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Article 07 - April 19, 2010
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The Empire Waist Silhouette; a Brief History

By Montgomery Harris

Sewing instructor and student in self-made costumes inspired by Regency era fashion.

(Jessica, sewing instructor, and Zoe, sewing student, in self-made costumes inspired by Regency era fashion.)

From the chitons of classic Greece, to the gowns of witty Jane Austen heroines, to the pastel-adorned little girls of Kate Greenaway illustrations, to a choice shape of the contemporary woman, the empire waist silhouette seems to be the Eternal City of fashion.

This shape, consisting of a high-waisted garment, gathered, pleated, or accentuated by a belt just below the bust, with an elegant, loosely fitted skirt, is a style that can be found in images on Grecian urns from over 2,000 years ago. After the Greco-Roman era it resurged during the Renaissance, later during the Neo-Classical period in France, which England then borrowed during the Regency era.

Perhaps its enduring popularity can be attributed to its free flowing, comfortable fit. This silhouette is less constricting than its historical counterparts, such as the hourglass silhouette, which came with rigidly structured corsets set in boning and wide, unwieldy hoopskirts. 

Today, the empire waist silhouette is perhaps the most used shape of women’s wear from the past. The graceful flow of the skirt and its elongating quality has led it to be a runway and red carpet favorite, the ease about and flattery of the waist lends its popularity to maternity wear, and working women have shortened the gown into tops that can be paired with pants and jackets. Whatever version of this chic, comfortable silhouette you sport, remember that Helen of Troy and Elizabeth Bennett wore it, too. Well, in fiction at least.

Please visit around our site for more information on the empire waist silhouette, images of contemporary and classic versions, and directions on how to make various forms of this shape (including historical costumes).

Sewing student in her more modern version of empire waist silhouette.

Leslie, sewing student, in her more modern version of the empire waist silhouette.


Sewing student showing the garment she made for the Greek goddess challenge.

Alexandra, sewing student, in a garment she designed and made, inspired by Greek goddess for a camp Project Runway challenge.




Founder & Publisher: Judi Harris
Editor in Chief: Montgomery Harris (Jessica)
Art & Photo Editor: Andrew DiMaio
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copyright 2010 Love To Sew
Article 07 April 19, 2010




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