Sunday, March 28, 2010

Robe à la what?

Have you ever wondered what all the 18th century dress names mean? You know, names like Robe à la Française, Robe à l'Anglaise or Robe à la Polonaise? To try to clarify all of these terms, I have prepared a short and not at all exhaustive illustrated lexicon to help you understand what these names refer too.

P.S. This has been a long time in the making!

Robe Volante

Robe Volante, 1720's, Kyoto Costume Institute

Also known as sacque gown, robe battante, innocente, négligé or a flying gown.

This loose fitting gown has pleats at the neckline that fall free to the hem. Worn over a hoop skirt and petticoat was a popular fashion for women in the early 1700’s. Originally considered to be an "undressed" look (after the death of
Louis XIV, people went for a more casual look for a while), it would eventually evolve into the French gown.

Robe à la Française

Yellow Robe à la Française, Silk extended tabby (Gros de Tours) with liseré self-patterning and brocading in silver lamella and filé, England (Spitalfields), Rococo, 1750s, Royal Ontario Museum, ROM2004_1034_6

Also known as Contouche or Sack-back.

The Robe Volante evolved from being loose all around to having a fitted bodice, draped skirt and structures box pleats at the back called
Watteau pleats by modern historians, having been named after Antoine Watteau, a French painter who portrayed that fashion in his paintings.

Basically, all these names (Battante, Volante, Contouche, etc.) represent a step in the evolution of one dress over the course of a century.

Robe à l'Anglaise

Dress (Robe à l'anglaise), 1784–87FrenchCotton, metal, silk; L. at center back 36 in. (91.4 cm)The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Isabel Shults Fund and Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1991 (1991.204a, b)

Also known as an English Nightgown

The Robe à l'Anglaise evolved in England from the
Mantua. While the French enjoyed a simpler fashion after the death of the Sun King, the English kept their formality. Robe à l'Anglaise usually refers to a gown with a set-in waist, whether it is en fourreau or not.

Robe à la Polonaise

Robe Retroussée dans les Poches, c. 1780, Kyoto Costume Institute

Also know as Robe à la Reine and Robe Retroussée dans les Poches. A Polonaise is easily recognizable by its picked up skirt. Usually, is gathered up to create three distinct semi-circular drapes. Generally, both petticoat and dress’ skirt had flounces at the hem. You can transform any opened skirt dress into a polonaise; very practical when your dress becomes too short for you, as a Polonaise’s hem could reach as high up as the ankles! Variations on the Polonaise have also been called Robe à la Turque and Robe à la Circassienne.

Robe de Court

Court dress, ca. 1750; British Blue silk taffeta brocaded with silver thread
Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1965 (C.I.65.13.1a-c

Simply put, the Robe de Court was a gown made primarily for court.

Redingote gown

Sir Joshua Reynolds. Lady Worsley. 1776. Oil on canvas. 236 x 144 sm. Earl and Countess of Harewood, Harewood House, Yorkshire, UK.

Redingote, from the English "Riding Coat", was originally a men’s fashion item, but it was eventually adapted for women as a long coat with high collar, with or without lapels, and long sleeves. It was either paired with a waistcoat or made with a fake waistcoat piece at the front and was worn over a modified version of a men’s shirt complete with jabot. It was worn not only for horseback riding, but also as a travelling gown.


Caraco Jacket and embroidered Petticoat/Skirt, Kyoto Costume Institute

A Caraco is a woman’s jacket which is very similar in form to either the Robe à l'Anglaise or the Robe à la Française, but is no longer than mid-thighs. Originally reserved to the working class, it was adopted by the upper class by the late 1760’s.

Chemise à la Reine

Marie Antoinette by Vigée le Brun, 1783

First know as a Gaulle, this refers to the new style of softer, lighter dresses popularized by Marie Antoinette in the 1780’s and renamed after her. Such dresses sport a wide frill at the neckline, and sometimes at the hem, large sleeves gathered at both shoulder and cuff and are always white and worn with a colourful sash. Comfort of comforts for the period, they were worn without panniers. A wide brimmed straw hat is a highly recommended accessory when wearing a Chemise à la reine.

Robe à la Levantine

Robe à la Levantine, 1779, Eighteenth-century French fashion plates in full colour, Edited by Stella Blum

A Robe à la Levantine is an unfitted, fur trimmed robe with short sleeves worn over a tight fitting gown. It was inspired by the Near East, which can be explained by the popularity of Orientalism in the 18th century.

Manteau de Lit

Manteau de lit, L'art du tailleur by Garsault, published in the 1760s

Literally meaning "Bed Gown". This is another type of short jacket, very loose fitting this time and made from a minimum of pieces; the half bodice, skirt and half sleeve were cut in only one piece and the skirt was pleated at the sides and center back. It was almost exclusively worn by the working class, although there have been instances of bedgowns made of fancier fabrics worn by nobles in their boudoir.

Zone Front

Zone Front Dress, 1790's, Kyoto Costume Institute

This is a modern term used to describe a bodice style that became fashionable in the 1780’s. A zone front bodice has as been cut at an angle from the side towards the neckline at the center front; it is completes with a false waistcoat front. Zone fronts can be considered an upside-down stomacher.

Compère Front

A compère front is a stomacher which buttons down the front; some compère fronts also used hook and eye as closure. The compère stomacher can be sewn to the dress or pinned like an original stomacher, in which case the buttons might only be there for decorative purposes and serve so actual function.

Robe en Fourreau

Robe à l'Anglaise en Fourreau by La Costumière Hystérique

This term is used to describe a specific type of construction, when the center back bodice and skirt are cut as one big piece, whereas the other pieces are separates as usual. En Fourreau patterning can be sued for Robe à l’Anglaise of Robe à la Polonaise.


Superb English stomacher c.1730, Vintage Textile

The stomacher is a stiff piece off fabric, triangular in shape, which filled in the gap between both sides of the Robe by covering the stomach and chest. It was often highly decorated with embroidery, lace ribbons, rushing and sometimes even fringe. It was pinned on the stays or corset, while the gown’s sides where pinned over its edge.


Full-length portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour (1748-55), Pastel on gray-blue paper with gouache highlights, the face is cut out and mounted on the paper, 177 × 130 cm (69.68 × 51.18 in), Purchased by Paillet and sent to the Special Museum of the French School in Versailles, 1804, Department of Prints and Drawings; Sully, Second Floor, 18th-century Pastels, Room 45

Engageantes are the flounces at the sleeve cuff of a woman’s gown. Usually made of lace, they were attached to the chemise until long sleeves became in fashion in the 177o’s. Depending on the wearer’s wealth, engageantes could be made up of many layers.


French crewel embroidered linen skirt, c.1790 from Vintage Textile

A Petticoat is the under-skirt worn with an open gown or a jacket. Shorter petticoats could also be worn under the main petticoat to camouflage the angles of the panniers and make the top layers look smoother of for warmth in the cold weather.


Marie Antoinette of France by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Used by both men and women, wigs came in different colours and could be styled in advance. Although not easy to put on by oneself, they could be changed according to the occasion. If one considers the crazy Poufs that Marie Antoinette helped popularize, wigs, combined with the lady’s own hair, became necessary to achieve such looks.


Blue Gown with Tricorn Hat, Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, Marie Antoinette (2006)

The tricorne is a wide brimmed hat which sides have been turned up on three sides to direct the rain away from the wearer’s face. Originally worn only by the military, it became popular for civilian dress as well shortly before the French revolution.


Woman's Cap by Tory Tailor & Mercantile

The bonnet or cap comes in many forms and wears many names: Bonnet à la Crète de Coq, Bonnet à la Laitière, Bonnet à la Moresque, Bonnet à la Victoire, Bonnet Demi-Négligé, Bonnet Négligé, etc. They all have one thing in common: they are soft headwear and are meant for the home if one is noble, and for everyday wear for the working class.


18th century French Chemise

The first layer of under clothing, the Chemise or shift was almost always made of white linen and was cut square, with side gores. It was about knee length and had elbow length sleeves to which lace could be attached; in the later periods, lace was also attached to the neckline and could be seen at the gown’s neckline. It also served as a nightgown.


Silk Taffeta Stays, mid 18th century, by The Staymaker

The corset of the time, stays served not to change the wearer’s shape (it was actually wider at the hips), but to flatten the stomach and push up the chest. A special pocket could be made downs the center front to insert a busk, a flat piece of wood, which added to the flattening function of the stays.


Panniers, ca. 1750, British, Tan linen and baleen, Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1973 (1973.65.2)

Panniers is the name used for the skirt support which changed and evolved throughout the century. It started as a cone shaped hoop skirt and became the wide flat support of Marie Antoinette. Types of pannier include: pannier à guéridon (funnel-shaped), pannier à coudes, pannier janséniste, considérations, criarde, à bourrelets (flaring), à coupole (dome-shaped).


Late 18th Century Pocket by ~waxesnostalgic

Worn under the Panniers, pockets were bags worn on each hip which served as a modern day handbag for handkerchiefs and fans (purses were meant for coins and small items). They were usually made of white linen and embroidered with colourful designs. Embroidered pockets were often the first embroidery project a young girl got to work on as she learned the craft.

Pocket Hoops

Lady putting on Pocket Hoops

Pocket hoops are a combination of Pockets and Panniers.


Whew! This took forever to write, but at least I'm sure you'll all find this information very useful. Glad to be of service!


  1. Très instructif surtout les distinction de à la française et anglaise, ça dûe être long à écrire et faire la recherche.Très bon travail ma chère.

  2. Wow :o

    Mais comment on atteignait les poches si elles étaient dessous la robe ?

  3. Parce que la jupe est séparée en panneau devant / panneau dos a partir du niveau des hanches. Quand on l'attache, il reste des fentes sur les cotés où l'on peut plonger les mains pour atteindre les poches.

  4. Ohhhh intéressant !

    Est-ce que les paysannes avaient des poches comme celles là et leurs jupes fendues ainsi ?

  5. Elles avait des poches brodées ou non (les poches brodées était souvent le premier exercice de broderie des jeunes filles, alors dépendant de leur classe social, elles peuvent ou ne pas l'être), et la jupe en deux panneaux, mais en tissus plus grossier.

  6. I am interested in the Print of Robe a la Levantine, 1779, can anyone tell me where they found that image?

  7. It is from "Eighteenth-Century French Fashions in Full Color" by Stella Blum. I got this book as a present years ago. You can probably find it on Amazon.

  8. Wow this is really useful! Thank you, this really helped me on my paper on 18th century fashion:)

  9. Just a correction, the purple gown from Vintage Textile is not a compere front gown.

    1. Thank you for the information. I have replaced the picture by a better one to illustrate the Compère Front.

  10. Small correction: Retroussée dans les poches is not the same as polonaise, but a "normal" robe (usually francaise) where the hem is pulled throught the pocket slits. A common error.

  11. Thanks. I've been wondering about the difference between Robe a la Francaise and Robe a l'Englaise for ages.

  12. Quels sont les noms des robes les plus courantes portées au début du règne de Louis XV ? (Régence et ensuite).
    Comme vous dites, à la mort de Louis XIV, nous sommes revenus à un style plus sobre.

    En tous cas très bon article, bien expliqué, très clair, merci.

  13. Lady Worsley is wearing a riding habit, not a redingote.

  14. Can you tell us anything about the French tendency to call a riding habit "Amazon" attire? The term seems to crop up associated with this portrait of Princess Amalie, and some people mention women who took up arms during La Fronde, but nobody gets specific.

    1. To be honest, I have never heard that before, but I will look into it.

  15. Sorry, here is a URL for the picture of Anna Amalie.

  16. J`adore dans les tous les moments de ma vie.