Directoire and Empire Period


The Directoire and Empire Period (1790 to 1820) is named after the French executive council, or Directoire, that was established after the Reign of Terror. This council of five men was in power until Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup d’etat and became first consul. The Empire Period refers to Napoleon’s era, when he was Emperor of France.

These two fashion plates are from La Belle Assemblee, which sounds like a French title but is actually British and named after the publisher, John Bell. La Belle Assemblee was one of the most popular and long running fashion journals of its time.

The silhouette during this period derives its inspiration from classic Greek and Roman times, and the typical look was short-sleeved, with an elevated waistline located under the bust, and fabric clinging to and revealing the shape of the body. Typical fabrics used were cotton, muslin, and silk in whites, pastels, and delicate patterns. The women are wearing turbans, which were especially fashionable after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. The increased decoration on the two gowns is indicative of late Empire style.

Green Evening Full Dress, La Belle Assemblee, no. 43, April 1, 1809.


Evening Dress with Turban, La Belle Assemblee, New Series, March 3, 1813.

The seated woman is wearing a deep green evening dress with a low cut neckline, high waist and short puffed sleeves. The dress is trimmed in gold and accessorized with bracelets, a cross necklace, and earrings. She is wearing the heeless slippers popular at the time. The turban became popular after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and shows the influence of other cultures on fashion. Her hair appears to be in the a la victime or Titus style, which is a short style named after women whose hair was shorn before they were guillotined. The simple and elegant costume is echoed in the simple outlines of the chair which is in the Empire style.

This woman is situated outdoors and wearing an evening dress that is representative of the more decorative style of the late Empire Period. The pink tunic dress has an underdress with a decorative tunic on top. The dress has a low cut neckline and high waist, emphasizing the bust. The sleeves are long and tied into puffs. She is also wearing a turban with a ringlet peeping out. Now that women are wearing flat slippers, soles are now made to fit right and left feet.


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