Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rev War Gown

The English Gown or Robe A l'Anglaise was one of the most common gowns worn in England, France and the Americas in the mid to late 1700's. It's a two piece gown consisting of 1: the petticoat and 2: the bodice with attached overskirt.

The back is beautifully fitted, which is the main difference between the Robe A l'Anglaise and Robe A l'Frances or sack back gown.

The outsides were finely finished with decorations such as ruching, bows, fringe, lace, etc. depending on the owners wealth and the occasion. The insides, like most 18th century garments, were roughly finished, lined with inexpensive silk, cotton or linen. The arm holes were often left raw (I overlock, but leave the edges to fuzz).
English Gowns could be worn with paniers, hoops and bum rolls, or over "natural" figures (just the stays with no hip augmentation).
To save money, many women used a cheaper fabric on the back of the petticoat where the overskirt would hide it.

Depending on size (hip augmentation) and hem/train length, this gown can take anywhere from 6 1/2 to 15 yds. of 60" wide fabric.

The longer the train, the richer the lady. Working class garments would be hemmed to stay out of the mud.

The most common fabrics were silk, printed / painted cotton and linen. Some gowns were made of wool, but this was an exception as wool is too heavy for this large garment. English gowns closed in the front, and could have a closed overskirt or an open overskirt (shown here). Closed gowns were known as "Round Gowns." Front closures included hooks & eyes, lacing with a stomacher, buttons with loops, bows, pins, and a variety of other innovative means of keeping one's dress in place. Petticoats often matched in the upper class garments, but contrasting fabrics were worn by all social classes.

It's a remarkably flattering gown, which looks great on almost every figure. The back is fabulous if the lady has a lot of "junk in the trunk." The bigger the bum, the better this thing looks. It's comfortable to wear and (depending on the closure) easy to put on & take off by yourself. It must be worn over a pair of stays, or it won't look right. Stays can be very conical or more natural like the ones used to make this dummy... (made from me in my stays).

I got this pattern from (where else?) the Cut of Women's Clothes. It was very easy to make. The back is in 4 pieces, the front & sides are joined.
Sleeves are one piece with the most elegant darts to shape them (and they are very comfortable). I hand-stitched the lining to the fabric at the elbow to keep it in place.
The overskirt is in 4 pieces (if your fabric is wide enough it can be done in 3): fronts and backs. The fronts have a dart to shape the skirt over your paniers. Adjust to fit whatever is on your hips and/or bum. This gown was made for either small hip pads or my natural hips (which are more than any 18th century woman could hope for). I'm sure there are pocket slits for larger paniers / hoops, but this gown doesn't have them.
I added plastic bones to the lining to provide more shape and prevent it from riding up at the waist. There is one bone at the back, 2 on the sides and 2 in the front. More could be added, but it's not necessary, and I'm not sure how often bones were sewn into mid 18th century bodices.
I knife pleated the petticoat & overskirt, but if you enjoy self-torture you could do cartridge pleats. Cartridge pleats must be hand sewn and finished with a ribbon on the under side. Google has some great tutorials on how to do these. The gown is machine sewn and hand finished (hems are machine sewn), and has a "raw" edge (overlocked) between the bodice and overskirt. This allows for easy alterations, and is very historic. I used French seams on the petticoat and overskirt so there are no raw edges to worry about. The bodice is lined, everything else is the natural fabric so it maintains it's airy fullness.

The fabric is white cotton brocade with floral medallions which were a pain to match up. If you plan on making a dress like this from printed or patterned fabric, make sure you buy extra so you can match up the designs, or it will look terrible (at least 1 yd extra, 2 if you can afford it, you can always use this for embellishments if you don't need it). Please remember to account for your seam allowance and use tailor's chalk and a ruler if you really want to get it right. Once you sew the patterned fabric together, that's it, so make sure your pattern will fit you. (this one has some play left at the side seams where no one will ever see it).

This dress is for sale on the Oakhill Clothiers site, and the armholes have been left open so it can be easily adjusted to fit. I have just enough fabric left to make a matching pair of stays OR pockets OR to cover a pair of shoes (which I don't do). I may be able to squeeze a short ruffle for the petticoat, but I don't think it's necessary.
There are no embellishments on this gown, I leave it up to the buyer to decide if they want more or if the fabric should stand on its own.
This would make an excellent bridal gown, and it would be perfect for an 18th century ball.

90% cotton (may be a little nylon or poly, but it burned well with very little black smoke & crusty stuff left over)
100% cotton lining
plastic bones
closes with hooks & eyes.

I don't know why the front didn't photograph well, it's very beautiful and slimming in person. There is a little tip-up at the center front that emphasizes your bust while preserving modesty...
A lace or lawn modesty cloth & sleeve flounces would accent this gown perfectly.

The main difference between the pattern I used and the pattern shown here, is that my bodice is separate from the skirt (this allows for more flexibility in pattern placement... and it's easier). I think these are from the Victoria Albert collection, but I'm not sure. The pattern plate is available through many web sites and books, some even translate the french for you.
The lovely print is from a calendar by Dighton, May 1785. Note her fab head-gear and sheer apron.


Stephanie said...

Wow, beautiful dresses on your site. I love the pictures and really appreciate the historical details. I am writing my dissertation partially on 18th and 19th century dress, so I love to see others who are interested as well.

Gail Kellogg Hope said...

Thank you Stephanie. I've been interested in historic clothes 'forever'. The more I research the more I love them.
The fun thing is that because most clothes were made at home the patterns are easy to adjust and actually make sense.
Most people took more care with their appearance then than they do now and the clothing designs reflect that.
Best of luck on your dissertation and if you need any technical help (construction, references, etc.) feel free to e-mail me. I'll do what I can.