December 19, 2015
This guest post from Ruby Pierce is the first of a series of four to share the text she wrote to accompany the four historic looks in the fashion show at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center in October.
This 18th century women’s garment is a product of the Rococo era. This era was characterized by pastel colors, curving shapes, and excessive detailing. These characteristics were present in all forms of art of the day: paintings, architecture, textiles, furnishings, and especially garments. Perhaps the most famous example, the wardrobe of Queen Marie Antoinette was lavish with these elements, and extremely influential for the world of fashion. This iconic silhouette combines an extremely wide skirt and a miniscule waist, exaggerating the natural curves of the human form.
A variety of intensive supporting undergarments created the desired shape of women’s costume during this period. Traditionally, a garment such as this is supported by an oval-shaped farthingale with graduated hoops of boning, or by wide side hoops called panniers. Both of these foundation garments support the structure of the gowns giving them an almost architectural appearance. This particular gown is called robe à la française, characterized by a full, pleated back and a fitted front. The term “Watteau back” is often associated with these gowns because they were commonly featured in paintings by the famous French artist, Jean Watteau. Sleeves usually ended just below the elbow, in order to flaunt the wearer’s beautiful forearms, and were finished off with one or more ruffles called engageants. Combined with the high pouf or pompadour hairstyle of the time, with additionally elaborate and descriptive decoration, this look was truly impressive.
The model for this look was Carrie Plover.
Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Rococo style”, accessed November 15, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/art/Rococo-style-design.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, s. v. “Marie Antoinette”, accessed November 15, 2015, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Antoinette.
Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eubank, “Costume for Women: 1730-1760,” in Survey of Historic Costume (New York: Fairchild Publications, Inc. 2005), 239.