THE EMPIRE WAIST
THE TREND: The empire waistline, a dress silhouette defined by a produced, defined waistline positioned higher than the natural waist on a female’s body. The empire waist typically rests immediately below the bust, which accentuates the body’s length giving its wearer a longer, leaner frame.
ITS INVENTION: The “empire” in empire waistline descends from the trend’s birthplace: During the “First French Empire,” the time of French global domination during the 19th century.
While the word “empire” is inspired by France, the “waist” part was created by a royal lady of British birth who lived during the First French Empire: Emma or “Lady Hamilton” who can be credited with the empire waist’s first “mainstream” design.
She designed dresses of this high-waist effect for use as a model and artistic muse. Her modeling fame influenced 19th century fashion to adopt the empire waist into its designs where it would remain until the hourglass figured gained trend traction once again in the early 1820s.
So why the empire waist in the 1960s? Well, like 1920s drop waist dresses, the empire dress represented an anti-conformist attitude to how a woman was supposed to dress.
The hourglass figure of the ’50s had dissipated along with its constricting, body-smashing corsets. The empire waistline was adopted by high-fashion designers in the ’60s and translated into ready-to-wear formal fashions for the everyday woman.
It wouldn’t be until the ’70s that the empire waistline gained ground in casual wear dresses, too.
ITS INFLUENCE: Today, the empire waist is every girls’ go-to dress silhoutte when she’s feeling fat, frumpy and not-so-fine. But ironically, these negative thoughts of self-loathing were not the inspiration behind the empire waist for both its inventor Emma “Lady Hamilton” or that of ’60s designers!
The empire waist was born because during its tie of birth, fashion was flexible to change. It was a practice of innovation and experimentation, not a creation to conceal the beautiful bodies of women.
Today the empire waist finds its way into fashion every season. Its’ a style that’s most commonly found in vintage ’70s maxi dresses, a trend continually reproduced for mainstream fashion purposes.
While the empire waist originated in high-fashion and formal wear of the ’60s, modern fashion has welcomed the empire to reign in its casual summer collections appropriate for casual weekends involving everything from a beach vacation getaway to a flexible, feminine look whilst grocery store shopping.