Friday, November 11, 2011

The Fabulous Fichu

Miss Jane Porter apparently wore a Fichu.
The Fichu, the chemisette—false sleeves... these are little fripperies that can change the look of a gown dramatically.  When you are into costuming, you can spend a lot of time sewing gowns and amassing a massive wardrobe of gowns simply because you want a variety of options. Sometimes having the right accessories can really change up looks that you already have.

The fichu comes in a variety of forms. Its purpose, as was the chemisette, was to fill in the neckline and to add a little je-ne-sais-quoi to your clothes.

Some pretty chemisettes.
A chemisette is a small 'dickie' of sorts; a sleeveless, or sometimes sleeved light-fabric blouselet that was put on before the gown as a neckline filler. Some were simple, some quite elaborate. A fichu serves a similar purpose, but is not an actual shirt. It's a piece of fabric wrapped around the neck and shoulders to cover and also highlight the decolletage of the wearer.

It is my experience, looking at the images of extant garments over the years, that items of Regency clothing, although similar in silhouette and style, were often constructed quite differently by different people. As people are today, they were also back in those days, imaginative, inventive and thrifty. They would use and reuse fabrics, and they would find ways to make their items particularly special.  Since the only thing that was mass produced were the fabrics, there’s no end to the variations in construction.

The Fichu is a perfect example of how the simple act of filling a neckline became a sort of competition of creativity, starting with the thickly ruched necklines of the early Regency to the froo-froo ruffled collars of the late Regency.  They are really indispensable necessities for any regency wardrobe, and lend a touch of authenticity that wearing just wearing a gown cannot achieve.

This is a different application of a fichu (left).
Tied 'round the neck, in front of the arms
and then around the waist. It is also a coloured fichu.
All you really need is your imagination, some very nice sheer fabrics and laces, and a couple of hours if your good in order to make some little accessories that will change your gown’s appearance completely.

Fichus were worn underneath the bodice and over the bodice. They varied in shape from a rectangle to a triangle.  Some covered the exposed neckline, while others only served to dress the existing neckline. Some were long, others were just slips of laced netting. In portraits, you see a variety of opacities in fabric, from the sheerest of the sheer, as delicate as dragonfly wings, to only slightly transparent, densely woven laces and embroidered nets.

The trick is to decide what looks you want for yourself, and then using the very basic shapes to construct those desired items.

For chemisettes;  there are a few patterns available where you can construct the basic garment, and then build upon it in lace and ruffles and such.  

Regency Neck Ruffs were often added on over chemisettes. Here are some tips on how to make a neck ruff:

Elizabethans were not the only ones who thought lace-ruffs
were the pinnacle of fashion.

Neck ruffs got more elaborate
as the late Regency wore on.
fashions were getting frillier and frillier.
As for the Fichu, it does not necessarily require a pattern to make one.  You can build them right on your dress-form or you can just use general measurements and cut them from there. Depending on how much you want full you want your ruching around your neckline, you can adjust the width of the fabric accordingly.  Your key measurement points are your shoulder width, and the distance between the back of your regency waistline and the front.  If you’re going to wear it on the outside of your gown, then you can make the ‘lapettes’ as long as you want them to be.  I’ve seen lots of images of older women with fichus on their shoulders with panels that hang down the front the full length of their dress. It’s very pretty.

I'm slightly crazy about the hat,
I must say.

Here are a few styles of Fichu I’ve seen in either fashion plates, costume mining in adaptations or portraits.  These drawings are open for interpretation, because again, these were made individually and to a person’s tastes. You can add and subtract from the basic shape to your heart’s delight.  Each image has a number. Below all the examples is a key with the very basic shaping of the chemisette drawn out on it. Keep in mind, I measured these based on my body--there is NO substitute for your OWN measurements. If you don't have a dress-form, then measure it on yourself.  And measure twice, cut ONCE. If you make something too short, you can always add lace edging, or ruffles--it's not a science, it's all about creativity.  If you use the foundation shapes and measurements, they sky is the limit in what you can do from there.

The simplest form of fichu. A rectangle,
ruched and then tucked.

Another rectangle, with a cut for the neck.

The tuckable triangle.

The triangle worn on the top of the gown.

With long 'lapettes' in front. I've seen these
made to the length of the dress.
This can be made, and set with drawstrings
to set the shape and gathering.

Recommended fabrics for Fichu 
(as a strong recommendation I suggest you try to stick to silk and cotton products) :
  • Cotton or silk netting.
  • Voile.
  • Batiste
  • Organdy (although it can be crunchy and stiff but it works wonders for ruffled collars)
  • Silk or cotton gauze
  • Cotton Lawn
(please pardon my hasty, and quite awful drawings!)


  1. Loved your post. I've been making a couple chemisettes for an 1850 & 1860s gowns and just using part of a blouse pattern to make them. I love your pattern drawings and have saved it because I will need them at some point. I love the circular one.

  2. Your drawings are far from awful!
    Honestly, I never really considered the merits of fichus before, but now I have a whole new perspective. Thank you for opening my eyes!

  3. This is great. Thank you for the pattern and the information.

  4. Thank you very much for this fabulous and comprehensive article!. I have a weakness for fichus and I love to find much information. Best regards from Spain.