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The History of Empire Waist Dresses

The empire waist dress first came into fashion in the late 18th century in Europe. During the Neoclassical era, Greek and Roman culture were both very popular, so women began to copy the flowy outfits often shown in Greco-Roman art. Shortly after these Neoclassical dresses came into fashion, Napoleon Bonaparte established his rule over much of Europe. Because his first empress, Joséphine de Beauharnais, popularized the silhouette, the style became known as an “empire waist dress” or “empire-style waist.” At first, the dresses were often very simple, but as the style grew more popular, embellishments like ruffles, sequins, chiffon, floral prints, pleated or ruched details, and corresponding shawls or cover-ups became common. Since then, empire waist dresses have come in and out of fashion; the 1960s were a notable period of resurgence. Today, the style is most popular for wedding dresses, but still occasionally shows up on everyday dresses as well.

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