April 15, 2015

Closet Histories no. 4.7: The Gaulle/Chemise a la Reine

Another specific style popular in the later 18th century was the infamous Gaulle, also called the Chemise a la Reine (after Marie Antoinette). Resembling the chemise, an 18th century woman's most intimate garment (underwear!), the Chemise a la Reine was considered quite scandalous when it first debuted. When the portrait of Marie Antoinette in her new Gaulle premiered it only added to the growing mistrust surrounding her reputation. It didn't help that once the Gaulle became popular instead of scandalous, the French Aristocrats were buying  yards and yards of (imported) cotton muslin, instead of French Silk. The French silk market took a hit, and since the trend had been attributed to Antoinette, she was blamed for yet another problem befalling France. Never the less, it was soon one of the most popular styles for fashionable ladies of the 1780's and 1790's, on both sides of the English channel.

Elizabeth Foster, 1785                                  Lady Lemon, 1788                                      Kitty Calcraft, 1787    
Here are some lovely ladies in Chemise gowns and fabulous late 18th century hedgehog hairstyles! (big, curly, bountiful hair ladies) All three of these gowns feature white muslin, layered neck ruffles and fuller sleeves. You can see how the basic white or ivory gowns were accessorized with different colored ribbons and belts. Also, Elizabeth Foster's hat you guys...AMAZING! I actually have a hat just like that, I'll show you all one day :)

Mrs. Bryan Cooke, 1787-91                    Princess Louise Auguste of Denmark, 1780          Baronne de Chalvet-Souville, 1793
Here are some variations on the basic Chemise a la Reine. Mrs. Bryan Cooke has slim full length sleeves and the bodice of her gown looks much more structured. It looks like perhaps only the front of her gown is gathered while the back remains smooth like a robe a l'anglaise. Princess Louise is wearing the fully gathered version, and the muslin of her gown looks super fine and sheer. You can tell she is still wearing stiff conical stays underneath. Though the Chemise a la Reine looked much less formal than other styles of gowns, most often it was worn over just as many layers of structured undergarments. Baronne de Chalvet-Souville's gown also features slim full length sleeves and the muslin of her gown features tiny polka dots. It looks as if her gown also has a layered collar that you can see over her shoulder.

Portrait of a Lady with a Book, 1785                         Marie Antoinette, 1783                        Georgania Cavendish, 1786      
The gown featured in Antoine Vestier's Portrait of a Lady with a Book is amazing! Sheerest fabric, most likely silk in this case, with satin stripes layered over more white for a truly stunning result. The sapphire blue silk ribbon sash sets everything off perfectly, I want this gown! The double puffed upper sleeves combined with the long slim sleeves, the sheer cuffs and neckline, I love it all! The next lady may be familiar to you, this is the portrait of Marie Antoinette I mentioned earlier that shocked the public! She wears a full gathered Chemise with a striped golden silk sash. Her friend Georgiana Cavendish next to her also wears a Chemise gown. It is said that Marie Antoinette gave Georgiana a Chemise gown and thus helped spread the style amongst the most fashionable level of society.

Chemise à la reine 1785-89, musée de la toile de jouy, photos from costumehysteric.blogspot.com/
It seems there are very few remaining extant examples of Chemise a la Reine. The gown pictured here is in the collection of the Musee de la Toilr de Jouy in France. I found these photos on Pinterest, and the source seems to be a blog called Costume Hysteric however on that site the photos are no longer visible. The gown itself is a beautiful survivor. It is a great example of the style, with it's slim sleeves, the multiple gathers in the front, flounced skirt, and lightly embroidered muslin fabric. There are a few other extant examples including one at Manchester City Gallery that this blogger got a good look at though there are few/bad photos available online of that particular gown.

I am not sure of other extant examples, it seems that none of what I consider the big costume collections (LACMA, MET, and the V&A) have one in their collections. I am sure there are more out there in smaller and less public collections, as they were so prominent in portraiture from the time.

The Chemise a la Reine is a popular choice for modern costume designers for films set in the late 18th century. I first fell in love with the various styles of Chemise a la Reine gowns in the Trianon scenes in Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette. I have yet to make one of these beautiful gowns, but I hope to soon. I have to make one so I can wear my big Picture hat!

I hope you guys liked today's brief overview of the Chemise a la Reine!

All of the information for this post has been gathered from the textbook Survey of Historic Costume (5th edition) by Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eurbank, from the links above or my own knowledge. I want to share the resources I come across with all of you as much as possible. The portraits used to illustrate today's post were sourced from Pinterest and can be accessed here.. Again I repeat my disclaimer that I am not a historian, and if you have corrections or additions for this post, please begin the discussion in comments as I would love to learn more!


  1. What a gorgeous collection of prints you have assembled here! I love this era too--such a great departure from that heavier era previously. When you mention the scarcity of this type of gown, I was doubtful, having seen and shot slides of the entire exhibition at LACMA a few years back (Fashioning Fashion) and thought I had seen one there, but looking now at those slides, I can find only a white gown (back view) c. 1780-90, without the soft textile or sash (hum!). I guess if you want to see this style of dress locally, you can spend the day at the Huntington Library, which houses an amazing collection of portraits from this era. These ladies are well worth seeing when in southern California (in my book they beat out Disneyland anyday!):

    1. I have definitely seen several white/ivory robe a l'anglaise examples, but it seems like Chemise gowns are much rarer. I own a copy of Fashioning Fashion! It's a great inspirational book. I have never been to the Huntington Library (I am currently living in Denver) but I will ahve to visit next time I am out in California!

  2. wow, that's gorgeous. The fitted bodice make it so much more flattering than the usual sacky menswear style that can only resemble a tied sack of potatoes when sashed up tight.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...