The Robe a la Turque – Part 2 – The Gown

Italian Gown in yellow silk taffeta worn with a ruffled voile apron and cap, and fashionable black silk hat with black “Dunmore” shoes. Mid-1780s.

One thing I love most in costuming is versatility. I love that our Georgian foremothers re-trimmed old gowns, refashioned old frocks, and mixed-and-matched their clothing and accessories in different ways to achieve different looks. Being able to wear something for more than one occasion is economical, and this was at the forefront of my mind in planning my Turkish-inspired costume.

In studying the portrait, I concluded that the costume was a throw-together of various pieces to hand. A gown here, a belt there, oooh a shiny sash, how about this polonaise robe, wait put some fur on it…there we go. I can just imagine the actors and actresses of Comedie Francaise raiding a big trunk of garments, assembling them into various “characters,” like the Sultana here.

So that is what I did too.

I started with an Italian gown. Lucky for me, Abby cut a muslin 18th c. bodice on me recently and I was able to get straight to assembly after a quick test fit. I tweaked the front closure from center front pinning to overlapping on an angle, to create the fold-down lapels seen on the gown in the portrait.

The lapels of the bodice are lined in purple silk, trimmed with silver leaves.

The trim had to be applied to the purple lining silk prior to the assembling of the outer and lining fabrics, so no stitches showed through.

I also added Flippy-Flappies, which were tricky and needed fiddling more than once. Additionally, my diagonal “zone” seams went all wibbly-wobbly on me and I had to piece in some extra silk to make up for the gap. Still a mystery to me how that got quite so off!

Pinning a flippy-flappy into place on the muslin bodice front. I had to adjust these a couple times.

For the back, I stuck with the simple two-piece back rather than adding additional seams. This meant quicker assembly of the CB seam and an easy fitting through the two side-back seams. I even reference our own book (The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking) multiple times to be extra sure I was doing things in the right order and with the right seaming techniques.

Center back seam assembled with internal boning channels. I worked on the bodice over the split bum, which helped me curve the back waist edge down into the point.

The finished gown back. I pulled my stitched a little tight on the CB seam which caused a little rumplage – this is a watch point for you guys when working with thin silk!

One thing I really love about Italian Gowns is that they really do go together super fast. The longest process was in trimming and lining the front of the bodice to fold down into those lapels. Aside from that, once the front and back pieces were together, I pleated up the skirt, stitched it to the bodice, leaving the raw edges turned down on the inside, and hemmed it. The last steps were to set the sleeves (thanks, Abby!), apply the shoulder straps, and tack in the lace tucker.

Pleating up one side of the gown skirts. I didn’t do a great job, to be honest. Better next time….

Last bit of gown construction – applying the shoulder straps after the sleeves have been fitted. This is fiddly, but it sure does feel good to get it done!

Just like that, the gown was down. It felt great to have something completed that I could wear if I did not finish all the rest of the pieces for the Turkish costume. And, of course, my favorite aspect is that it can be worn different ways – either as a fashionable outfit with a split bum, apron, hat, and cap, or snazzed up a la Turque.

The yellow Italian Gown worn as fashionable European dress. The bodice is pinned closed up to the neckline, hiding those trimmed lapels completely, especially with the breast bow. The gown skirt is tied up and the ensemble worn over a split bum and matching yellow silk petticoat with a fluffy voile apron. To finish the look, a large 1780s cap, black silk hat, and black “Dunmore” shoes and “Dandridge” buckles. There is nothing “Turkish” about this ensemble.
Fashionable dress, mid-1780s

…but can you believe this is the same gown? Here the gown is worn over bright pink shalwar (pants) and a high chemisette. While still worn over stays, I did not wear any hip or bum padding. I roughly tacked on a decorative front panel to the skirt, looped up to show the purple lining and silver trim, which tied in with the lapels of the bodice worn open. The addition of the blue robe, a few accessories, and a change of cap and shoes render this outfit ready for the stage.
Turkish-inspired stage costume, 1790.

Never fear – I know there’s a lot more going on with the Turque than just the gown, and I have posts on the way for the poofy-pants, the robe, the accessories, etc. Stay tuned!

And if you’d like to learn how to make a late 18th century gown like this, pre-order a copy of our Georgian mantua-making and millinery manual, The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking, releasing November 21st. We present detailed how-to’s within on how to make both caps, the apron, and the black silk hat that appear in this post, in addition to step-by-step instructions on constructing the Italian gown in the accurate 18th century way.


Leave a Reply to Emma Finn Cancel reply

Discover more from American Duchess Blog

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading