The Empire in question is the Second Empire, the reign (1852-1870) of Napoléon III and Eugénie. This exhibition at the Palais Galliéra, the City of Paris's fashion museum, gives us a glimpse at a brilliant, vital, corrupt, prosperous, and ultimately disastrous era of French history.more...
I add the portrait of Eugenie and her Ladies in Waiting at the bottom of Catherine's article. It is the epitome of style of the mid-nineteenth century and the mode to which all women of quality aspired to.
An article of Catherine's which draws a comparison between Marie-Antoinette and Eugenie may be found here.
Eugenie is one of the few redeeming aspects of the Second Empire.
Dieu le Roy,
Incidentally my mother's name is Eugenie.
The current Madame Royale is named Eugenie.
Last note, the wearing of crinolines was supposed to be what gave a woman's dress the classic bell bottom shape. Most women wore a hoop instead as it was lighter (and cooler). The Picture of Deborah Kerr (found here) shows an extreme of the classic woman's dress of the 1850-60's. In an accurate portrayal of Victorian woman's dress the hoop is invisible, no part of the chemise or crinoline may be seen, peeking out. I am continually saddened by living historians who are dressed incorrectly. In addition women presented a rounded busom, not the "let it all hang out" style of the 1950's.