What is a Chemise?

Friday, 19 July 2013  |  Essili

Silk ChemiseThe quick answer is - look at the garment at the side of this text! But as is often the case in the world of lingerie it is not quite that simple.

So here is the more detailed answer:

The word itself is quite ancient and there is some argument about its origin. Some learned people believe that it originates from ancient Celtic. The Celts sold a garment, that may or may not have been anything like a modern chemise, to the Romans who called it a Camisia. Other scholars of such things believe that the word comes from Persia and the Persian word Kameez. Whatever the early origin, the word chemise is French and means shirt.

But the garment that most of the lingerie industry refer to as a chemise is not really a shirt. For one thing, it is usually longer than a shirt and quite often has no sleeves and leaves the shoulders of the wearer bare, as you will see, if you visit the chemise section of Essili (formerly known as

To make things even more confusing for the average shopper - lingerie manufacturers use alternative names for what is basically the same garment. Here are some alternative names that are often used:

  • Shift
  • Slip
  • Short Nightdress
  • Petticoat
  • Short Nightie
  • Babydoll

Which brings us to the when and where of wearing a chemise. Of course it is all down to personal taste and a linen or cotton chemise might well work as a summer frock. I remember years ago when, as a teenager I had a summer job working as a dresser at the summer home of the National Theatre in Chichester and one of my actresses bought a pretty cotton chemise which she wore to a first night party. I was so shocked that anyone could be so daring as to wear a nightdress anywhere other than in bed! I am pleased to say my outlook is less prudish today and I would recommend you make the most of any garment and wear it anywhere you think is right for you. Generally though, the chemise is still used as underwear or nightwear. A simple style, such at the Liliana Casanova silk chemise, Pont Neuf, shown here can easily work as both. So it makes the perfect nightie for taking on holiday when you want to keep luggage to a minimum.

Products Mentioned in this post: Chemises,
Liliana Casanova Pont Neuf, silk chemise. shown in the image is no longer available.
More detailed and historical information can be found on Wikipedia at this link.

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