ca. 1765 Pale blue silk satin with hammered silver floral brocade and silver bobbin lace trim one of Queen Marie Antoinette’s Austrian ladies-in-waiting (Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York City, New York USA)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art had this about the robe à la française, "Women with coquettish airs were imposing in robes à la française and robes à l'anglaise throughout the period between 1720 and 1780. The robe à la française was derived from the loose negligee sacque dress of the earlier part of the century, which was pleated from the shoulders at the front at the back. The silhouette, composed of a funnel-shaped bust feeding into wide rectangular skirts, was inspired by Spanish designs of the previous century and allowed for expansive amounts of textiles with delicate Rococo curvilinear decoration. The wide skirts, which were often open at the front to expose a highly decorated underskirt, were supported by paniers created from padding and hoops of different materials such as cane, baleen or metal. The robes à la française are renowned for the beauty of their textiles, the cut of the back employing box pleats and skirt decorations, known as robings, which showed endless imagination and variety.

The Ornamented Being had this note: "This court gown is said to have come from descendants of one of Queen Marie Antoinette’s Austrian ladies-in-waiting. As with most gowns of this type, there is a hidden economy in its construction. The petticoat, or underskirt, appears to be constructed of the rich brocade seen on the bodice and overskirt. However, a wide yoke of blue chintz is inserted to the upper sides and back of the petticoat and restricts the costly brocade to the areas where it is visible.

Costume historians have seen the lavish plenitude of handwoven silks consumed in the design of such gowns to be an explicit pronouncement of wealth and status. In addition, the nature of the gown’s construction, its tightly fitted and corseted bodice, and the wide expanse of its skirt dictated the privileged woman’s movements and imposed a number of challenges. The management of an eighteenth-century gown in as simple an act as sitting down 'could highlight a person’s physical grace,' according to the historian Mimi Hellman, but it could also 'expose the imperfections of the ungainly body.' From this perspective, the gown was not only a pronouncement of elite membership; it was also an instrument that tested a woman's worthiness for society through the graceful choreography and negotiation of her dressed body."


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