Fashionable young man in early 16th century Germany showed a lot of fine linen in a studied negligee. This unidentified gentleman has a band of "smocking" round the collar of his shift. (Portrait by Ambrosius Holbein, 1518, at the Hermitage Museum)

The term chemise or shift can refer to the classic smock, or else can refer to certain modern types of women's undergarments and dresses. In the classical usage it is a simple garment worn next to the skin to protect clothing from sweat and body oils, the precursor to the modern shirts commonly worn in Western nations.



Chemise is a French term (which today simply means shirt). This is a cognate of the Italian word camicia, and the Spanish / Portuguese language word camisa (subsequently borrowed as kameez by Hindi / Urdu / Hindustani), all deriving ultimately from the Latin camisia, itself coming from Celtic. (The Romans avidly imported cloth and clothes from the Celts.)[1] The English called the same shirt a smock and the Irish called it a léine (Irish pronunciation: [l̠ʲeːnʲə]). For an alternative etymology from Persian via Arabic and ultimately Greek, rather than Latin roots, refer entry under Kameez.


This chemise or shift of the 1830s has elbow-length sleeves and is worn under a corset and petticoats.

The chemise seems to have developed from the Roman tunica and first became popular in Europe in the Middle Ages. Women wore a shift or chemise under their gown or robe; while men wore a chemise with their trousers or braies, and covered the chemises with garments such as doublets, robes, etc.

Until the late 18th century, a chemise referred to an undergarment. It was the only underwear worn until the end of Regency period in the 1820s,[2] and was usually the only pieces of clothing that was washed regularly.

In the 1810s, the term came also to be applied to an outergarment.[3] In Western countries, the chemise as an undergarment fell out of fashion in the early 20th century, and was generally replaced by a brassiere, girdle, and full slip, and panties first came to be worn.

Men's chemises may be said to have survived as the common T-shirt, which still serves as an undergarment. The chemise also morphed into the smock-frock, a garment worn by English laborers until the early 20th century. Its loose cut and wide sleeves were well adapted to heavy labor. The name smock is nowadays still used for military combat jackets in the UK, whereas in the Belgian army the term has been corrupted to smoke-vest.

A chemise, shift, or smock was usually sewn at home, by the women of a household. It was assembled from rectangles and triangles cut from one piece of cloth so as to leave no waste. The poor would wear skimpy chemises pieced from a narrow piece of rough cloth; while the rich might have voluminous chemises pieced from thin, smooth fine linen.

Modern usage

A modern-day chemise

In modern usage, a chemise is generally a woman's garment that vaguely resembles the older shirts but is typically more delicate, and usually provocative. Most commonly the term refers to a loose-fitting, sleeveless, shirt-like undergarment or type of lingerie which is unfitted at the waist. It can also refer to a short, sleeveless dress that hangs straight from the shoulders and fits loosely at the waist.

As lingerie, a chemise is similar to a babydoll, which is also a short, loose-fitting, sleeveless garment. Typically, though, babydolls are more loose-fitting at the hips and are generally designed to more resemble a young girl's nightgown, although many modern styles have added various sexualizing features.

See also


  • Cut My Cote, by Dorothy Burnham, Royal Ontario Museum, 1973. ISBN 978-0888540461. A survey of shirt patterns over the ages, with diagrams.
  • "A Plain Linen Shift: Plain Sewing Makes the Most of Your Fabric", by Kathleen R. Smith, Threads Magazine, Feb/Mar 1987.
  1. ^ Barber, Elizabeth Wayland (1994). Women's Work. The first 20,000 Years, p.137.Norton & Company, New York. ISBN 0393313484
  2. ^ An Introduction to Ladies' Fashions of the Regency Era
  3. ^ Chemise dress

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • chemise — [ ʃ(ə)miz ] n. f. • XIIe; bas lat. camisia I ♦ 1 ♦ Vêtement couvrant le torse (porté souvent sur la peau). ⇒fam. 2. limace, liquette. Chemise de femme : ancienntsous vêtement qui se mettait sous le corset; mod. ⇒ caraco. Chemise américaine : sous …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • chemise — CHEMISE. s. f. Vêtement de linge qu on porte sur la chair, et qui prend depuis le cou et les épaules jusqu au genou. Chemise blanche. Chemise de nuit. Chemise de jour. Grosse chemise. Chemise d homme. Chemise de femme. Chemise de bain. Mettre sa… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • chemise — CHEMISE. s. f. Vestement de linge que l on porte sur la chair, & qui prend depuis le col & les espaules jusqu au genou. Chemise blanche. chemise de nuit. chemise de jour. chemise de dessus. chemise de dessous. grosse chemise. chemise d homme.… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • chemise — Chemise, Indusium, Tunica. Une chemise de drap, Subucula. Vestu d une chemise de drap, Subuculatus …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • chemise — (n.) late O.E., cemes shirt, from O.Fr. chemise shirt, undertunic, shift, from L.L. camisia shirt, tunic (c.400 C.E.; Cf. It. camicia, Sp. camisa); originally a soldier s word, probably via Gaulish, from P.Gmc. *khamithjan (Cf. Ger. hemd shirt ) …   Etymology dictionary

  • Chemise — (Fr.: Chemise, Ger.: Pranenhemd, Sp.: Camisa, Italian: Camicia) A sleeveless undergarment, covering the main parts of the body. Made of cambric, nainsook, or fine, but close woven plain cloth, variously trimmed or embroidered, worn by women …   Dictionary of the English textile terms

  • Chemise — Che*mise , n. [F., shirt, fr. LL. camisa, camisia, shirt, thin dress; cf. G. hemd, or OIr. caimmse sort of garment. Cf. {Camis}.] 1. A shift, or undergarment, worn by women. [1913 Webster] 2. A wall that lines the face of a bank or earthwork.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Chemise — (fr., spr. Schmis ), 1) Hemd; 2) Form eines modischen Damenkleides; 3) die äußere Seite der Futtermauern bei Festungswällen, die gewöhnlich 3 Fuß dick mit mehr Sorgfalt aufgeführt ist; 4) Revetement …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Chemise [1] — Chemise (franz., spr. sch mīs ), Hemd; Chemisette, Vorhemd, Kragen …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Chemise [2] — Chemise, seiner leinwandartiger Baumwollenstoff zu Oberhemden, Vorhemdchen etc., gebleicht, häufig rot oder blau bedruckt, mit 33 Ketten und 44 Schußfäden auf 1 cm; Kette und Schuß Nr. 32 engl …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Chemise — (frz., spr. sch mihs ), Hemd; Chemisette (spr. sétt), Vorhemdchen, auch kurzes Frauenmieder …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

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