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Fashion: Fichu

A glimpse at the rise of the fichu as a fashion garment

The fichu was the lady's version of a cravat. It replaced the neckerchief/kerchief in popularity for women during the 18th century and would not be replaced by the shawl until late Regency.


We might think of the fichu as a kind of short shawl that wrapped over the shoulders to cover the chest for modesty. It was almost always white, and it usually had some sort of frill to it, such as lace and/or embroidery. Always exceptions, of course.


This is a "no two alike" garment. There were enough different ways to style, lengths, shapes, fabrics, and designs that would allow a woman to wear it differently with each gown and accessory to fit her personal style. The fichu could be extremely modest or teasing, such as a cotton fichu worn crossbody to cover the chest and bosom versus a sheer fichu tucked into the bodice or tied at the bosom. The ways to style it were nearly limitless, so not only could a woman make the same fichu look new and different with each gown, she could also own several different types for the most options.


While it would not have been scandalous to wear a gown unadorned by a fichu, it would certainly have been unusual for daytime dress. The bare chest, accentuated by the low cut bosoms of gowns, made the fichu a necessity except for evening dress, when it would have been more customary to go without except for the most modest of women.


Enjoy this collection of historical fichus from The Met:


Fichus at The Met Museum


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