A shirt or chemise is one of the most fundamental elements of regional dress. Worn by both men and women, some style of shirt was included in nearly every area where regional dress was present. Often heavily ornamented with embroidery and lace, the shirts were at once a distinctive feature of regional dress as well as an inspiration for fashionable dress over the years. The stereotypical image of the “peasant blouse” fails to capture the rich diversity and variations present in this foundational garment.
Although the peasant blouse is a stereotypical image of regional dress, there was tremendous variety in styles as they were actually worn. The patterns of ornamentation, the shapes of the sleeve, the length of the hem all varied enormously from region to region and over time. Some shirts were delicate and almost transparent while others are stiff, coarse and very opaque. Just as it served as the foundation for the entire outfit, the variations in shirts reflected the diversity of regional dress more generally.
Peasant blouses have served as an inspiration for urban fashion over the past hundred years. During the 1920s following the upheaval of World War I and the Russian Revolution, waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe brought their traditional clothing styles and their expertise in sewing with them as they settled in cities such as Paris and New York. More recently, peasant-style blouses became popular among the counterculture in the 1970s. This trend continued into the 1980s as it was picked up by high-end designers including Yves Saint-Laurent and Oscar de la Renta.