A triangular shawl, usually worn by women, draped over the shoulders and crossed or fastened in the front.

The Details

T he Dictionary of Fashion History (2010) defines a fichu as:

“A term replacing the handkerchief or neckerchief, being a length of usually flimsy material worn round the neck and shoulders.” (81)

The Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion (2005) gives more historical context:

“In eighteenth-century Western fashions, bodices were cut revealingly low, requiring a piece of cloth, known as a fichu, to cover a woman’s chest. Worn around the neck and crossed or tied at the bosom, fichus were either triangular or square in shape. Fichus were often made of white cotton or linen finely embroidered in whitework; others were of colored silks with rich embroidery.”

Figure 1 and Figure 2 show two of the Met’s numerous surviving fichus with whitework embroidery. The Victoria & Albert Museum has a white cotton fichu (Fig. 3) of the late eighteenth century with whitework embroidery around the edge, a chain stitch design of interlinked drooping harebells and a Greek key pattern border.  Figure 3 shows how a fichu would be worn atop an 18th-century gown. Of the fichu, Daniel Delis Hill in The History of World Costume and Fashion (2011) writes:

“For those bodices that were designed wide enough to close in the center by hooks, laces, or pins, a long scarf of linen or lace called a fichu was sometimes secured by a brooch at the decollete neckline to conceal the closure. Necklines of bodices were deep, cut in either a square or a wide, off the shoulder oval.” (439)

Figure 2 shows how a fichu fastened in the front while the one in Figure 3 is crossed. Occasionally, the fichu’s points would extend to the back of the wearer (Fig. 4). The Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion (2005) describes the fichu’s eventual disappearance:

“This style of scarf continued into the early nineteenth century, but as fashions shifted, chests were covered by bodices and large shawls predominated as accessories.”

In his ca. 1770 portrait of Mrs. William Strachan (Fig. 5) Charles Willson Peale portrays a woman wearing a white fichu in order to cover her squared low neckline.

Fichu

Fig. 1 - Designer unknown (British). Fichu, third quarter 18th century. Cotton; dimensions unknown. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1980. Source: The Met

Fichu

Fig. 2 - Designer unknown (American). Fichu, 1790–1810. Cotton; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.5604. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Frederick H. Prince, Jr., 1967. Source: The Met

Fichu

Fig. 3 - Designer unknown (England). Fichu, 1780s. Muslin with whitework embroidery; dimensions unknown. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Given by Mrs H.E. Talbot. Source: V & A

Fichu

Fig. 4 - Designer unknown (British). Fichu, 1730-1769. Embroidered muslin; Dimensions unknown. London. Source: Victoria & Albert Museum

Portrait of Mrs. William Strachan

Fig. 5 - Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741-1827). Portrait of Mrs. William Strachan, 1770-1772. Oil on canvas; 78.3 x 63.5 cm (30 13/16 x 25 in). Brooklyn: Brooklyn Museum, 20.638. Museum Purchase Fund. Source: Brooklyn Museum

Fichu

Fig. 6 - Designer unknown (American). Fichu, ca. 1840–60. Cotton, silk; dimensions unknown. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the estate of Sarah B. Russell, 1956. Source: The Met

Its Afterlife

Dior was inspired by the 18th-century fichu and in Fall 2005 proposed a revised version of it (Figs. 7 & 8).

Couture

Fig. 7 - Christian Dior. Couture, Fall 2005. Model: Erin O'Connor. Photograph by Marcio Madeira. Source: Vogue

Couture

Fig. 8 - Christian Dior. Couture, Fall 2005. Model: Erin O'Connor. Photograph by Marcio Madeira. Source: Vogue

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