Costume Analytics: Marquise de Merteuil’s Peach Robe à La Française, from “Dangerous Liaisons”

This week on Costume Analytics, let’s look at a fantastic 1770s Robe a la Francaise, from the other pinnacle of 18th c. movie costuming, Dangerous Liaisons (1988).  This film never goes out of style, despite being made in the 80s – it’s full of intrigue, sex, betrayal, and beautiful costumes.  Let’s eyeball one example worn by Glenn Close, as the Marquise de Merteuil.

The Marquise’s gown is a Robe a la Francaise, or a saque-back gown, with large Watteau pleats at the back.  It is worn over a stomacher and petticoat.  The front edges were pinned and the slack taken up by hidden lacings at the back. (there’s a great scene in the movie showing this)

The gown is worn over pocket hoops, which give the skirts their distinct shape.  The front of the robe is open and shows the glittery petticoat beneath.  The stomacher, over which the front edges of the robe are pinned, is triangular in shape and covered in bows.  In total, the outward appearance of this gown includes three pieces – robe, petticoat, and stomacher.

Fabrics & Trims
The robe is constructed of a peach colored silk taffeta, no pattern.  The interest is all in the trims and petticoat.  Let’s break it down:

On the Bodice – the trim is in a zig-zag pattern, and appears to be ruched and then pressed or crushed.  There are stripes running through the middle, which appear almost greenish in color, and a darker edging in peach..  It’s difficult to see what makes up the stripes – it could be stripes in the fabric itself, a separate ribbon sewn on, or two pieces of edged trim sewn together in the middle, then gathered.  The edging appears to be dyed.  We see the same edged ribbon on the sleeves, the flounces, and in the bows.

On the Stomacher – Five large bows make up the stomacher, largest at the top, tiny at the bottom.  The triangular base of the stomacher is likely made from the same peach fabric of the robe, or possibly the petticoat, but is obscured by the massive bows, which are again made of the edged ribbon we see elsewhere.

On the Skirt of the Robe – there are two trims here, the zig-zag we see higher up on the bodice, backed by a wide panel of gathered and pressed fabric with the same darker color on the edges.  The trim panels are much wider on the skirt than on the bodice.

The petticoat is a riot of texture and subtle color changes.  It is a slightly darker peach color than the robe, and features floral “bursts” in gold, with beading in white (pearls?).

Check out this petticoat.

The Marquise wears a shallow-crowned straw hat trimmed in fluffy gathered ribbon and self-bows.  At her neck is a ruffled lace choker with a pink ruffled fabric cockade off to the side.  She wears dangling diamond earrings and two black ribbon bracelets, one on each wrist.  Elbow length gloves in a buff color top it all off.

What we can’t see is that the Marquise is wearing tightly laced stays, a chemise (we can see the enormous lacy sleeve flounces at the elbows), and pocket hoops (panniers).  She also has on exquisite shoes, no doubt, silk stockings, and probably a basic petticoat to add fullness to her skirts.

Tips on Making This Costume

  • Look for taffeta fabric in peach, ivory, or pink.  Use a solid color for the robe, and something riotous and eye-catching for the petticoat.  Try (good selection of taffetas, dupioni, and silks).
  • If you’re not a fan of peach, go for any other pastel color, and keep the same effect by working in the same color family with your petticoat fabric and ribbons.

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  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    November 24, 2010 at 9:44 PM

    I think the trim is pinked, and the taffeta shot a dark peach and cream, so the darker edges to the trim is the darker thread showing in the pinking. It's gorgeous isn't it – and it definitely has a 1980's feel to it – the colour was very fashionable back then. Yet still very accurate to the period. I love that!
    Have you seen Plunkett and Macleane? It has some amazingly edgy 18th C costumes in it – not really accurate but very theatrical, especially Liv Tyler's ones.

  • Sandra Brake

    November 27, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    I would happily eat my arm off to have a dress like this. Well perhaps not but you know what I mean. This is one of my all time favourite movie costumes. I love peach! Merci beaucoup for the analysis and the pattern info. Off to check that out now.

  • Lauren Stowell

    November 27, 2010 at 11:37 PM

    The problem with doing these posts and getting "intimate" with these costumes is that then I want to make every single one of them. This would be an incredibly complex costume to try to recreate, but I love the color palette and the whole…THE WHOLE THING!

    Mrs C – ah, that trim makes sense, thanks for setting my record straight. I haven't seen Plunkett and Macleane; I'll add it to my list of costume movies to see. And I love Liv Tyler.

    I'm so glad you guys like Costume Analytics!

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