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The Empire Style

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Evening dress, February 1810., Digital ID 1111634, New York Public LibraryThe New York Public Library held an exhibition in 2004 that illuminated the Library’s rich holdings of the Napoleonic Era; entitled “Decoration In the Age of Napoleon: Empire Elegance Versus Regency Refinement,” it showed the cultural rivalry between the two nations, including the area of fashion. An online bibliography to the Empire and Regency styles is available on the Library’s website. In fact, the French had held the fashion edge since the time of Louis XIV. The English might have a great deal of national pride, but when French fashions arrived from across the Channel, they were the first to take them up. The nineteenth century would change this equation, however, as English tailoring became the norm for European and American gentlemen. Nevertheless, the Empire Style in decoration and dress fascinated everyone for the period of its creation (1800 – 1814), Court dress, September 1822., Digital ID 1111743, New York Public Libraryand lingered well past those dates. Women’s dress, marked by high waistlines and body-hugging silhouettes, survived into the 1820s. The story of fashion history for this period shows a willingness for bodies—or body outlines—to be revealed. Soon, this love of physical display would go underground for the rest of the century. The popularity of the Empire Style echoes down the years. Some of its elegance transferred into the Art Deco mode, also affected by popular culture and the cult of personality. What a difference between the lives of the two Josephines: Bonaparte and Baker! But both had the ability to bewitch. Do we have anybody like them today? I wonder… p.s. Britney and Beyoncé don’t count!!!

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