Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Robe à la Francaise

By the 1770's the French Court had established itself as the leading inspiration to other European courts regarding fashion. The favoured attire was even named after its origins: Robe à la Francaise (also known as a Sack-back gown).

Originally, the style developed from a casual type of dress known as a robe volante which was basically a loose dressing gown. However, in the last years of Louis XIV's reign it became more and more formalised and would eventually develop into the tight-fitted court robe of Louis XV's Versailles.

Madame d'Epinay et Madame de Meaux, c. 1760's by Louis Carrogis Carmontell (1717-1806) (Chantilly):
Mesdames d'Epinay and de Meaux

The Robe à la Francaise consists mainly of three large piece: the over-skirt, the petticoat and the bodice. Its characteristic is pleats arranged at the back, falling from the shoulders directly to the ground. The front of the dress is open to display the bodice and petticoat - both were often heavily decorated for the very same purpose. The skirt is made very wide to fit the panniers.
Robes à la Francaise are famous for their beautiful fabrics and elaborate embroideries. During the 1720-50's the fabrics were smaller than previously and often more intricately designed. Floral patterns were very much in vogue. The bodice was closed by so-called compères which were attached to either side of the bodice and buttoned; usually, the bodice was designed to show a great deal of the wearer's bosom.

Jean-Étienne Liotard, Marquise de Pompadour (?), Pastel - a red and white striped silk gown is listed in a woman's inventory in French Illinois...could have looked like this!:
Sketch of Mme. de Pompadour

The sleeves are elbow-long and are trimmed with ruffles - engageantes - which add volumes to an otherwise tight sleeve.

By the time Louis XV sat on the throne the dress was fully equipped with a whalebone corset and the panniers became ever wider. Surprisingly enough it was across the Channel that the widest panniers were worn and not at the French court which led to quite a deal of English satire.
Madame de Pompadour was a great fan of the robe à la Francaise and can be seen sporting one in most of her formal portraits.

Louis de Carmontelle - Woman Playing the Violin, Seen from the Back:

The silk during the middle of the 18th century were of exceptional quality - and weight! - and it was therefor considered quite enough to show off the silk in the great pleats falling from the shoulders. The front of the dress was subject to far more decoration mostly in the form of ruffles, bows, laces etc.

It was for quite a while the dominating silhouette at the French court. This was a style that did not fade in popularity easily; through 1715-75 it was probably the commonest dress among the nobility. After this period ladies - led by Marie Antoinette - preferred a lighter silhouette. During the 1780's it became socially acceptable to wear at court instead of a grand habit - at least during the day and for lesser ceremonies.

BONUS: Look-book

As seen in portraits:

Marie Thérèse de Savoie, Comtesse d'Artois, 1775 Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier d'Agoty:
Comtesse d'Artois

1788 Marie Louise Therese Victoire (Madame Victoire) by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (Versailles):
Madame Victoire in 1788 - rather late for the trend but she was
born during its popularity
Alexander Roslin (1718–1793)    Portrait of the Baroness de Neubourg-Cromière  1756:
Baroness of Neuburg-Cromière

French portraits show Ladies indoors and superbly dressed, such as this Drouais portrait of the gorgeously dressed Marquise de Caumont La Force. The back pocket of her dress, a robe a la française, is visible.:
La Marquise de Caumont La Force

Maria Walpole wears a black robe à la française and some spectacular ...:
Mary Walpole

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