18th Century Costume Archives: Red Silk 1760s Robe a l’Anglais

This gown, from the Victoria and Albert Museum, illustrates the necessity of ladies remaking their wardrobes due to the dear expense of fabric.  The fabric used here, gros de tours, was a type of grosgrain dating to the 1740s, typically made from a combination of silk and wool and as such, heavier than its pure silk counterparts.  You’ll notice the red gown is richly hued, but lacks luster.  This is due to the studiness of the fabric, which is ribbed and  interlaced with organzine and tram filling.  It’s the perfect fabric to withstand restyling.  As a side note, gros de tours was often used for black mourning gowns because it could be infinitely redone.

Examine the details closely and you’ll notice a few things.  Number one: the upper back is cut in the robe à l’anglaise style but appears to retain the gatherings of a robe à la français.  The strips down the center of the back are uncommon.  Look at the two gowns below, the first English, the second French, and it’s easy to imagine how the sack back pleats were gathered to attain the trimmer robe à l’anglaise style. 

Robe à la française, 1760-70. Robe à l’anglaise, 1770-75. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Detail number two: notice the reserved sleeves.  Drastic changes would have been made for the update, snipping the fabric shorter, cutting away the long, thick trails of flounce.  In the française style, sleeves were still three-quarter length but dripping with embellishments of lace, ribbons, and trim.  English gowns tended toward simplicity.  This 1760s red gown features sleeves with a single ruffle and scalloped edges.  Pay attention to the weight of the fabric in the closeup.  No flimsy silk here.  This was a gown made to last and in the 1740s, at 6-12 shillings a yard for gros de tours, it had better.



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