An elite 18th-century gown consisting of a decorative stomacher, petticoat, and two wide box pleats falling from shoulders to the floor.

The Details


lanche Payne in the History of Costume from the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century (1965) writes:

“When the back fullness was formed into box pleats at the neckline, falling freely from there to the floor, the gown is referred to as a robe à la française.” (413)

Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta & Phyllis Tortora in the Dictionary of Fashion (2003) defines the robe à la française as a:

“Dress, fashionable in 18th c., made with a bodice that fits closely in the front and loosely at the back. The front closing was filled in with decorative STOMACHER, and two wide box pleats fell from shoulders to hem in back. Der. French, “French gown.” Also called robe à la française and, in the 19th c., referred to as a WATTEAU GOWN.”  (214)

Arts and Humanities Through the Eras (2005) discusses Rococo women’s fashion and the popularity of the robe à la française at some length:

“The chief innovation of the period in women’s dress was the garment that became known throughout Europe as the robe à la française, a gown that was worn over a bodice decorated with a stomacher (a decorative V-or U-shaped garment) and outfitted with hoops or paniers that supported its skirt. The gown was parted in the middle to form a V-shaped opening that allowed contrasting or identical underskirts to show through, thus creating an impression of an abundance of cloth and material. In the 1740s, these styles were often decorated with a profusion of bows, lace, elaborate braidwork patterns, or embroidery, and the sleeves of the gown were cut to make elaborate flounces at the elbows that were usually decorated with lace. While trains were common in the early years of the robe à la française‘s appearance, they tended to be ever more restricted to court circles, where the train was an obligatory element of dress. During the 1740s and 1750s the hoops or paniers of these skirts grew progressively wider. The fashion soon became popular among wealthy and aristocratic women almost everywhere in Europe, spawning regional variations…. The robe à la française became one of the most popular upper-class fashions throughout Europe, and it reflected the reigning taste for costly silks, brocades, and floral patterned fine cloth of the day.”

Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast in Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages (2004) write:

“Made of rich fabrics and loaded with frilly decoration, the robe à la française was worn by only the most wealthy women. It featured a tight-fitting bodice with a square neckline that revealed a great deal of a woman’s upper breasts. The ties along the front of the bodice were hidden beneath a stomacher, or triangular panel, that was richly decorated with bows or ruffles. Tight sleeves covered the arm from the shoulders to the elbows, where many layers of lace and ruffles, called engageantes, circled the lower arm. The back of the dress featured the same floor-length pleats as the sack gown and the related robe à l’anglaise. The outerskirt of the robe à la française was made of a fabric, often satin, that matched the bodice and was left open at the front to reveal a ruffled petticoat. The petticoat, like the stomacher, held many decorations: tiers of ruffles, bows, flowers, lace, and other ornamental touches.”


Robe à la Française

Fig. 1 - Designer unknown (French). Robe à la Française, 1750 - 1760. Satin border, gray and green silk, lining, striped taffeta, green and purple silk, applications of green silk chenille. Paris: Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Source: Palais Galliera

Back of Figure 1

Fig. 2 - Unknown. Back of Figure 1. Source: Palais Galliera

Robe à la Française

Fig. 3 - Designer unknown (French). Robe à la Française, 1760–70. Silk, cotton. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.903a, b. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; H. Randolph Lever Fund, 1966. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Robe à la Française

Fig. 4 - Designer unknown (Italian). Robe à la Française, ca. 1775. Silk taffeta brocaded with silk and metallic threads. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 77.6a-b. Gift of Alessandro Castellani of Rome. Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Robe à la Française

Fig. 5 - Spitalfields (London) (English). Robe à la Française, ca. 1780-1785. Brocaded silk trimmed with lace, gauze and silk flowers. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 925.18.2.A. Anu Liivandi (act. 1986-present). Source: Royal Ontario Museum

Its Afterlife

A Christian Dior Spring/Summer 2012 Couture look (Fig. 6) presents a modern-day take on the robe à la française with a similar open front and silhouette of the robe. It also shows similarities in the floor-length pleating and the embellished “stomacher”-like bodice. The tulle in the gown resembles the ruffled petticoats worn underneath the robe à la française.

Fig. 6 - Christian Dior (French). , Spring/Summer Couture 2012. Source: Vogue