Object in Focus

Naming a Woman’s Gown dating to about 1775 – 85


Robe, England, Britain (made), 1775-1870 (made), © Victoria and Albert Museum.







Prepared by: Johannes Pietsch, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich

Read full paper here.

A gown made of silk with a pattern of irregular vertical stripes in pastel green, shades of purple, black, and white on a cream-coloured ground, belongs to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (T.96-1972). The silk is dense, tabby-woven, and has a glazed surface. Because of its high lustre it would have been called lustring or lutestring in English in the eighteenth century. Such silks had been produced in England since the late seventeenth century. The gown’s fitted bodice closes edge to edge at the centre front. The wide, rounded neckline, the three-quarter length sleeves, and the lower ends of the bodice front are decorated with ruffles made from the outer fabric. A pleated skirt that is open in the front is sewn to the bodice. The skirt can be gathered up by two long silk loops that correspond to two buttons at the back of the bodice. Originally a petticoat of the same fabric would have been worn underneath the gown. Of this petticoat only one panel survives, having been converted into an apron in about 1830 (T.96A-1972). A dress in this shape was called a robe à l’anglaise retroussée.

The robe à l’anglaise originated in France in the 1770s. At this time the French admired English styles that were simpler and more comfortable than their own fashions. Indeed, the Cabinet des Modes changed its title to the Magasin des Modes Nouvelles Françaises et Anglaises in November 1786, acknowledging the importance of English styles to French fashion. The English gown with the back pleats sewn to the bodice from the neckline down to the waist had been known to the French as robe ajustée or robe à l’anglaise for a long time. About 1775 this dress type was transformed in France by placing seams instead of pleats at the back and providing the skirt with a train. The Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français explained this shape in great detail in 1778 along with an engraving, which might indicate that the robe à l’anglaise was quite new then. It was considered very elegant because its curvaceous seams enhanced the beauty of a slender waist and it became the most popular gown during the 1780s.



Related material (visual, textual sources)

Illustrations (referred to in paper)

Fig 1: Gown, Great Britain, 1760-1770, Victoria and Albert Museum, T.433-1967.

Fig 2: Robe à l’Anglaise, English or French, about 1790, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 52.113a.

Fig 3: Robe à l’Anglaise, Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, 1778.

Fig 4: A pair of yellow silk pockets, England, ca. 1745, Victoria and Albert Museum, T.87A&B-1978


Documentary, Visual sources

Gown and petticoat, Victoria and Albert Museum, T. 92&A-1972.

Robe à l’Anglaise retroussée, Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, 1784.

Robe retroussée, Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, 1785.

Barbara Johnson’s Album, Victoria and Albert Museum, T.219-1973.




Ellen Andersen, Moden i 1700-årene: Danske Dragter (Copenhagen: Nationalmuseet, 1977).
Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction (New York: Macmillan/Drama Book Publishers, 1985).
Linda Baumgarten, What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002).
Avril Hart and Susan North, Historic Dress in Detail (London: V&A Publications, 1998).
Florence M. Montgomery, Textiles in America. 1650-1870 (New York: W.W.Norton & Company, 1984).
Aileen Ribeiro, The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750 to 1820 (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1995).
Natalie Rothstein (ed.), Four Hundred Years of Fashion (London: V&A Publications, 1984).
Natalie Rothstein (ed.), Barbara Johnson’s Album of Fashions and Fabrics (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987).
Norah Waugh, The Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600-1930 (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1968).
Two Centuries of British Fashion From the Collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Moscow: Kremlin Museums, 2009).




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