1720s – 1740s Robe Volante – Initial Musings

I just can’t get enough of 18th century back pleats!

The time has come.

This one has been brewing for awhile. I have a sortof underdog love for weird garments or time periods that people avoid – the 17th century, the 1830s, and now the early 18th century. The Robe Volante has always been one of those WTF kind of gowns and the more of that there is the more intrigued I become.

I’ve seen a few epic makes of Robes Volante from costumer friends in the past few years (not least of all Frolicking Frocks and Prior Attire), so the seed was planted. Then last Summer I was struck dumb by this incredible volante at the National Museum of Scotland, and I knew it just had to happen…and I had the perfect fabric, too.

Sacque dress – English or French textile 1726-28, British gown probably late 1740s. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

My fabric isn’t nearly as fabulous as the red brocade in the original National Museum of Scotland sacque, but it is a very large silk brocade with an acanthus stripe motif in cream and yellow (are we surprised it’s yellow?) that could only work as clothing for a couple periods. I bought this fabric following the Mill End Rule of…if it catches your eye and it’s still there when you go back the next time, you have to buy it. It wants to be bought. It needs to “become…”

My fabric is a silk brocade stripey-viney acanthus pattern, just luscious!

…even if I have no idea what it will become or when.

Here we are now, though, in quarantine and sewing random stuff left right and center for future events we hope will happen again some day (Versailles, Costume College, Bath, Garden Party…). I’ve just finished my 1765 sacque and I guess I just haven’t gotten enough of those back pleats because I’ve pulled out my grand pannier, acquired a pair of early 18th century stays from Redthreaded, and I’m already draping up fabric.

I have some questions to answer. There isn’t a lot of information on volantes – a couple patterns in Cut of Women’s Clothes and Patterns of Fashion 1 to assist, and thank goodness, but there seems to be a pretty big swing in cut and drape.

Robe volante, French, c. 1730. MFA Boston 43.664a-b

Some volantes are very unfitted and hang like a tent from the shoulders. Others are more fitted, like later Robes a la Francaise, but still have great big pleats and the joined skirt at center front, like the volante in Edinburgh. Which style do I go with?
An example of a more fitted volante worn over a very wide pannier. Museo Stibbert c. 1740s.

Then there is the question of lining. The Edinburgh sacque, from what we could see through the glass, appears to not be lined but may instead only has lacing strips at the back and potentially at the front too. Some descriptions in museums say partial or half lining…what does that mean? Is there a lining foundation on the front, to which the front bodice is slightly fitted, but not in the back? Is there a full lining foundation like later sacques, and as shown in Patterns of Fashion 1? The answer is – both…but…what do I want to personally do in this project? I’m tempted to try just the lacing strips simply because it’s something I haven’t done yet.
This gown from Trouvais on Etsy (listing no longer available) shows the unlined bodice with lacing strips in front and back.

So that is where I am today. I have sky blue silk taffeta on order from Renaissance Fabrics for the petticoat, my hoops are hooped up and ready for draping, and I’m anxious to slice into this beast…

More updates soon!

p.s. I’ve saved a bunch of volante images on Pinterest here, for anyone interested.


  • The Quintessential Clothes Pen

    May 28, 2020 at 1:15 AM

    Exciting! I love the blue volante from the MFA best in terms of shape, but that's just me… I also love the idea of trying out the lacing strips without a full lining, because it's fun to explore new things. Looking forward to seeing progress!


    • Lauren Stowell

      May 28, 2020 at 1:29 AM

      it's so hard to decide! I like that more tent-like shape to, and it's very different than projects I've already done. But then that red dress from Edinburgh is so fantastic too…decision, decisions!

    • Lauren Stowell

      May 28, 2020 at 7:02 PM

      Thanks! a lot more of these appear in portraits than survive…helps get a sense of how exactly they're supposed to be worn. There are a lot of portraits where ladies have the gown skirt hiked up and it's, like, draping over one pannier and the petticoat shows. I don't know why that is but it's an interesting thing I keep seeing!

  • Alatheia

    May 28, 2020 at 2:19 PM

    I personally love the one from the National Museum of Scotland, though I've found myself gravitating to volantes that are more fitted, like francaises.

    One thing I haven't been able to entirely pin down during my Super Scientific Research is what the dividing feature between volantes and francaises. Obviously it's clear for the unfitted ones, but for the fitted ones, is it that volantes close at center front and have multiple deep pleats in the front? Or something else I haven't figured out yet?

    • Lauren Stowell

      May 28, 2020 at 7:04 PM

      From what I can tell, yes, it's the closed front and deep pleats all in one length from shoulder to hem. But I also think there's a crossover in terminology where "robe a la francaise" and "robe volante" and "robe battante" are all interchangeable for a short time. You get that with "robe a l'Anglaise" too where it's used interchangeably with "Italian gown," and "night gown" in the 1770s and 80s.

  • Alyssa

    May 30, 2020 at 2:09 PM

    This is going to be fabulous!!!!! Your fabric is amazing! Have you seen @littlebitgerman 's volante on instagram? Her's has me wanting to make one of my own.

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