According to Wikipedia, an
"empire silhouette" is a high-waisted dress,
gathered near or just under the bust with a long,
loose skirt, which skims the body. The outline is
especially flattering to pear shapes wishing to
disguise the stomach area or emphasize the bust.
The shape of the dress helps to lengthen the body's
appearance. Here the word "empire" refers to the
period of the First French Empire.
About.com describes it as: A type of dress or top
where the waistline is raised above the natural
waistline, sometimes as high as right below the
bust. Best on slender-on-top or
petite figures, the
empire dress creates the illusion of length and
camouflages a bottom-heavy figure or thick waist.
Wikipedia also presents a brief history of the
evolution of the Empire dress. Early examples of the
style can be seen on women from early Greco-Roman
art wearing loose-fitting rectangular
tunics known as Peplos or the more common Chiton,
which were belted under the bust, providing support
for women and a cool, comfortable outfit suitable
for the warm climate.
The last few years of the 18th century first saw the
style coming into fashion in Western and Central
Europe (and European-influenced areas). The look was
popularized in Britain by Emma, Lady Hamilton, who
designed such garments for her performances of poses
in imitation of classical antiquity ("attitudes"),
which were a sensation throughout Europe.
Paris in the second half of the 1790s was the center
of adoption of strongly neo-classical influenced
styles as mainstream fashion. In France the style
was sometimes called "à la grecque" after
decorations found on Grecian urns.
The Empire silhouette contributed to making clothes
of the 1795-1820 period generally less confining and
cumbersome than high-fashion clothes of the rest of
the 18th and 19th centuries. The style evolved
through the Napoleanic Era until the early 1820s,
after which the hourglass Victorian styles became
more popular. The style was often worn in white to
denote a high social status (especially in its
earlier years); only women solidly belonging to
what, in England, was known as the "genteel" classes
could afford to wear the pale, easily soiled
garments of the era. The complete and drastic
contrast between 1790s styles (especially those of
the second half of the decade) and the constricting
and voluminous styles of the 1770s (with a rigid
cylindrical torso above panniers) is probably
partially due to the French political upheavals
after 1789 (though there is not usually any very
simple or direct correlation between political
events and fashion changes). English women's styles
(often referred to as "regency") followed along the
same general trend of raised waistlines as French
styles, even when the countries were at war.
saw a revival of the style, possibly reflecting the
less strict social mores of the era (similar to when
the unconstricting 1920s flapper styles replaced the
heavy corsetry of the early 1900s).
The term "empire silhouette" emerged in early 20th
century Britain; the word "empire" here is now
pronounced with a special quasi-French pronunciation
(om-peer) by many in the fashion world.
Apparel Search's editors say that the empire waist
can be found in many collections, some designers who
have shown them in the past include BCBG Maxazria,
Laundry By Shelli Segal, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, and