18th Century Women’s Long Gowns

Various gowns with fitted backs, in chronological order, including the robe à l’anglaise and robe à polonaise. (The mantuas and robes à la française are on separate pages.)

  • LACMA M.67.8.72, robe à l’anglaise, brocaded silk taffeta, England, c. 1720
  • Historic New England 1959.507, a brocade wedding dress, robe a la englaise, London, c. 1730-1770
  • Met C.I.64.14, dress in heavy silk with lace pattern design woven in beige and rust on a dark brown satin ground, Britain, c. 1735; “Janet Arnold has noted that this one shows no sign of ever having been altered and is thus in its perfect original state”
  • PMA 1995-98-8, silk lampasette, America; silk woven at Spitalfields c. 1742-1745, dress made c. 1740-1750
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1989-427, England, c. 1740 but remodeled c. 1750; “Woman's closed-front gown of ivory silk brocaded in pink, purple, and blue flowers and green vines and leaves. Gown has elbow-length sleeves, an open v-shaped front for wear with a stomacher, and a pleated skirt with drop-front panel. The bodice has 2" robings at the front, which would fasten to a stomacher to close the front bodice. These robings run over the shoulders into the back, which has a square-shaped neck edge. The sleeves are slightly pleated at the armseye, and end at the elbow with a 5" cuff that is pleated and narrowed into 1½" on the inside elbows. Back bodice fits closely to the body with sewn down pleats, a style sometimes called 'English back'. The skirt is attached to the bodice in 1" pleats. The skirt drop-front panel forms 6" openings at either side for stepping into the gown. The drop-front panel ties around the waist with a silk twill tape( a longer cotton twill tape has been added later to the ends of the silk tape).”
  • Museum of London, 1743-1750; “Yellow silk dress. Closed robe dress with its sleeves pleated at the elbow. The bodice is lined in coarse linen and boned at the front on either side, opening with fastening eyelets concealed behind the robings. The flowers of the fabric's pattern are treated naturalistically, typical for this period. At the back of the dress is an end border with two green stripes across the silk.”
  • Museum of London, 1746-1750; “Open robe dress or mantua of white corded silk, brocaded with flower pattern in shades of brown, green, red and blue. The skirt is cut for wear over wide side-hoops and buttons over the hips.”
  • LACMA M.57.24.5a-c, robe à l’anglaise in brocaded silk satin, with ruching and fly fringe and silk-ribbon flowers and bows, England or France, c. 1750-1770
  • Historic New England 1986.1110B, c. 1750-1790; “A lady’s evening dress in rasberry-gold iridescent silk brocade patterned with large sprigs of flowers. It has a square neckline, fitted bodice with a center front opening with a brass ring closure. The dress has elbow length sleeves with an asymetrical self ruching at the edge. The bodice comes to square points to open at the front of the skirt. The skirt opening is edged with ceruse silk ruching and ornament with a serpentine band about 3" in from the center. There are pocket slits in the side seams.”
  • Floral brocaded dress, England, c. 1760
  • Christie’s Lot 240 / Sale 5422, a deep green silk brocade closed robe
  • V&A T.433-1967, silk and linen gown, Britain, probably started out as a sack-back gown in the 1740s but remade into the style of the 1760s
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1960-714,1, pale blue-green damask, England, 1760-1770; “Gown has fitted bodice open for stomacher, trimmed down to ends of extended robings with ruched and undulating ribbon. Fitted sleeves end in double graduated ruffles at elbows. Skirt open in front for petticoat (missing), with pleats all turned toward front; pocket slits set forward of sides. Fitted back with sewn-down pleats (English back or robe a l'anglaise). Bodice and sleeves lined with white tabby linen.”
  • Christie’s Lot 143, Sale 5318, an ice-blue silk damask open robe and petticoat, the skirts polonaised, the closed bodice composed of overlapping panels; matching petticoat lined in cream silk, probably 1760s and altered later
  • Augusta 18.7918.83.0, partial Spitalfield silk brocade dress, 1765-1780; “Cream ground brocaded w/ floral sprays in cherry red, gold & green, robe a l'anglaise, open front skirt, sleeves removed”
  • Historic New England 1998.5875, “plate-printed linen or cotton, worn by Deborah Sampson, possibly as her wedding dress,” c. 1760-1790
  • Christie’s Lot 9 / Sale 5577, a lady’s 18th century open robe, stomacher and petticoat of Chinese painted silk, 1760s with some reworking in the 1770s
  • Met C.I.37.66a,b, robe à l'anglaise, silk, America, c. 1770
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1952-459,1, brocaded silk polonaise, England, c. 1770 (with late 19th century alterations); “Gown of ivory-ground silk taffeta with brocaded pattern of detached small flower sprays in dark green, olive, and shades of rose, against a self-color ground pattern of satin stripes and flowering vines. Gown has fitted bodice, lined with plain-woven linen and twill cotton. Gown front is laced closed, with boning positioned down the fronts and at the sides. Sleeves are angled to curve over the elbows, ending below the elbows. Low round neckline. The bodice back is fitted with center pleats. The full skirt is pleated at the waistline to a point at center back. Garment is trimmed with pinked and pleated self- ruching around the neckline, on the sleeves, down the front bodice, and at the edges of the open skirt front. On the unlined interior skirt, linen tapes spaced 10" apart are sewn at sides and center back to indicate that the gown was worn Polanaise style. Pleats on bodice back are turned toward inside.”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1985-143,1, Chinese damask polonaise, worn in New York, remodeled in the 1770s; “scrolling floral pattern of orange and greenish- gold. Gown has low rounded neckline, edge-to-edge front closure, and back bodice pleats sewn down the length of the center back, with the central pleat extending in one piece with the skirt. Sleeves end in cuffs at elbow. Skirt is pleated to bodice in small pleats of 1/4" to 1/2' deep. Skirt is made of three fabric widths, open at front to reveal the petticoat . Loops sewn to inside of skirt allow skirt to be drawn up in polonaise fashion. Silk has the characteristic holes in the selvages from the temple bar used in weaving wider Chinese silks. Selvages have ribbed outer edges of greenish-gold, striped with dark blue and white satin stripes.”
  • Augusta 8.4830.419.334, pink silk brocade dress & petticoat, 1770s; “Iridescent faille with widely scattered brocade in multicolored floral sprays and red and white sprigs, self fabric ruched trim, wide rounded neckline, boned and fitted-back bodice, center front brass hooks & eyes, points at center front and back waist, open front skirt reveals self fabric petticoat, band of ruching on either side widens toward hem, full skirt pleated to bodice, inside threads for polonaise, separate petticoat pleated to tape, linen tape ties at each side, homespun linen bodice and sleeve”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1991-474,A, black silk satin remade from earlier style, England, 1770s: “Woman’s gown of black silk satin, embroidered in multicolor flowers with pinks, blues and creams predominating. Bodice has low squared neckline, with button-front stomacher, edged with self-fabric ruching and multicolor tied fringe (also known as ‘fly fringe’). Sleeves are tight, curving to fit over the elbow, ending with wide band of ruched fabric gathered up over the elbow and edged with fringe. Self-fabric ruching and fringe continue down the fronts of the open skirt in serpentine lines. Bodice back is pleated to fit close to the body, with the central pleat extending in unbroken line into the skirt (English back or robe a l’Anglaise). Skirt is long and trained at back, probably intended to be drawn up in polonaise. Two buttons sewn to rear waist suggests that tapes were looped over them for polonaise. Gown has a fragmentary petticoat, embroidered and trimmed like the gown, and a stomacher left from an earlier styling of the garment.”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1953-850, gown embroidered in blue on yellow silk, England, 1770-1780; “all trimmed with blue silk fly fringe. The gown has fitted bodice with attached stomacher having decorative center front buttons (non functional). Stomacher is stitched in place under right robing, with hooks and eyes at left. Bodice has squared neckline, with flat pleated robings trimming neckline and entending to waist in front, terminating in flat bow at center front waist. Elbow-length sleeves end with double scalloped flounces edged with fly fringe; sleeves weighted at elbows. Bodice and sleeves lined with linen. Skirt is open at center front to reveal petticoat (missing), pleated to bodice with one-inch pleats. Back of gown fitted, with stitched-down pleats extending into skirt at center back (‘English back’ or ‘robe a l'anglaise’). Skirt is unlined.”
  • Manchester 1970.198, c. 1770-1780; “Deep pink silk. Bodice lined with white linen. Shaped to blunt point at Cf waist. Narrow band over shoulder meeting neckband at back with centre seam and two sewn-down pleats each side tapering from shoulder to waist and continuing into skirt. Elbow length sleeves. Full round neck, extending beyond left front in a length to cover the centre join of the bodice. Hem faced with white silk. ”
  • Open gown, silk (possibly Spitalfields), England, c. 1770-1780; “It originally belonged to Agnes Freeland (1749-1825), a doctor's wife from Kirkcudbright, Scotland. She married the Reverend Dr Robert Muter in 1773 and they had 13 children. The gown was probably Agnes' 'Sunday best' garment, worn for church-going and for visiting friends or neighbours.”
  • Meg Andrews 6477, a silk polonaise gown, c. 1770-1780: “raspberry silk, the closed front bodice with a ruched frill to neckline, edged with narrow scalloped braid in same colour and white detail, the back with flared pleats from centre back neck to waist, the below elbow length sleeves ruched and with similar trim, all lined with white cotton, the skirt full the back with fine pleating either side of the central back pleats together with silk covered buttons, for looping of the cords, to form the polonaise, the sides and deep hem lined with a fine yellow silk, twisted silk cords to back”
  • Manchester 1980.209, striped watered taffeta silk, Britain, c. 1770-1780; “Open robe with tie tapes for wearing ‘en polonaise’. Many stitch marks on bodice and re-siting of pinked trimmings, show that dress was re-made soon after the original making. Bodice has edge to edge fastening, now altered. Original bodice was boned. Originally the lining of the bodice appears to have extended slightly beyond the silk on the right hand side, allowing a small flap for pinning the fronts together. Neckline is fairly low, and square. Sleeves are tight and above elbow length. Tie tapes either side of the waist with four ivory silk ribbon loops to draw up the skirt fuilness en polonaise. Bodice and sleeves lined with linen. Robings are lined with a yellow silk from which embroidery appears to have been unpicked.”
  • Meg Andrews 6939, a polonaise gown, c. 1770-1780; “an open gown of mid blue tafetta silk, the front robings applied with a vandyked edged ribbon caught into tiny box pleats, short sleeves with added slightly pointed elbow edge, the back with fine tucks curving into the back waist, fine pleating to skirt, the fabric , the skirts sides with slits (for pocket access), the silk with yellow selvedges, the bodice lined with fine linen and with two linen tapes to skirt (to puff into a polonaise)”
  • Meg Andrews 7019, a polonaise gown, c. 1770-1780; “rich brown silk taffeta, an open robe with original drawstring cord to the large neck, the bodice back with pleats converging to the pointed waist, elbow length shaped sleeves, the pleated full skirt with slits each side and scalloped pleated frill to front, the bodice lined with linen, the inside skirt with two loops (for looping up) and the lower part lined with pale blue fine silk, selvedges woven in pale blue”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1983-233, a pink-lavender lustring polonaise, England (?), c. 1770-1785; “Bodice front has slightly squared neckline trimmed in gathered and pinked self fabric; bodice closes down center front witout a stomacher. Sleeves are edged in pinked self fabric; sleeves have evidence of original tucks on inside of elbow. Bodice and sleeves lined in linen (somewhat coarser in sleeves). Skirt made of five widths of fabric, seamed at selvages, pleated to bodice in &frac; inch pleats. Linen tapes inside skirt are tied together for drawing up in polonaise.”
  • V&A T.104-1972, a detailed view of the pleated waist of a gown in gold-colored taffeta silk and linen, c. 1774, made in Great Britain, showing the buttons for supporting the polonaise cords
  • FIT 2008.4.1, a robe a l’anglaise in red silk damask, England, c. 1775
  • V&A T.92&A-1972, gown and petticoat, lustred silk lined with linen, Britain, c. 1775
  • V&A T.96-1972, gown, striped lustring silk, England, c. 1775
  • LACMA M.70.85, robe à la polonaise in silk with warp-float and weft-float patterning, France, c. 1775
  • Manchester 1947.1606, chintz, Britain, c. 1775-1780; “Open robe of cream glazed Indian chintz, painted in India with rows of stylised sprigs then block printed with alternating bands of floral wavy lines in England. There is also some overpainting in colour. Bodice is closed with a pointed waistline and elbow-length sleeves. The skirt is cut in 3 widths, closely pleated onto the bodice, with a slit below the waist on each side. 5 tape ties inside skirt, threaded with blue silk cord with tassel at each end for looping skirt up ‘à la polonaise’. A double layer of muslin ruffles is gathered onto the band and sewn onto the sleeve.”
  • Augusta 1.287.250.287, blue silk brocade dress, c. 1775-1790; “Steel blue ground w/ meandering allover small floral pattern in French blue & ivory, 3/4 sleeves w/ attached Dresden work lace engageants, bodice w/ CF lacing & lined w/ dark taupe homespun linen, skirt & sleeves lined in white & blue windowpane linen”
  • Blue dress, New England, 1775-1795; “Woman’s one-piece robe à l&Rsquo;anglaise (round gown) in blue wool tabby, with the waist seam entirely bisecting bodice and skirt. The skirt is made up of three selvage-to-selvage widths, and is box-pleated into the waist seam all around. The gown has three-quarter-length sleeves, and a square neckline in front and back.”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1946-133,A, cream silk taffeta with silk lace and linen bodice lining, England, c. 1778; “open front skirt and closed bodice, edge to edge closure, with matching petticoat. Bodice has scooped neckline trimmed with ruched ivory silk, fitted back, and elbow length sleeves (to be worn with ruffles, lace missing). Skirt has slight train (probably made to be worn Polonaise fashion) and is trimmed with scalloped-edge pinking, further elaborated with pinked ruching undulating from waist to hemline.”
  • Museum of London, after 1778; “Silk open-skirt dress with matching petticoat. The dress has a robe and matching underskirt. It is a pale mauve-pink silk of English manufactrure woven with a very small spot and with small floral sprays in various colours. The bodice's front edges meet and its centre back is lightly boned. The skirt front edges are bound with white silk ribbon. The tapes and loops make a 'polonaise' style skirt.”
  • PMA 1959-113-1, blue and white striped cotton, West Chester, Pennsylvania, c. 1775-1780; “This gown is a rare surviving example of the type worn by servants and the lower classes, or by middle class women for informal wear. The plain design and the use of cotton fabric are well suited to an informal dress, but also reflect the growing preference for simplicity during the 1770s and 1780s. At this time, dresses with closed skirts became popular; called ‘round gowns,’ they were put on over the head. The center front closure of the bodice was also newly fashionable; in this example, however, the triangular shape of a stomacher is maintained through unusual robings attached only at the shoulders. Both these and the fronts would have been pinned in place.”
  • PMA 1933-12-1, open robe in silk taffeta brocade, America; silk woven at Spitalfields c. 1743-1753, dress originally made c. 1755 but altered late 1770s-early 1790s
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1987-5, Chinese damask gown, worn in England or America; originally made c. 1740-1760, remade c. 1780; “Woman’s gown of buff-color silk damask in undulating floral and leaf pattern with spiky leaves. Gown bodice, pieced up, has low squared neckline meeting in edge closure; slightly raised waistline. Fitted sleeves curve over elbow, ending just beneath elbow, without ruffles or cuffs. Back bodice has curved sewn-down pleats ending in deep peak at center back where full skirt (not cut in one with bodice) is pleated to bodice in ½" deep pleats (with ¼" showing on top of pleats). Skirt, made of 3 full and two partial panels, is faced at hem with silk ribbon. One piece of silk at the bodice front has horizontal woven line indicating end of bolt. Selvages have ribbed outer edges with brownish-red and brown satin stripes; temple holes present.”
  • Met 1996.301ae, robe à la polonaise, silk, England, c. 1780
  • Colonial Williamsburg 2007-125, narrow floral striped polonaise, England (?), c. 1780; “cream silk satin with supplemental warp in self color, overlaid with tiny green and salmon flowers. Wide, rounded neckline edged with looped fringe. Fitted sleeves missing ruffles or cuffs. Center front closure. Skirt open to reveal petticoat (missing). Skirt pleated in very small pleats to bodice. Skirt has triple tapes for polonaise. Bodice and sleeves lined with linen. Back bodice comes to point at center waistline; skirt and bodice constructed of two separate pieces.”
  • Met 1976.146a,b, white silk de chine with handpainted floral sprays, France, c. 1780
  • White muslin overdress, stripe-woven and printed with stripes of multicolored flowers, c. 1780
  • Met 1998.314a, b, robe à la polonaise, linen, Britain, c. 1780
  • Met 1970.87a,b yellow silk de chine with handpainted floral sprays, America, c. 1780-1785
  • V&A T.98&A-1966, silk, trimmed with embroidered cotton, ribbon and fringe, lined with linen, France, c. 1780-1785
  • V&A T.296-1973, morning gown in block-printed and painted cotton, England, 1780-1785
  • FIT 2006.56.1, robe a l’anglaise, rust silk satin, France, c. 1780-1789
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1960-719,1, ivory silk ribbed taffeta with silk gauze trim and linen lined bodice, England, 1780-1789; “fitted bodice, deeply cut neckline, elbow length sleeves; open front skirt is cartridge pleated at waistline and has small silk loops on under seams which allows side panels to be drawn up in Polonaise fashion. Matching petticoat and gown are elaborately trimmed with fancy cream silk gauze (1½" to 8" wide) which is ruched and puffed and applied in undulating furbelows from waist to hem, and in deep flounces and undulations on petticoat front.”
  • Augusta 8.4829.227.274, ivory brocade open gown, 1780s; “Silk satin with striped extra warp in self color and center overlaid with tiny green and salmon flowers, narrow looped fringe trim, wide, rounded square neckline, fitted and shaped sleeves, center front brass hook & eye closure, skirt front open to reveal petticoat (missing), skirt knife pleated and attached to bodice at sides and back, four linen tapes inside skirt; if tied skirt becomes a polonaise, homespun linen bodice and sleeves lining”
  • Augusta 5.3972.38.443, printed cotton open gown, England, 1780s; “Green gown, block printed w/ small floral & ribbons in madder & indigo dyes, shades of blue, red, hazel brown & purple, ¾ sleeves, low cut square neck w/ draw string”
  • Augusta 8.4827.30.355, floral silk brocade robe a l'anglaise, 1780s; “Cream silk taffeta woven with textured stripes and brocaded with widely scattered red, pink and purple floral sprays and sprigs, square neckline and edge to edge front closure, elbow length fitted untrimmed sleeves, waist with front and back rounded point, open front skirt with fly-fringe edged ruched silk applied in zig-zag pattern, skirt knife pleated to bodice back and sides, homespun linen bodice & sleeve lining”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1989-446, black wool damask gown, America, c. 1780-1800; “Gown has low squared neckline, with front opening in an edge to edge closure. Sleeves are ¾ length, ending in sewn-down pseudo cuff. At the back, pleats are sewn down at bodice and released into the skirt (so-called ‘English back’ or ‘Robe a l'Anglaise’). Full skirt made up of 7 widths of material is pleated to bodice with 1 3/8" pleats. Skirt is open at front to reveal petticoat (latter is missing). Skirt hem faced with 2¾" reddish brown tabby worsted. Bodice and sleeves lined with several coarse linens and linen-cotton mixture, all plain woven.”
  • V&A T.264-1966, brocaded satin, probably a sack back gown in the 1740s, with “clumsily executed” alteration of the 1780s “suggesting that perhaps the gown had been handed down to a maid”
  • Christie’s Lot 275, Sale 5422, an oyster paper taffeta open robe, closed bodice, with self engageants and pinked trim to cuffs and neckline, the skirts with polonaise cords, 1780s
  • PMA 1991-75-16, peach silk satin, America, 1780s
  • Meg Andrews 6349, Indienne style print, 1780s: “open robe of hand block wood printed cotton, the ruffled large neck with front opening, full skirt with two pocket openings, doubled ruffled below elbow sleeves, the bodice lined with white linen, the creamy background cotton printed with an informal trellis design of large indigo, madder and ochre Indian inspired flowers, with intricate fillings, tendrils and leaves … This was probably a polonaise.”
  • Museum of London 35.59, 1780-1790; “This dress is made of white cotton woven with pairs of very fine red silk stripes. The cotton is quite coarse and probably would have been produced in India as English cotton from the same period was of better quality. The fabric is roughly embroidered with small floral sprigs, mostly in brown, green and yellow silks.”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1947-511, striped floral Indian chintz with linen bodice and sleeve linings, England, 1780-1790; “Gown has tight fitting bodice, pointed center front and back; square neckline with drawstring across front; lined with linen and lightly boned with whalebone at center front and back seams. Plain tight sleeves are curved to fit over elbow. Skirt, unpicked across front waistline, was restitched along original lines; the excessive length suggests that skirt was intended to be drawn-up in polonaise fashion; skirt is unlined with narrow hem. Bodice has eyelets for lacing at center front. Sleeves cut with design going around arm. No surviving evidence for polanaise remains.”
  • PMA 1933-62-1a,b, robe à l’anglaise in silk satin and tobine (cannelè) stripes brocaded with colored silks, America, c. 1783
  • Met 1991.204a,b, robe à l’anglaise, white muslin with hammered silver foliate diaper-patterned and red silk thread embroidery, France, 1784-1787
  • PVMA 1874.23.02 (also here); “Diadema Morgan (1764-1788) wore this blue gown of imported glazed wool damask at her wedding to Phineas Field of Northfield in 1785.”
  • V&A T.274&A-1967, informal gown and petticoat in printed cotton, lined with linen, England, 1780s
  • LACMA M.57.24.4a-b, robe à l’anglaise in silk taffeta with linen lining, England, c. 1785
  • V&A T.232-1969, gown with silk bodice and printed cotton skirt, France (?), sewn c. 1784-1787
  • MFA 43.1619, robe à la polonaise, France, c. 1785; “Block printed cotton in polychrome on white with Indian style floral motifs. Robe à la polonaise: square neckline; Watteau back; short fitted sleeves; side fullness gathered into pleats; ribbon front closure to hook-and-eye at waist; linen and cotton lining. Quilted petticoat: fullness cartridge pleated into tan linen tape waistband; linen suspender tapes; narrow horizontal quilting at base.”
  • Met C.I.66.39a, b, robe à l'anglaise, pink and white striped silk, France, c. 1785-1787
  • Manchester 1952.365/2, cream silk painted with sprays of leaves, flowers, and fruit, Britain, c. 1785-1795
  • LACMA M.81.135.2, robe à l’anglaise, printed cotton, England, late 1780s
  • PMA 1955-98-9, robe à l’anglaise with zone front, cotton mull embroidered with silver foils with silk-satin zone, America, c. 1785-1793
  • PMA 1955-78-2, open robe in light blue taffeta with ivory floral pattern, England or America, c. 1785-1795
  • BATMC I.09.2004, long cream cotton (printed?) dress with open front skirt panel showing white underskirt, 1793-1797
  • PMA 1971-68-1, Quaker woman’s open robe in beige silk satin, Philadelphia, 1799