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Aug 1, 2012

Things I Don't Get, Vol 4: The Empire Wedding Gown



Friends, you often hear it said that a woman is never more beautiful than on her wedding day.  You also hear it said that a woman is at her most radiant when she is expecting.



So, in theory, a bride who looks expectant should be the most beautiful of all.

Which brings us to today's topic, the Empire Wedding Gown, which was the most popular bridal fashion of the late 1960's and early 1970's.  Any similarity to maternity wear is purely coincidental.








I know that when I express negativity about certain women's fashions, a number of my readers will take offense, but I am willing to take that risk in the spirit of honesty (and some affectionate ribbing at fashion debacles past).   Perhaps many of you like the Empire silhouette: you find it flattering and comfortable, especially after an All-You-Can-Eat Night at Shoney's, or in your fifth month.

But really, is a silhouette reminiscent of nothing so much as a bottle of Mr. Clean pretty?  I maintain that it didn't flatter in 1803, and it doesn't flatter now.  (You can read more about the origins of the Empire silhouette here.)








I know fashions change, and I've no doubt that in 1968, an Empire gown would have been considered the height of chic.  I say it's a look that has aged badly.

In closing, readers, what are your thoughts about the Empire silhouette, as well as its wacky resurgence in bridal wear in the late 60s?  Did you, or someone you know, get married in an outfit like this?  



I'm open to having my mind changed, I really am.  But why would want your waistline to begin immediately under your bosom?

Answers, please!

77 comments:

  1. Oh no, Babs, you look super preggers! Empire waists are so tough to pull off.

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    Replies
    1. That still is from "Funny Girl" and in it she was performing in a comedic sketch were she was supposed to be a pregnant bride. Can't beat the soundtrack either.

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    2. Ah, OK, good! That makes a lot more sense. :)

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  2. They look great if you are either a tomboy(flat and straight) or don't have a waist to speak of.The tomboy can put wedgies in the top to push up what little there is, and the fluffy tummy girl doesn't have to try and kill herself with lipo. I say this having been married first as a tomboy, second as a middle-aged woman of 45 who had many kids(6), and for third marraige..I wore jeans.

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  3. For petite, short-waisted women, I don't know that the empire waist wedding dress is that much worse than the tight-bodice/puffy crinolined skirt look reminiscent of a giant white cupcake or one of those Barbie torsos put atop an inverted bowl-shaped cake and frosted for a 6 year-old's birthday.

    Personally, I like empire-waisted dresses for every-day wear in every-day fabrics. When there are multiple puffy layers, and in shiny, lacy, or heavily-textured white bridal fabrics, its not a good look. (I basically eloped and wore red/black when I got married though, so my opinion might not count)

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  4. The movie Romeo and Juliet was very popular at the time and I think many of us emulated the style. Married in 1971 I even had a Juliet cap veil. I look at it now and wonder "What was I thinking?"

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  5. Depends on the body. My egg (aka, stomach) would not look good in an empire waist dress but is good in some empire-waist shirts (I have 1 that I love but is polyester... must remake!)

    I like the 1800s regency dresses. I think the lower neckline / smaller bust area works as a nice contrast to the flowing skirt. When the top is like a t-shirt or just covers everything it doesn't look good at all.

    But I think that if you don't have a waist (boyish body) then an empire dress can hide it and give it a more feminine look. And if you bloat after eating then it MAY hide some of it during the reception.

    As with many other things, it just depends on who wears it (which is no help for argument ;))

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  6. Well, to be frank, most of the women I know who married in the late '60s - early '70 had to wear this style dress. And then claim the baby was premature. Probably that fact, combined with the Juliet fashion craze clinched it.

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    Replies
    1. In my family everyone just waited until the baby was born. 8-)

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    2. You made me remember a story my mother used to tell. She mom got married in 1979 and less that 8 months later I was born, I was a premature baby and weighed 2.42 lb (1.100 Kg) . At the same time a girl from my mom's same town had a kid too, she got married at the same time my mom did. Her baby was also 'premature'and weighed 7.9lb (3.6kg).
      Back in those days, a lot of girls got married in a hurry.

      August 2, 2012 2:54 PM

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  7. The high waistline goes back even further too - 15th century at least!

    http://www.artchive.com/artchive/v/van_eyck/arnlfini.jpg.html

    Micky

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  8. My wedding dress was exactly that empire, with a boat-like neckline, and in Irish linen. I looked great, but in those days if I missed a meal, I lost 5 pounds. skin and bone. In the sixties I wore a lot of chemise style dresses, and I liked the comfort.

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  9. It is an elegant, comfortable style and it hides a lot of problems.

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  10. It is a beautiful comfortable style.

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  11. An empire that is fitted from under the bust to and flares out from the hips can be very flattering but the over stomach gathers are just plain awful, no matter what the decade.

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  12. I've made an empire waist dress that worked out really well for me. Granted, I turned the gathers to two big pleats in line with my hip bones. I learned not to do the epic gathers on the t-shirt version of that dress. It was flattering and really comfortable! Actually...I don't know what happened to that dress...I might have to remake it! :D

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  13. Hmm...Cathy's not thinking of tying the knot before she delivers, is she? Just asking...

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  14. Hi Peter, I was married in 1974 and my wedding dress was made from that last Vogue pattern (2253)(and, no, I was not pregnant at the time). I was still in university so I was challenged for time and my mother made it for me. My bridesmaids and I spent hours in the Toronto garment district looking for fabric and actually ended up with a very simple fabric very similar to that used in the envelope photo. I stil think looked fabulous in it. Of course, I didn't use that headress. That is just hideous. I am still happy with those photos after almost 40 years. I wore it with a juliet style cap with a long veil coming out of the back of it which probably made a difference. I am quite tall and have never been tiny and the dress suited me. It was also very comfortable to wear, whereas a very fussy, fitted dress would have been very uncomfortable.

    Thank you for the memories.

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  15. no offence taken at all...

    short waisted, high waisted girl here and that's the only one that makes me have 'some' form of waist!!

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  16. I bought one of those 1960s wedding dresses from a charity shop back in the 90s when I was at school. I needed a medieval looking dress and with a bit of adjustment it fit the bill! That and a cardboard cone hat with tule spilling out the end of it... I'm sure you can imagine it... wish I had a photo though!

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  17. i'm a fan of empire waisted tunics...i wear them over jeans frequently; they are the saviour of a woman without a waist - whether i'm carrying weight or not.

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  18. Ah...I'm a medium/tall short-waisted woman with long legs. I look terrific in an empire style top and skinny jeans or leggings. No one has ever asked me if I was pregnant either lol. I agree with other posters--it's great for us girls that are rectangular shaped which is typical of being short-waisted. My 18-year old daughter has the same figure issue and looks terrific in an empire line. And in reality, the empire line is shockingly close to her waistline due to being short-waisted. Believe me, it is definitely figure flattering for us :) .

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  19. I quite like Empire style dresses.

    However, it is probably more due to the fact that I really dislike having clothes tight at the 'proper' waistline. Due to digestive system issues, not really worth going into, I can do tight under the bust and the tight again where the pelvic bone is, but anywhere in between is painful and quite frankly unflattering for me, because it so obviously changes shape during the day (I can go from flat to 5 months pregnant in under 10min and yes, that is a personal best ;-) ) Perhaps I should have a closer look at maternity patterns.

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  20. My mom's 1968 wedding party was all dressed in that Butterick 4377 style. Bows and all! But then again, my oldest sister was one of those amazing "premature" babies who came out big, strong, and fully developed, just a few short months after the wedding... ;-) Smirk!

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  21. It's like anything else: some people wear it well and others don't. And yes, unless one wishes to look preggers, gathers under the bust should be avoided... Apparently the style comes from Empress Josephine (Napoleon's wife, hence the name "empire") who had a big ol' stomach after having a kid by her first husband, apparently) Since SHE decreed the court styles of the day, the empire waist was de rigueur. I once saw a picture of an eighteenth/nineteenth empire style that tried to incorporate the big bouffant skirts that were usually worn with a stomacher and corset; it looked absolutely RIDICULOUS. The woman looked like she was 'sinking" into her skirts like quicksand.

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  22. I confess my favourite dress in an empire line and I wonder why more patterns don't have this feature. I am very pear shaped, and things fitted at the waist just emphasise the hips, whereas an empire line allows the garment to be fitted at the bust, flow over the hips, and not be a tent.

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  23. Both my mom and MIL married in the early 70's and had dresses like this. Both actually looked really good in the photos - I think it was because they were both waif-thin back then. Mom had 2253 and a head-band; MIL had 1741 with a shorter train and a chapel veil. That bonnet really is silly.

    I look terrible in empire-anything, visually adds about 15 pounds. I'm too curvy & need waist definition where my actual waist is. And there is rarely enough room in the skirt for my hips, unless it really is maternity wear. (I didn't wear empire clothes when I actually was pregnant, come to think of it.)

    However, I see the appeal of having the tight part of your dress at a place that doesn't distend (although if the dress is tight I would think breathing is more.. problematic.)

    cait

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  24. I had one of those EFM's (early first marriages) and the only thing good about it was my Jessica McClintock Gunne Sax white eyelet dress - looking very much like the 6th pattern you have posted. I liked flower-child sort of stuff then, still do. We wanted to look like we had just walked through a meadow of flowers so the dress needed to be unfussy; loose and flowy. We might have been barefoot underneath. We liked the bodice more fitted and proper, even including fussy lacey details and my sleeves were puffed at the top and very slim below the elbows, formal looking. But then the dress was modern and unfussy because it was free past that point. Thanks for the fun memories.

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  25. I got married in an empire line dress in 1998, it didn't have a full skirt though; the overall lines were more of a sheath style and I think that's what made it look good. Froufrou doesn't work on me at all so the fitted empire was lovely.

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  26. I guess for some of us the smallest part of us is right under our chest, and they always say accentuate(spelling?) your smallest part?

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  27. Ha ha... funny you should point these out. I've been trawling sites for literally years to find a wedding dress pattern that I actually like (long engagement!) Kept coming up against these and wondering why anybody ever thought they were flattering. Don't get me wrong, I love an empire line. Got just the figure for it... nay boob and vertically challenged!... but come on... on ones big day, one would want to look amazing, not up the duff!!! ;-)

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  28. It's a look that refreshes well, and it was BIG in the early 90's when 60's retro was at its height. The 70's style ones with bishop sleeves in crimpoline or crepe I think are pretty gross, but I really love the late 60's ones with guipure bodices and straight skirts. And the early 90s ones. And I got married in empire line, but in deep purple velvet and gold silk. Of course :)

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  29. I love an empire - I got married in a long j.crew gown (hmm...the sophia, I think?) with empire lines. Granted, it was a gorgeous flowing silk; I like this look when it flows, not when it's stiff. And I only wish I *could* dress up like Jane Austen every day!!

    But then, I'm quite tall (5'11") and long-limbed, and the long lines of the empire have always flattered. I like my swooshy palazzo pants and long coats and maxi dresses for the same reason. Aw, shucks, I just should've been a 70s child, not a 90s child. =) Good thing I grew up in Eugene! - say, do you think that had something to do with my aesthetic??

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  30. Oh no! I must admit that I was OBSESSED with the empire look in high school (probably because of my love of all things Jane Austen). The fact that I did not have much of a waist helped - I was under the impression that the silhouette was flattering for my shape. Looking back I have to admit that I may have been mistaken.

    Oh well, live and learn . . .

    Although with the proper fabric, I think the look can work. It certainly helps if the wearer is tall and very slender. Then again, that body type looks good in just about everything, don't they. Brats!

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  31. I love the empire waist dress. It flatters many figures and is timeless.

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  32. These remind me of Phoebe in that episode of Friends where the girls all sit around in wedding dresses and she's pregnant with triplets: "At least you didn't have to rent your dress from a store called 'It's Never Too Late'!"

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  33. In my opinion, empire dresses can be really pretty. But the dress should be made of a light weight fabric which drapes beautifully :) In all the pictures you've shared, the neckline is very covering and the fabric looks rather stiff - I don't think that would sell very well nowadays!

    Empire can also be really flattering on the busty ladies ;)

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  34. I'm so sick of the current trend decade-old-trend of strapless wedding gowns with big ballroom skirts that virtually anything looks fresh to me!

    I also wore an empire waist gown as a junior bridesmaid when I was 13 :)

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  35. It's not so much what the empire waist does to your stomach, but what it does to your ass. From behind, an empire waist can make you look like your ass starts at your shoulder blades and ends somewhere around the knees. It's the mom jeans of dresses.

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  36. My mum got married in a simple white empire line gown and she looked fabulous, but she was very slender. Sadly I did not inherit her build, and that style has always been disastrous on me. Frump city.

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  37. No empire line dresses for me! I'll stand squarely with Peter on this one -- they're horrid! Every time I get suckered into trying one on, I regret it!

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  38. As one that looks better in raised waists, I won't comment on the "unflattering" design. However, I've noticed that it's not so much the Empire waistline that is unflattering, but the pleats/gathers underneath (at least, on me).
    The second pattern does look like a dress Katie Holmes wears in one of the first episode of "The Kennedys", as a pregnant Jackie Kennedy. I thought it was smashing :)

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  39. Paging Stacy London...(and Clinton Kelly, if we must).

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  40. I don't like them, but then they really don't suit my body type (flat chest, low bust, skinny shoulders). I'd go with a New Look-type design since my waist is one of my better features and big skirts hide big backsides and thighs well.

    That said, I never write off anything completely because what doesn't work at all for one person might be just what another needs. (One of my coworkers, for instance, who has a killer bustline but no waist. New Look would be pretty much impossible for her, but I bet she could pull off the Empire.)

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  41. Peter,
    I have to disagree. I have always liked the Empire, from 1803 onward. I married late and did not use this style, but wore some bridesmaids dresses of this ilk in my youth. I hate the bishop sleeves, but think the Empire can be quite flattering and comfortable. I'm not sure about using it for a wedding dress, but in general I like the style.

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  42. I think it depends on the style of the empire waist dress. Marfy 1787 is very stylish and flattering because it is fitted through the torso with a normal back, but Vogue 8475 has the potential to be mistaken for maternity with all that volume.

    http://mccallpattern.mccall.com/f1787-products-9140.php?page_id=1468

    http://voguepatterns.mccall.com/v8475-products-7904.php?page_id=947

    I think tall, slender, rectangular figures can look great in the fuller empire dresses but they are usually a disaster on a curvier figure.

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    Replies
    1. Isn't the Marfy pattern a bit of a cheat? I mean, if the dress narrows at the true waist, is it a real Empire silhouette?

      I notice that today's Empire gowns tend to be flowy (as a few comments have noted), which look more goddess-like. The 60's ones were often stiff-looking (as well as long sleeved and often high-necked).

      Delete
  43. An empire line, with a sheath like silhouette can look stunning. I have a small bust and a small waist but a wide ribcage. I used to wear empire line dresses with an a line skirt - I wish i'd realised how awful it looked on me.
    However - I just made bridesmaid dresses which were empire line and a semi circle skirt and the girls looked great in them.

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  44. My mom wore an empire wedding dress in 1971. I think she looked beautiful. BUT she was 5'11" and a small busted size 3 - so basically looked like a model in whatever she wore. On most women I agree that empire waists are best saved for maternity wear.

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  45. That scene from "Funny Girl" made me laugh out loud. It was so outrageous and a perfect foil to the empire style. Irene Sharaff certainly deserved her nomination and probably in retrospect, an award for best costume design!

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  46. I love the Empire silhouette. It's elegant, comfortable, and flattering to nearly everyone, especially women with pear-shaped figures, which used to be the predominant type.

    You've got to get away from the idea that women can't be attractive and modern unless they're showing everything they've got at all times. Leave something to the imagination.

    The Empire, like the Shift, is a beautiful shape. It is woman-friendly.

    Comfort, and a lack of self-consciouness are the biggest beauty aids.

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  47. So, ah, empire waist silhouettes are just about my favourite of all time. Possibly because I'm a bit, ah, fluffy in the tummy, at least compared to the rest of me. Do I field the occasional question about due date? Yes, usually from my husband's grandmother. It's easier to pull off if there aren't gathers or pleats at the CF, but even those can be great in the right fabric.

    Also, let's just say there are certain situations when an empire-waist wedding dress is, ah, advantageous. I sat down with my husband's grandmother (yes, the same one) to type the family history onto the computer at one point and as she rattled off the wedding dates and birth-dates of the first child, there was not one, I kid you not, not one, that had a full nine months between wedding and baby's birth.

    For that matter, I've been a bridesmaid three times, and two of those the brides were pregnant. Hmm.

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  48. Peter, Peter, Peter! Empire waists are totally flattering. They can make your waist look tiny and make your legs look much longer. My boyfriend call this the "anime body" because it gives the impression of crazy anime proportions.

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  49. I have relatives in the 60's that wore this style and they looked stunning. They were very tall and slender. I have a friend that wore an empire style grecian flowing gown for her wedding. It was gorgeous on her. She did not wear a veil and her hair complemented her dress. She looked light and ethereal. However, this style of dress would not look good on me at all, but for many others it is very flattering

    Josette

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  50. Well fashion is always a reflection of culture. When the Empire was originally fashionable, it was a reflection of the Bonaparte/Regency period in which women were expected to be pregnant and the low necklines were to make nursing more accessible.

    In the 60's, even though it was the height of the Viet Nam war, it was still a time when women's roles were defined by function. And fashion reflected that. It is also a giant leap from the wasp waisted dresses of the 50's, not requiring much in the way of foundational garments.

    Personally, I remember having a empire style (as opposed to Empire ((Ahm peer')) style) dress in junior high. It was white with blue flowers and a blue grosgrain ribbon accent around the waist and tied in the back. In my class photo, I clasped my hands and I truly looked pregnant. I was mortified when I saw it.

    They are comfortable, if not terribly flattering if you don't have the right shape.

    I may be off base, but that's my take on it.

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  51. I don't see what is meant to be unflattering about the Empire waistline. I'm not a fan of the more fussy, flouncey patterns above, or the 'Pilgrim bonnet' Vogue one, but the more simple ones are rather beautiful - as are the original Empire dresses. To each their own, I guess.

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  52. Without sleeves, or flounce I would wear a simple affair for the right occasion!

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  53. Alex in CaliforniaAugust 2, 2012 at 1:56 PM

    Empire Waist Style. I like it. Pretty.

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  54. I made a lovely empire style wedding gown of silk satin--it helped to minimize my ample bosom and make my short legs look longer (A-line skirt, smooth). My ankle-length veil held a coronet of fresh flowers. Under the dress, a lace trimmed simple bias slip. It was 105 degrees on my wedding day and I was so glad not to be stuffed into a Southern belle costume. There were 38 satin covered buttons down the back. Sorry you don't like the style, Peter, but you have to be more specific. Do you think emphasis should Always be at the natural waist? Do you think women who are shorter than 6 feet should voluntarily look even shorter?

    Another consideration is in the probably rare cases when a dress is going to serve more than one owner. The most consistent measurement of a woman's body is the under-bust circumference, so looser clothing for the bust and hips will cover weight and pregnancy changes. Ethnic clothing the world over reflects this, or builds in some form of lacing or tucking so a garment can be handed down or worn for a woman's lifetime, not just one occasion. Because my dress fabric was a special gift from my mother, I hoped I could upcycle the large A-line skirt pieces, but alas, haven't needed too many silk satin garments. Maybe this year would be a good year, now that my hair is white!

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  55. I think an empire waist dress can look a bit like a night dress but other times I think they look good. I don't wear any myself...

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  56. Hate it -- especially empire-waist maxidresses, which I just don't understand. I do sort of miss the babydoll dresses from the '90s (I was 30 pounds lighter then, though, so I could get away with it).

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    Replies
    1. Isn't babydoll quite the same as empire? Or have most of the same features at least, unless I'm totally wrong?

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  57. I am long-waisted. All RTW dresses are empire on me. I hate them because of this. I have also noticed a disturbing RTW trend of the top of the empire 'waist' sitting across the lower boobal area. This is a bad look.

    I do have a shirt that I really like that fits well and has a tie at the empire level. The lower 'skirt' part of it is flowy (fabric has good hand) but not overly full. It looks nice and I do not look preggers.

    I guess I have to go with knee jerk reaction = hate, but can be talked into certain individual garments.

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  58. I wasn't a late 60's bride so I won't weigh on on that but I think the empire look was more flattering than the strapless look they have now.

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  59. It really depends on the person's build. I like the look of them... on other people. As I'm more of a rather short hourglass, empire waists obscure my waist and make me look blocky--so I avoid them.

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  60. Personally, I don't like the empire silhouette but that's mostly because it is really unflattering on my figure. I also think it's funny to see how much some pattern illustrators are cheating: on that Simplicity 9600 envelope, they are suggesting a body-conscious fit of the 'skirt' which very likely isn't there in the pattern.
    Having mentioned all of this, I'm not so sure it didn't flatter in 1803... And anyway, high waistlines and expectant-looking brides have been around in other eras of fashion history even way before that, just look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait.jpg

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  61. I'm not sure if mine was empire line. I had a fitted cream long sheath which had a lace embroidered overlay which was looser from the bust line now. Kinda empire. Very ornate lace, espec around the hem, and most of the guests thought it was Colette Dinnegan which I thought was a good sign.
    Made me look taller and lean which was very important as my boy is 1 foot 2 inches taller

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  62. Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady" is the only one that looked fab in that style! Whenever I see it on anyone else, I can't help but think that "she's got a bun in the oven" !! But right up there with the empire style is the baby doll look..........in the name of Halston why won't designers leave it entombed along with bell-bottoms!!! LOL!!!

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  63. Something I don't get: why gay men are arbiters of women's fashion. Waists have gone up and down many times in the last few hundred years of fashion. Empire gowns were very freeing for women to wear and echoed greater rights for women at the time.

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    Replies
    1. I think it's because we're bored with our own clothes. ;)

      Delete
  64. I'm usually an hourglass, but due to depression, stress, and two kiddos under five I have more thickeness at my waist than I prefer. I still wear outfits with a natural waist, but some days I just want to wear something easy. And the correct empire waist style looks good on me, so I go with it.

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  65. I can't stand them on me. I'm short enough as it is and an empire waist makes me look even shorter. Besides all that, to make sure I've got room around the middle they need to be voluminous and nothing makes you look dumpier than extra fabric doing nothing. I prefer a more tailored silhouette.

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  66. I love the Empire look, especially on myself, but not everyone can pull it off, not every garment is good with an empire waistline, and not every empire-styled garment is done well. Gathers in front are almost always hideous and will almost always make a woman look pregnant. On the other hand, a smooth empire front with no gathers and pleats is generally slimming and flattering to the woman wearing it. That is how the Regency gowns were styled. They had extremely smooth fronts, and plenty of gathers at the BACK of the dress to allow them to move freely. This is the kind of style I prefer!

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  67. So.... I tried on a vintage wedding dress earlier this summer that was from this very era. I can't tell you how GOOD it looked on me. I mean, seriously. It was so slimming and totally flattering and not a look I thought I would EVER pick. It looked so good that I marked a bunch in etsy to remember how much I liked the style.

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  68. Maybe the designers of these wedding gowns were thinking: baby doll, girlish, innocent, virginal__ not pregnant? A family member was actually pregnant in her white lace, empire, mini skirt version in 1966 however.
    And just why are we so squeamish about appearing pregnant anyway?
    Just asking __ cause at my advanced station in life I don't want anyone asking me when the baby is due that's for sure.

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  69. I thought people mostly got married because they got knocked up, so it makes perfect sense to me. :D

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  70. That first pattern instantly brought to mind Priscilla Presley's wedding gown:
    http://www.wedding-dress-secret.com/iconic-wedding-dresses-priscilla-presley-3224

    I'm sure Priscilla inspired many other brides of the era- her wedding was 1967.
    It was an off the rack wedding dress.

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