What are Empire Lines?

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  • Written By: Megan Pasche
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 29 January 2020
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Empire lines is a term used to describe a dress that is tighter under the bust or has a seam right under the bust, with the rest of the piece flowing loosely down the body. A dress with empire lines is also known as empire waist, empire cut, or high-waist dress. In the fashion world, empire is pronounced "om-peer." These dresses can range from fancy to casual, and the length of the dress can vary from quite short to ankle length. Empire lines are a popular cut for wedding dresses.

An empire waist dress is best suited for pear-shaped women, although the cut is almost universally flattering. The cut tends to disguise the stomach and emphasize the bust. Also, it gives the illusion that the waist is higher and slimmer than it actually is. Examples of empire lines can be seen as far back as the Greco-Roman era, where woman wore flowing tunics that were often belted under the bust. It was not until the end of the 18th century, however, that the style truly became a staple in the fashion world.

Empire lines were named for the first French empire, which was ruled by Napoleon, and it was during this time that this cut of dress became extremely popular. Napoleon's wife, Empress Josephine, was frequently seen wearing this type of dress, and her style was emulated by the French people. The empire waist dress was more comfortable and less confining than most styles of that era.


Napoleon passed a law which prohibited woman from wearing the same dress in court more than once. His goal was for France to emerge as the epicenter of fashion. This law encouraged the continuous purchasing of new fabric and the making of different dresses.

In the 1800s, empire line dresses were often long and flowing and skimmed the ground. Necklines were often square and the sleeves puffed, restricting the arms slightly. The dresses were made out of fine, white fabrics.

The form of the dress changed throughout the early 1800s, with more ruffles, sleeves, hems, and sashes being added. Empire lines continued to gain in popularity until around 1825, when the waistline began to drop. As the waist dropped lower, the dresses became wider. The empire line still remained a fixture throughout the years, but it did not emerge as popular again until the latter half of the 20th century.

In modern times, empire line dresses can be seen in almost every store and fashion designers collection. The dresses are flattering on most figures. Also, the dresses are comfortable to wear, which could explain their continued popularity.


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