I finished my black chemise gown yesterday, so I decided to put it on a manikin and share a few pics showing the construction. It is so hard to see details on an all black dress in most photos, so I have adjusted the exposure so you can see everything more clearly.
The gown is made of synthetic striped chiffon, and it is lined with black cotton voile. The fabric was originally crinkle chiffon, and I have spent countless hours trying to iron it flat. It got pretty close, but you can see that some of the crinkles still remain. But I had my heart set on having a striped chemise dress like the one seen in this portrait, and this fabric was the only sheer black striped fabric that I could find.
I based much of the construction for my dress on this green silk chemise gown from the 1790's. I was SO thrilled to finally see a back view of a fitted-back chemise gown, so I tried to make my own gown have a similar back. My pattern mimics the bodice seamlines, waist shape, and skirt pleating, although some changes still had to be made due to my tighter sleeves and the high back of my corset.
To dress up the ruffle a little, I pinked the edges with some scalloped pinking sheers, and I really like the effect, but I'm not sure how well it would hold up if this dress was going to get a lot of wear and tear. My chiffon likes to ravel.
I have seen several theories about how these fitted chemise gowns were closed (I wish the museums included this information!), but my personal theory is that most of them have a front slit that is concealed by the gathers in the fabric. There is a gathered-front jacket on the Abiti Antichi website that shows this type of construction especially well since one side of the gathered front is missing. My bodice has a fitted under-layer that is pinned closed at the center front, and then the gathered outer layer has a opening that extends a little past the waist. The drawstrings tie in the center and just get tucked under the gathered outer layer. There is so much fabric there that you really can't see the opening once it is tied.
I recently had a very interesting discussion with some friends about the difference between dresses made for historical reenactment purposes and "pretty-pretty-princess" dresses. Although I have tried to base my design on good historical research, the materials and construction of this outfit are 100% precent pretty-pretty-princess... and I'm totally okay with that! It was a welcome change of pace to make something where I didn't obsess over natural fibers or period construction techniques or try to do tons of hand-sewing. I think it will be a lot of fun to wear, and sometimes that's all that really matters.