This high-waisted dress known today as "empire" was worn in the period following the French Revolution in the late 1700s. Often called a "chemise gown" to satirize its scandalous brevity and lack of undergarments, it reflected a desire to return to simpler, classical Grecian dress after the excesses of the European nobility and patriot alike. It's peak of popularity was during the "First Empire" period (1799-1815); hence its name. It was worn floor length or as high as knee length in front; trains were also worn for day or evening until 1806. The Empire Dress has remained a favorite fashion silhouette until today.
Folkwear presents a sewing pattern for this classic in three lengths, with two sleeve options. A narrow bodice is gathered into a slim A-line skirt front and side panels, and full gathered skirt back that falls to just bellow knee length, full length, or full length with train for weddings or formal wear.
On the traditional version, drawstrings fit the bodice firmly to the bust and tie at center back. For contemporary wear, we suggest a closed back and elastic in place of the drawstrings. Short puffed sleeves may be cut very high of slightly longer - both are authentic. The longer sleeves features button and cord detailing.
This is the PDF version of the pattern. For the paper pattern go here. This PDF (digital) version includes sewing instructions, copyshop versions (36" wide and A0), and a tiled/print-at home version. This pattern will be available for download after checkout.
Suggested fabrics: Soft, lightweight or medium-weight fabrics such as cotton gauze, batiste, dotted Swiss, rayon challis, silk, very lightweight silk velvet with drape.
Era: Regency, 1700s to early 1800s
Linda of Pine City, Minnesota, says this dress is popular with the Fur Trade reenactment crowd and she has made it several times. She says, "Some of us have a devil of a time putting together the little pieces that go around the armhole. The pattern markings are critical, and you should use tailor's tacks and position them carefully. I also suggest that you clearly mark the wrong side of each of the little pieces if your fabric's right and wrong sides are similar."