In the aftermath of the French Revolution, European fashion followed the example established by breaking away from the thick brocade, heavy lace, immense powdered wigs, and stiff structures which were a hallmark of aristocratic garments. Flipping 180 degrees, fashionable dress embraced a “natural” style with ease and comfort the defining factor. The desire was for lighter fabrics that moved and flowed over one’s figure, enhancing and exposing rather than hiding and confining. Perhaps in part to search in a direction far away from France, or merely due to fitting the preferred unencumbered style, a revival of Greek clothing became the rage. For women at least.
People in ancient Greece wore clothes made of hand-spun fabric (wool or linen). These often took the form of sheets or blankets, and then they were folded into fashionable dresses and tunics. This made for a loose and figure-flattering silhouette for both men and women. Study the drawing below of typical ancient Greek gowns, hair styles, adornments, and accessories, specifically noting the geometric or repetitive nature of the trimming.
The Empire (French) and Regency (England) style of fashion emerged around 1795. Women’s gowns were made of a soft, light weight fabric gathered just under the breasts, a sometimes scandalously low neckline, and small, short, puffed sleeves with a low shoulder line. Although lawn and batiste were used, muslin was the fabric of choice as it was easy to clean, and the thin muslin clung close to the body and best emulated styles worn in ancient Greece. Shades of white predominated, with the addition of pale pastel shades worn for day wear and darker, contrasting colors typically reserved for the trim, shawl, and tunic-like or draping overlays.
Naturally, not all of the gowns designed during the Empire and Regency Eras were replicas of those depicted in art as worn by Greek ladies. Largely it was a generalization and reinterpretation of the airy tunics, high waistline, and loose draping. However, scroll through fashion plates from ladies magazines such as Costume Parisien, or painted portraits from the early 1800s, and many will leap off the page as obvious emulations. Below are a few examples of straightforward, “can’t miss it” Grecian head-to-toe ensembles.
This young lady (and the tinier drawn lady in the background) are in Grecian style summer outfits, the illustration by Philibert Louis Debucourt for ‘Modes et Manieres du Jour a Paris’ in an 1800 edition. Of particular note are the shoes the main lady is lacing. Very similar to the shoes worn by Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux in the portrait above. Another Greek style adapted in various ways, and highly popular.