The term chemise or shift can refer to the classic smock, or else can refer to certain modern types of women's undergarments and dresses. In the classical usage it is a simple garment worn next to the skin to protect clothing from sweat and body oils.
Chemises would be plain, loose-fitting, and made of white (natural colour or bleached) linen or cotton. They had a low neckline if worn under evening wear, and could be with short sleeves or sleeveless. As undergarments, chemises were finished with a plain hem that came down always well below the hips. It could go down to mid-thigh, to the knees, or lower — but always shorter than the dress, so the hem of the chemise would not be seen.
Up to the 1820s, the chemise was a woman's only piece of underwear worn. It was also the only piece of clothing that was washed regularly. In the 1810s, the term chemise came also to be applied to an outergarment. In Western countries, the chemise as an undergarment remained popular until the early 20th century.
When drawers began to be worn by women, they would be tied over around the waist separately from the chemise. The chemises remained long. A corset would be worn over the chemise, and under the next layers of clothing.
Another related garment is the teddy, a kind of chemise with knee-length legs.
In spanking literature
In vintage spanking literature, the removal of the chemise is given much attention. When a female sinner was made to prepare for a bare-bottomed corporal punishment (e.g. a birching at her boarding school), she would be made to untie her drawers and either just open them up at the rear or take them off completely. She might also be made to take off her skirt, or to just raise it. But even without drawers, her bottom would not be exposed until the moment when she was made to raise her chemise. So this was the much-feared shameful moment of truth. The rear of the chemise would then often be rolled up by the disciplinarian and tucked in at the girl's waistline to stay up and out of the way during the chastisement.
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