Trends – Late 18th Century Flippy-Flappies

The Met – Robe a l’Anglaise – 1785-87

When we start out in costuming for a particular era, we think in centuries – the 18th century, the 19th century – and quickly move into thirds. What were fashions like at the beginning, the middle, or the end? Then, as we learn obsess more, we define the decades separately from each other, and finally – if you’re a particular kind of nerd like Abby Cox – your resolution is as fine as years and sometimes even season or months within a year. When you’ve whittled it down to decades or years, you start to notice particular trends in fashion that are lost in the wider view of a period.

One of these trends has recently piqued my interest. I call it, them, Flippy Flappies – bodices with tabs at the waist, popular for the second half of the 1780s (possibly earlier) to at least 1790 (possibly later). That’s a pretty narrow few years, but during this time, Flippy Flappies were all the rage.

Patrick Berria “Zone Gown” – link is dead. This is a great example of a late 1780s Flippy Flappy bodice with an underbodice.
The underbodice from the Patrick Berria gown (dead link).

I first noticed the Flippy Flappies on the Mademoiselle Guimard portrait, 1790, that I’ve been studying so closely for my Costume College ensemble, as well as on the famous, delicious pink and white striped Italian Gown in The Met (C.I.66.39a, b). Then I began to see them more often:

Detail of the portrait of Guimard by Greuze, 1790, LACMA – you can see the tabbed bodice and an overlap at the front “point.” that falls open with the lapels at the neckline. The white beneath is the underbodice.
Cabinet des Modes – November 1786 – great example of a Robe a la Turque with a cutaway gown and flippy-floppy underbodice.

Portrait of Madame de Serres by Joseph Boze, 1787.

A ridiculously amazing gown from Villa Rosemaine, 1780s – these flippy floppies are pinked, but still lined with linen squares beneath.

*Many more are to be found on my 1780s Pinterest board.

I have yet to discover any particular cause or reason for the trend. There may be none more than just fashion for fashion’s sake, but quite often short-lived trends flare up from contemporary politic events, regional interests, or the whims or conditions of royalty. It would be interesting to cross-reference what was going on in Europe at the time that may have spawned this “Harlem Shake” of bodice design.

Dressed in Time’s Flippy Flappy late 80s bodice at Costume College 2017 – so cleanly finished!

The Flippy Flappy bodice seem to often be what we call “zone fronts,” with the cutaway look, but not always. Some of the FF’s are hemmed, bound, and some pinked (cool!). I hemmed mine and it was a pain-in-the-tookus, and in seeing Dressed in Time’s recent exploration into this style I much prefer her method of binding those tricky raw edges.

An example of a non-zone front flippy-flappy bodice, from Les Arts Decoratifs, dated 1780-89. This gown is a round gown, which could have easily been worn with a cutaway robe on top, a la Turque.

I look forward to sharing all the trials and tribulations of my own Flippy Flappy gown, which I shall share with you in future, detailed posts – but I would like to explore the 1780s and early 1790s more in the future. It was a bit of an “anything goes,” wacky few years with potential for much creativity and expression.

My own Flippy Flappy bodice in progress – what a pain those tabs are! Next time I will pink them like in the Villa Rosemaine gown!

For all posts relating to Guimard and the Turkish outfit, click here.


  • Rowenna

    August 11, 2017 at 7:01 PM

    I may be stretching, but they look a bit like men's waistcoats to me. I've wondered if they're tied into a general trend toward more tailored looks for women, focusing on geometric interest (like "zones") and clean lines over frippery-dripping trim and general over-the-top Roccoco-ness.

    • Dani

      August 11, 2017 at 11:25 PM

      They're also similar to the tabs on the bottom of stays, which create a more flexible fit for the lower stomach and hips. So maybe it's "bringing the inside garments out" too.

  • Rosa

    August 11, 2017 at 7:34 PM

    Darn, the flippy flappies are cute! I think they'd look lovely in a Period Lolita gown, too. Oh well, too many unfinished projects to deal with to start a new one…
    Your Turkish outfit is wonderful! I'm taking my hat off to you – all those incredible tiny stitches, the delicious pleats in the back, the lapels…yummy.

  • Caroline

    August 12, 2017 at 6:38 PM

    Aw, I'm so honored my flippy flappies (love that term, by the way!) are included. Actually, I really, really like how you hemmed yours. The little stitches are gorgeous! Just like the pink and white striped Met gown, which I totally adore. The 80's and 90's are just the best. So much crazy to love!


  • DLM

    August 14, 2017 at 12:35 PM

    Like Dani, I immediately thought of this similar feature in stays.

    They are also flattering, in the way menswear so often can be, tailored to women. As a woman with a long waist (I am over 5'6", but my legs are roughly eight inches long), I can also see where these would shift the body line and create a more fashionable silhouette. The Robe a l'Anglaise especially would do that for a body type like mine, particularly as it angles upward toward the back, though I know that is not the flippy-flappy part.

  • Kara

    August 16, 2017 at 1:00 PM

    I've always loved flippy flappies! Fun to know exactly what period they belong to. So far I've only made them on historically inspired clothing, so I've lined them, removing the need to hem them in any way. I like the bound look, though.

  • sam b

    November 29, 2017 at 3:08 AM

    My vote is also the men'swear/stays or bodice worn w/the tabs outside the skirt (esp in the 1787 Boze portrait above). The political atmosphere included the conclusion of the American Revolution and the unrest among the French lower classes, and fashion plates and caricatures both show an increase in the influence of men's clothes esp. military or sporting styles, as well as the adoption of more bourgeois styles, like the stays-as-bodice typical of peasant women. I hadn't studied much of the earlier 1700's fashions until recently so didn't realize that the tabs were so specific to the 80's and 90's. Love the doubled front of your Italian/Turque gown!

  • Rosanna

    February 12, 2019 at 6:53 PM

    Wonder if it was a retro thing. There are loops and or tabs on later Elizabethan gowns. See the Phoenix portrait for loops. Agree with the jumps/stays as bodice idea..

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