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What is a Chemisette?

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  • Written By: Susan L. Kerr
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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A chemisette is type of shirt or a piece of fabric that is meant to fill in the neckline of a woman's top. Bending over in a low-cut blouse or sweater can be a bit too revealing in some circumstances, and this piece of clothing can prevent a woman from exposing more than she intends. As early as the Middle Ages, modest women developed the forerunner of the chemisette to cover their cleavage and preserve their virtue.

Originally, a chemisette was a type of short sleeveless undershirt or underbodice. While a garment intended for everyday use was usually made of plain cotton muslin or linen fabric, more ornate ones were worn with dressier clothing when visiting friends or attending a social event. The dressier chemisette often featured elaborate pleating or pintucking and more sumptuous fabrics. The garment also provided an extra measure of warmth in drafty homes heated by inefficient fireplaces or while performing outdoor chores such as tending small livestock or the kitchen garden.

The word chemisette is the diminutive form of the French chemise. Women wore linen chemises as undergarments under their skirts and also as sleeping apparel. The briefer garment evolved to present much the same effect but without adding unnecessary bulk where it wasn't desirable.

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Today's fashion standards are less strict, but a chemisette can enhance a plain sweater or update one that's seen a lot of wear. It can be as simple as a shaped piece of fabric that slips inside the neckline of a garment, and this kind is sometimes known as a dicky. Sleeveless vest-like chemisettes are sometimes referred to as faux camisoles and serve much the same function, filling in a low neckline or providing additional warmth in winter.

The vest-style chemisette stands as a wear-alone garment in its own right. When made of a semi-sheer fabric and embellished with ribbons and lace, this top can be worn as nightwear or even as clubwear. Alternatively, chemisettes are worn by Renaissance Faire participants, historic reenactors, and museum guides as part of a period costume.

A dicky-type chemisette is a shaped piece of cloth and usually has some means of securing it to other undergarments to prevent slippage. Loops of elastic on either side can be fastened around bra straps to keep the fabric in place. Another popular variety of the dicky chemisette mimics the appearance of a blouse and is meant to be worn beneath a V-neck or crew-neck sweater when a sleeved garment would be too bulky. Dicky-type chemisettes made of knitted fabric and resembling a turtleneck sweater are in fashion periodically as well.

While chemisettes are generally regarded as fashion accessories today, women in the military often wear the dicky version as part of their uniforms. A dark dicky under a uniform blouse helps retain warmth and provides an alternative to wearing a tie in some military units.

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