I realized today with the 18th century gowns I have made I have only scratched the surface of how many different types there were. It’s easy to fall into the idea that it was all Robe a la Francaise, Robe a l’Anglaise, Robe a la Polonaise, rinse/repeat; but there are really many more than just those, and then all kinds of mooshed up variations too! So I have compiled a rough list of gown types. I will not define these specifically (though I am sure they do have very specific definitions). Ready?
Robe a la Francaise or Sacque or Sack Gown – an iconic gown of the entire 18th century, the Robe a la Francaise, or Sacque, features a pleated back. The Robe a la Francaise was commonly worn over side hoops, and as the century progressed, remained the style of choice for formal occasions. Learn about Madame de Pompadour’s sacque gown here and see how these gowns were put on in this cool “Dressing 18th Century Video”.
Robe Retroussee Dans les Poches – This style of gown entails pulling the skirt fabric up through the pocket slits, creating a poofy, elevated skirt. The example from the Kyoto Costume Institute shows a Robe a la Francaise worn this way, but a Robe a l’Anglaise can also be worn retroussee dans les poches.
|KCI – Robe retroussee dans les poches, 1780|
The English Gown (English) or Robe a l’Anglaise (French) – Extremely common in the first three quarters of the 18th century, this style features a tight, fitted back, rather than the draped pleats of the Francaise. The English gown typically closed over a stomacher with the pins hidden beneath double, single, or mock robings. The pleated-back style falls out of fashion in the 1770s.
The Italian Gown (English) or Robe a l’Anglaise (French) – Beginning in the 1770s, a new style of fitted-back gown replaced the English gown. The Italian gown closed at the center front and featured a seamed back in either four pieces or two, with a waist seam, replacing the earlier pleated back. There are several variants of the Italian gown – the “zone” front or cutaway front (below), a chemise front, various sleeve lengths including long sleeves, trimmed, untrimmed, etc. The defining factor is the back seams.
**Yes, both gowns above are called “Robe a l’Anglaise” in French. The term is not incorrect, but it’s important to distinguish between the two styles of gown. While the English Gown and Italian gown are contemporary for a very short time, one does pre-date the other and the construction techniques differ.
Robe a l’Anglaise Retroussée– This styling refers to a fitted-back gown worn with the skirts gathered up. Any Italian Gown can be worn this way, with various systems of suspending the skirts; it is uncommon to see the skirts draw up this way on earlier English Gowns. A Robe a l’Anglaise worn retroussée, however, differs from a Robe a la Polonaise. More information about this here and a video showing all the layers of this gown and how they were worn.
|The Met, Robe a l’Anglaise worn Retroussee, 1780-85|
Robe a la Polonaise – This popular style was possibly named for the division of Poland into three parts in 1772, symbolized by the three portions of the skirt, when drawn up. The Robe a la Polonaise also features a cutaway bodice styled like a man’s frock coat, and worn over a gilet, or vest. The bodice hangs loosely front the center front. Polonaise gowns could have long or short skirts, and be worn over long or short petticoats that most commonly matched the gown fabric. The Robe a la Polonaise was in fashion in the 1770s and early 1780s.
|The Met, Robe a la Polonaise, 1787 – click for more views of the front.|
Robe Volante or Robe Battante – This type of gown is from very early in the 18th c and is a precursor to the Sacque. The Robe Volante, or Battante, was a large, seemingly loose-fitting, draped gown, similar to the Robe a la Francaise, but less structured. The back features loose pleats, as does the front. Volantes were closed in front, but often have stomachers peeking out, and were worn over a pannier.
Robe en Chemise or Chemise a la Reine – The scandalous fashion of the 1780s was the Robe en Chemise, a gown inspired by the underwear of the lower classes. Robes en Chemise feature gathered bodices, sometimes cut in one with the skirt. There are various stylings – some have fitted backs, while others have gathered backs; some have full billowing sleeves, while others have long, tight sleeves. Chemise gowns were made of lightweight fabrics in any color, not just white. There’s a fantastic chapter all about this style of gown, and why Marie Antoinette caused such a scandal when she wore it, in “Fashion Victims” by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell.
Robe a la Turque – The Robe a la Turque was inspired by what it sounds like – an interest in Middle Eastern fashions. Popular in the 1780s and into the 90s, the Turque is very similar to the Polonaise, with the back and skirt cut in one. Its distinguishing features appear to be short sleeves worn over longer under-sleeves, a collar at the neckline, and a sash at the waist, though examples exist showing variation – no sash at the waist, and no short sleeves. This makes me think that perhaps the style was as much about the chosen fabrics, colors, and accessories, as it was about the specific cut of the gown. Cassidy, of A Most Beguiling Accomplishment, goes in to more details and theories about the turque in her excellent article here.
|Three views of the Robe a la Turque from Galerie des Modes|
Redingote – The Redingote, named for “Riding Coat,” was inspired by men’s fashion, and included collars, button fronts or cutaway fronts worn over gilets, long sleeves, and often military inspiration. Unlike earlier riding habits, Redingote skirts extend to the ground and do not include pockets.
|Via Dames a la Mode, Magasin des Modes, 1787|
Levite – The Levite was a style of casual dress with an exotic flavor, similar to the Turque. This type of gown was often loose-fitting with long-sleeved, and the bodice closing in front, but sometimes left open like a robe. The characteristic accessory of the Levite is the sash tied around the waist. Levites were popular in the 1770s and 80s.
|Dames a la Mode, Gallerie des Modes, 1780|
Robe de Cour – The Robe de Cour simply means “Court Dress.” It was the most formal gown worn, and is conservative in fashion. Robes de Cour in the 1770s were large trained gowns worn with grand panier, with tightly fitted, rigid bodices closing in back. By the 1790s, not much had changed – Robe de Cour were still worn with pannier and a long train, even when the fashion of the day was for slim, classical-inspired looks.
|Marie Antoinette, by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, 1778-1789|
|Dames a la Mode, July 1798|
Round Gown – The round gown was a fitted-back gown with the the skirt and petticoat sewn as one – it is not an open robe. Round gowns exist throughout the century but become extremely common from the 1770s through the 1790s.
This list is by no means complete, and my descriptions are not at all in-depth. There are yet even *more* styles of gown – Habit de Sultane, Circassiennes, variations on themes – and I did not include any short gown or jackets. Hopefully, though, this will give a brief idea of the variety to be seen in just a few decades of the 18th century. It certainly inspires me to make some of these more obscure or specific styles, rather than my typical Robe a l’Anglaise etc. etc. etc.
So with so many styles to choose from, which is your favorite?