|1784 Robe a l’Anglaise, from the Met|
It’s about time for a new Costume Analytics! I’ve been so tied up with shoes, and museums, and sewing stuff, that I’ve neglected CA and you faithful readers! So let’s take a look at a beautiful and fairly straight-forward gown from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dating from 1784-87, this French Robe a l’Anglaise (1991.204a, b) is absolutely stunning with its long train, seemingly simple fabric, and excellent fit. Let’s break it down:
The Robe a l’Anglaise – or “English Gown” – is an open-front gown with a fitted back, differing from the Robe a la Francaise, with the characteristic Watteau pleats. This particular gown is worn over a matching petticoat, and features three-quarter length sleeves typical of the 1780s.
The Bodice – it’s difficult to tell, but I believe the back of this bodice is constructed in a way known as “en fourreau.” This means that the bodice and part of the length of the skirt are cut as one, and pleated in a way that creates on long, graceful line down the middle of the back. Sara of Mode Historique has a great article on how to drape an en fourreau back: read it here. As for the rest of the back, we see quite a few seams: center back, a side back, and then another atypical curved side back seam. The lines I’ve drawn here follow what is visible, and also what I am suspecting for the upper part that we cannot see because of the neckerchief.
The front of the bodice is quite interesting. It is very long, closing either with interior lacing or hooks and eyes, with a placket covering the closure. There is a tabbed skirting that disappears under the skirt (is no doubt part of it, but it appears to be beneath). We also see this kind of auxiliary decoration on this 1785 Anglaise also from The Met.
The sleeves are three-quarters with an obvious seam halfway up the upper arm, where the shaped portion for the elbow has been sewn on. The sleeves themselves feature no trimmings, a common feature among gowns with which separate flounces (lace or lawn, often embroidered or embellished heavily) would have been worn.
As for the skirt, it is long in back, short in front, worn over a separate petticoat of matching fabric. There is a seam in the skirt at the side back, and the pleating at the waistline is accomplished by tiny knife pleats.
Fabrics and Trims
Though it appears simple, this gown features beautiful cotton fabric embroidered with metal threads. The design is both organic and geometric, with simple floral vines creating a broad diamond pattern, accented with varying embroidered sprigs at the center of each square. The pattern was meticulously matched in some places, such as the joins on the sleeves, but not in others, such as the seams on the skirt.
There appear to be no trims on the neckline, front of the bodice, or sleeves, though it’s difficult to tell with the fichu in place. The gown was likely worn with separate sleeve flounces, and the wearer may have added bows or posies, or, as shown here, a highly decorated neckerchief, but overall the look is quite elegant without the typical rococo trimmings we often see in the 1780s.
As always, this gown would have been worn with a chemise, rigid stays, and skirt supports such as panniers. Don’t forget the silk stockings and the shoes – the Met has dressed their mannequin with pretty champagne colored heels with buckles. To top it off, add an embroidered fichu (neckerchief), and a large hairstyle.
However, this gown may also have been worn for sunny strolls around the formal gardens of Versailles, which would call for a stylish straw hat with bows and feathers, and perhaps mitts. It’s a very versatile look that works well for day as well as evening, though silk would be more appropriate for formal court attendance.
Tips on Making This Costume
- Check out these patterns available for en fourreau Robe a l’Anglaise gowns: JP Ryan, Mill Farm
- Or if you don’t care to fiddle with the en fourreau madness, a regular back works too: Reconstructing History, Mill Farm, JP Ryan (same pattern as above), and if you like to draft from gridded patterns, try Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1.
- This fabric is going to be hard to find, but I would try to get something close and then embroider it yourself with silver thread. If that sounds horribly unappealing, go for the closest approximation that pays homage to the overall look of the original. That is, you want a cream-colored ground with some sort of vaguely geometric pattern, and in a subtle single color. Here’s what I found: B.R. Exports, embroidered dupioni, Farmhouse Fabrics jacquard
- Match your petticoat to your gown, or if you want to be versatile, make up a contrasting petticoat for a different look.
MrsC (Maryanne)February 8, 2011 at 9:17 AM
Gosh that is such a beautiful dress. I've only ever seen it in the double picture with the empire line dress, which I also adore, it's so nice to see it close up. Thank you. And that embroidered dupion is pretty droolworthy isn't it!
Lauren StowellFebruary 8, 2011 at 7:07 PM
It is so lovely, although I searched for literally hours looking for some similar fabric. It's one of those that might have to be a labor-of-love.
Also, Abby (Stay-ing Alive) wrote to me to let me know that this gown is actually a quarter-back gown, not a pleated back. I'm not as familiar with quarter-back gowns (except it makes me chuckle every time I think of a football player wearing a robe a l'anglaise, har har), but she noted that the curved seams on the side back point to it. Thank you Abby!
SeidenweberinFebruary 13, 2011 at 10:07 PM
It's also featured in the catalogue "Dangerous Liaisons" by the MetMuseum. If you're not having that book, it certainly is worth it 🙂
Lauren StowellFebruary 13, 2011 at 10:32 PM
Fiorina, unfortunately I don't have the book…it's one of those $100 used books on Amazon, lol. Someday!
EvaJuly 7, 2015 at 12:39 AM
Lauren, have you tried this page? "Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century" is available to read online, and as a PDF at the MetPublications website 🙂 (mind you, it's an almost 50 MB file ;)..
machine embroideryAugust 24, 2017 at 8:55 AM
Your article is really mind boggling.