Blue silk taffeta brocaded with silver thread
Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1965 (C.I.65.13.1a–c)
In the eighteenth century, formal dress was so closely associated with Versailles and the French court that it was universally described as the robe à la française. As illustrated here, the robe à la française has a fitted overdress. It is open at the front, with a decorative bodice insert called a stomacher covering the corset and an underskirt, the petticoat, showing under the splayed drapery of the overskirt.
In its most formal configuration, the robe à la française presented a particularly wide and flattened profile accomplished by enlarged panniers. Constructed of supple bent wands of willow or whalebone and covered in linen, panniers took on broader or narrower silhouettes. The most remarkable held out the skirts like sandwich boards, barely wider than the body in side view, but as expansive as possible in front or rear view. As shown in the etching Les Adieux (33.22.1), a woman so garbed had to pass through a door sideways.