Woman's Dress and Petticoat (Robe à l'anglaise)

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Woman's Dress and Petticoat (Robe à l'anglaise)

England, 1770-1780
Costumes; principal attire (entire body)
Brocaded silk taffeta; linen-lined bodice
Center back of dress: 62 1/2 in. (158.75 cm); center front of petticoat: 37 1/2 in. (95.25 cm)
Costume Council Fund (M.57.24.8a-b)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

Wealthy and fashionable ladies from the 1740s to just before the French Revolution wore as their daily attire either the loosely pleated French gown or "sack," the tightly fitted English gown, or robe...
Wealthy and fashionable ladies from the 1740s to just before the French Revolution wore as their daily attire either the loosely pleated French gown or "sack," the tightly fitted English gown, or robe à la polonaise, with its hitched-up overskirt. The pink color of this dress and its petticoat is typical of the late eighteenth century. The gown features a skirt shorter than its petticoat; buttons and braid hold the overskirt in draped swags at the back. This abundant display of two layers of fabric attested the wearer's wealth; at the same time her dressmaker's skill would have been judged at least in part by her ability to cut the narrow lengths of fabric without waste. Making such a dress required enormous patience and ability. Each hand-sewn seam has about eight stitches to the inch, and the pinked edges of the ruching were probably done by a specialist using shears designed for the purpose. Despite this labor-intensive procedure, the chief expense by far would have been the very costly fabrics. A vogue for high-piled hairstyles trimmed with ribbons and flowers reached its peak in the 1780s, contemporary with this gown. The combination of a bulky coiffure and a stilted gait resulting from the reintroduction of high heels in the 1770s produced a body shape and stance that designers exaggerated in the robe à la polonaise. Its heavy flounces balanced the elaborate hairstyle, achieving a total effect of a fashionable, if costly, immobility.
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Bibliography

  • Maeder, Edward et al.. An Elegant Art: Fashion & Fantasy in the Eighteenth Century. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1983.
  • Price, Lorna.  Masterpieces from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1988.