Antique French Chemise or Shift


Dating an extant gArment

Questions and hypothesis on this French chemise

When I first began my historical costuming journey I didn’t really look at extant garments. I watched my favorite costume movies and looked to the budding blogosphere for info. On occasion I would look to eBay. Mainly to find a used or ready made costume and occasionally an antique.

While scrolling through listings one day I came across a seller in France with this plain chemise, or shift. He had listed it as an 18th century antique piece. I am always skeptical with buying such an ordinary piece (or any piece for that matter because I don’t buy much). It was questionable because it looked in such good condition for a garment that would have been worn often. That AND I picked it up for only about $20 USD.

I thought even if it was a more recent piece (maybe from a costumer/re-enactor in the 1970s-80s-90s) it would still be neat to look at. Upon receiving the garment I almost convinced myself it was just a remake. It is made of a VERY heavy linen and seems to have been rarely worn.

The chemise is completely hand sewn with very tiny perfect stitches and narrow felled seams.


The reason I now lean to an actual extant piece circa mid 18th century are a few pieces at MFA Boston. They come from The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection. A thesis paper by Hannah Freece, a Spring 2011 student at University of Delaware. She cites that Ms. McCormick travel or lived in France while acquiring a large portion of her collection. The following images are from the MFA Boston site and they are date unknown but speculated to be this time frame and from France. They are very similar to my piece in weight of linen, construction, and stitched Monogram.

Chemise from MFA BoSTON

The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection

I have also found a number of French Chemise antiques from Etsy labeled as late 1800’s night shirt but the cut is clearly 18th century early 19th with the same pink/red cross stitch.

What are your thoughts on this piece? 18th century? Later? Remake? Have you seen something similar with more documentation?

UPDATE: A few good tips I have received is that it looks to in fact be a night gown/shirt type garment worn in the later part of the 19th century in rural France. They can still be commonly found there. I’m interested now to know if other countries wore this same cut/style this late into the 19th/early 20th century? Any resources?

Don’t forget to take a look at my post on the undergarment wardrobe I’m building HERE