Today we look into the curious case of the 18th century Robe à la Polonaise! Though the name polonaise is often given to any 18th century gown with the back skirts looped up into puffs, this is inaccurate! There is actually a distinction between gowns a la retroussée (pulled or looped up) and a robe à la polonaise. There are many extant examples of both robe a l'anglaise and robe a la francaise with their skirts "a la retroussée", their skirts pulled up by cords or pulled through the pocket slits. The distinctive features of the polonaise can be hard to spot for those not very familiar with 18th century women's dress.
|Late 18th century fashion plate, Polonaise in taffeta with gauze trimmings.|
Lets take a look at the fashion plate above. The gown is described as follows "Polish view from behind, it is taffeta trimmed with gauze." One must imagine that the Polonaise style gown originated or was styled after a Polish style of gown in order to have earned it's name. The polonaise was cut in a similar way to men's frock coats, the bodice and skirt cut in one (without a waist seam). The center back seam and two side-back seams terminate in inverted pleats in a similar manner to a frock coat. The bodice appears to be cut as a "zone" front, with the side fronts worn loose over a either a separate bodice/waistcoat or a false waistcoat or stomacher. The skirt is worn pulled up into three sections, though "puffs" sounds more fun!
|Dress (robe à la polonaise) 1780, KCI|
|Robe à la Polonaise 1780, Glasgow Museum|
For more about the Polonaise, you must check out this post from DeMode Couture. Kendra describes the polonaise in detail, and is quite an authority on the subject after all of her extensive research.
Now let's look at a few faux polonaise, which are actually robe a l'anglaise a la retroussée.
|Robe à la Polonaise 1780-1785, MET|
There is one more french term for today though, and describes another way other gowns masquerade as a polonaise. A gown "retroussee dans les poches", in English? "tucked in the pockets". 18th century gowns have slits in the side skirt seams which are virtually invisible while the gown is being worn, but allow a woman to wear a separate pocket (like this one) underneath to store items in. A gown worn "retroussee dans les poches" has the skirt pulled up through these slits to "bustle" the back.
|Dress (robe retroussée dans les poches) 1780, KCI|
I happen to like the polonaise and its imitators quite a lot! I'd love to make one someday, they seem ultra feminine with their poufs of silk and rows of pleated trimmings. I think I would prefer to have an anglaise I could wear either dans les poches or with it's skirts down and smooth.
What do you guys think of the polonaise? Too frilly, or just right?
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!