011

Just in time for our Neoclassical Memorial Day Picnic, I finished my Empire ensemble. It consisted of:

  • a stomacher front dress (built onto what was originally intended to be a separate bodiced petticoat);
  • a tiny lace shawl, strategically designed to preserve my modesty;
  • and a gypsy bonnet, complete with veil (a handy safeguard in case my shawl slipped; at least I wouldn’t be recognized).

Empire Back

As you may be able to tell from the back, with it’s tiny, raised bodice panel and slight train, it’s a very early Regency style (copied mostly from Janet Arnold). But because I based the scandalous neckline on a French portrait, I am calling the dress Empire instead. As you may recall from earlier posts, I initially thought the dress in the painting must close in the back, so I proceeded accordingly. As I worked through the fittings, and just couldn’t make the back behave no matter how I tried, I began to look for examples of back-closing dresses from this period. And I failed to find a single one that matched.

Then, I looked again at the painting, and again. And what do you think? It turns out the painting was a stomacher front as well! So I re-cut the back, removed most of the front, and cut a new front bodice piece to add to the apron part of the skirt. Because of the last minute change in plans, there are some definite irregularities in the dress construction. Most are invisible from the outside, but you can tell when you open it up. Ah well. I’ll do better next time.

Empire Front

Somehow this photograph avoids being terribly indecent, perhaps because it was taken indoors. But I kept my shawl draped around my neck and hanging down the front while I was out and about. Can you see the similarity to my inspiration painting? While it’s not an exact copy, I believe I captured the essentials. It was particularly exciting to see how Janet Arnold’s pattern created the exact lines seen in the portrait. I live for those little correspondences, when two disparate sources suddenly combine and magnify!

Alas, I fear I am now hooked on Regency. New dresses are already being planned…

  • Zoh says:

    This dress is truly, truly fabulous! You’ve outdone yourself with the complicated back and the TINY amount of fabric between the arms! I really felt like I was staring at someone who had walked out of a time machine from 1799. 🙂

    Regency/Empire is so comfortable compared to earlier and later eras! I’d love to make a black dress next (no one is surprised). 🙂 but this time I will also use a pattern from Arnold and skip the commercial ones.

    • eva says:

      I’m glad you’re going to do more Regency — I am eager to try again myself. This time I’d like to try something in silk perhaps, or a printed cotton. Just not sheer!

  • Shannon says:

    Hello –

    I am a Professional Commercial, Film, etc….production company working in the Literary field representing Authors, Publishers, Agents, etc….

    We are getting ready to have a Professional Photography Shoot for a New York Times Bestselling Author who writes in the Regency Period and we are looking to speak with you about the possibility of either Renting your lovely creation including hat et al… for this shoot and/or hiring you to create one for us.

    This professional production shoot is for future Book Covers, Film and Website creations for this Author and we feel your work represented on this site accurately represents the period our client writes in.

    I’ve been asked to contact you by the Author and would greatly appreciate an opportunity to speak with you further at your earliest convenience. If you are indeed interested – please contact me at the following email address:

    Best regards –

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