The Age of Undress: Art, Fashion, and the Classical Ideal in the 1790s



The Age of Undress explores the emergence and meaning of neoclassical dress in the 1790s, tracing its evolution from Naples to London and Paris over the course of a single decade. The neoclassical style of clothing—steadily known as robe à la grecque, empire style, or “undress”—is marked by a sheer, white, high-waisted muslin dress worn with minimal undergarments, steadily accessorized with a cashmere shawl. This style represented a dramatic departure from that of previous decades and was once short-lived: by the 1820s, corsets, silks, and hoop skirts were back in fashion.
Amelia Rauser investigates this sudden transformation and argues that women styled themselves as living statues, artistic endeavors come to life, an aesthetic and philosophical choice intertwined with the experiments and innovations of artists working in other media all over the similar period. Despite the fact that neoclassicism is steadily thought to be a cold, rational, and masculine movement, Rauser’s analysis shows that it was once if truth be told deeply passionate, with women at its core—as ideals and allegories, as artistic agents, and as vital patrons.

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