The Midnight Chemise a la Reine in Colonial Williamsburg

Carriage Ride in Colonial Williamsburg - American Duchess

I have gobs and gobs of photos to show you, and stories to tell, from my recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg. Where do I start? How shall I structure these posts!? Eeek! How about one dress at a time? Although I made the Chemise gown last, I wore it first, so let’s start there!

One of my favorite things about “living” in costume for a week is discovering the how and why of clothing through first-hand experience. Williamsburg is located in tidewater Virginia, which is basically Hell. It’s hot and raining, or cold and raining, or just hot, or freezing cold, humid all the time, then raining. UGH! But boy does all that shape the choices women made about their attire.

We were really happy to be there, and really happy it wasn’t 100 degrees!

That being said, I am 1000% glad I made the Chemise a la Reine. Of all the gowns I took with me, this one performed the best in the rain, heat, and various combinations thereof. Lauren M, The Lady of Portland House, and I both wore cotton voile Chemise gowns, about 10 years apart, and both experienced comfort (yay!)

People kept commenting on Lauren M’s dirty hem, but of all the materials to make gowns out of, this one is one of the easiest to clean. Plus, “patina” is what makes an item of clothing look lived in – I guarantee the ladies of Williamsburg experienced this very thing! 
So so so happy with this gown. I made mine short enough that it didn’t suffer from mud-creep, but I still ended up with splatters on the back, just from walking and sitting.

The cotton voile was unaffected by the misty rain on our first day, and the filth I collected from walking the muddy paths of history easily washed out. This dress also dried out quickly, and when the sun reappeared, I was kept cool and protected from sunburn by the long sleeves and kerchief (also cotton voile). No wonder ladies all over the Western world took to wearing this style of gown in the 1780s and 90s!

I paired the Chemise with a black sash, black corsage, black Dunmore shoes, and my *huge* black silk market hat, along with Thomas Jefferson around my neck. The black accents against the white gown looked sharp, but I love that I can pair this gown with any other color or mix of accessories for a totally different look.

To say I was really excited about this hat is an understatement. You’ll be sick of it by the end of all my CW posts, because I wore it every day!

A couple of drawbacks with how I constructed this dress – the first is that it has no pocket slits, so to get to my pockets I had to pull the front edge of the gown away from the under petticoat, which was annoying. The second is that front edges of the gown fly open when you walk. I was wearing an ivory cotton petticoat beneath, which was never meant to be seen. For those making this type of dress, I recommend either a petticoat in the same fabric (or a contrasting, pretty fabric if you want it to be seen), or pinning the edges in some way.

Hooray for the Chemise, then! I wore it two days and fussed neither of those days, which I cannot say about the other outfits. As far as recommendations go for what kind of dress to take to a place like Williamsburg in the Spring and Summer, I wholeheartedly say the Chemise a la Reine. It’s easy to make, easy to wear, looks great, and is fantastic in warm and wet weather.


  • Stephanie Lynn

    June 13, 2015 at 2:24 AM

    It looks lovely! One of my favorite parts of costuming is getting to really live in a costume. You learn so much about how women would have felt actually living in these dresses.

  • Sanna K

    June 13, 2015 at 11:06 AM

    Lovely! I'm amused to see that you chose the same black and white theme for this outfit as I did a couple of months back. 🙂 Still need to finish my blog post on mine… It's only lacking some construction photos and then I'll be done.

    • Lauren Stowell

      June 15, 2015 at 8:54 PM

      It's a dashing color combination. I chose it rather by default. I had a black sash already and I knew I would be wearing a black hat in CW, so I just went with it.

  • Cathy Raymond

    June 13, 2015 at 7:39 PM

    You look marvelous, and the possibility of wearing the chemise a la reine with different colors of sashes and corsages is, to me, the most attractive thing about the gown! (It's great that it's cotton and therefore easily washable, too.)

  • Eleonora Amalia

    June 13, 2015 at 9:16 PM

    I've seen some Barry Lyndon screencaps recently and now THIS! The Lord is testing me. 1780s, here I come! Seriously though, this is one of the prettiest CaLR's (LOL too lazy to write it properly + I don't speak French) I've seen so far. And I'm sorry but I have to ask – how on Earth did you make those crazy hat decorations? Are these just simple bows that turned out perfectly? WHAT KIND OF SORCERY IS THIS?

    • Lauren Stowell

      June 15, 2015 at 8:56 PM

      Do iiiit!!! It's easy, quick, and fun to wear.

      Hat decorations – they're just bows made out of the same fabric as the hat, a rather stiff silk faille. I once read a quote that went something like, "good bows are tied, great bows are built," if that gives any sort of clue 🙂

  • Crystal

    June 14, 2015 at 8:15 PM

    I seriously doubt I'll be sick of the hat by the end of this series. I have loved it since last year's Williamsburg posts and it's been on my "to sew" list for very nearly as long! I love the dress and all of the accessories. You both look marvellous!

    • Lauren Stowell

      June 15, 2015 at 8:56 PM

      Well now there's a pattern for it! It's a great GREAT hat to have. It kept both the sun and the rain off my face, and looked swell 🙂


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