The Age of Undress Art, Fashion, and the Classical Ideal in the 1790s Amelia Rauser

Publication date:
10 Mar 2020
Yale University Press
216 pages: 254 x 190mm
180 color illus.
Sales territories:

Neoclassicism recast as a feminine, progressive movement through the lens of empire-style fashion, as well as related art and literature

The Age of Undress explores the emergence and meaning of neoclassical dress in the 1790s, tracing its evolution from Naples to London and Paris over the course of a single decade. The neoclassical style of clothing—often referred to as robe à la grecque, empire style, or “undress”—is marked by a sheer, white, high-waisted muslin dress worn with minimal undergarments, often accessorized with a cashmere shawl. This style represented a dramatic departure from that of previous decades and was short lived: by the 1820s, corsets, silks, and hoop skirts were back in fashion.
Amelia Rauser investigates this sudden transformation and argues that women styled themselves as living statues, artworks come to life, an aesthetic and philosophical choice intertwined with the experiments and innovations of artists working in other media during the same period. Although neoclassicism is often considered a cold, rational, and masculine movement, Rauser’s analysis shows that it was actually deeply passionate, with women at its core—as ideals and allegories, as artistic agents, and as important patrons.

Amelia Rauser is professor of art history at Franklin and Marshall College.

The Age of Undress grants fashion and beauty the significance they possessed, and continue to possess, in countless women’s lives.”—Cora Gilroy-Ware, Apollo Magazine

“Rauser creates a meticulous framework of influence from art, literature, dance and theatre at cultural centres across Europe, placing every detail into context, analysing it under the tantalising headings of: drape, transparency, high-waistedness, whiteness, and lightness...[and] presents a holistic and revolutionary view of the period.”—Sarah Jane Downing, Selvedge

“Amelia Rauser's nimble The Age of Undress [is] uncannily topical. She explores the c.1800 female fashion for high-waisted white muslin dresses worn with minimal or no undergarments, illustrating her cultural arguments with scabrous cartoons and soulful paintings.”—James Hall, Times Literary Supplement 'Books of the Year'

“This thought-provoking book looks at the vogue for 'Grecian dress' prevalent in Europe in the last decade of the 18th century. Rauser argues that in performances as 'living statues', women were making an important contribution to the aesthetic and intellectual debates of the time.”—Apollo Magazine, 'Book of the Year Shortlist'

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Titles, 2020