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. The robe à la française has a fitted overdress which is open at the frontand has 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. A woman so garbed had to pass through a door sideways.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Diana Vreeland: Immoderate Style," December 9, 1993–March 20, 1994.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Vanity Fair: A Treasure Trove from the Costume Institute," December 15, 1977–September 3, 1978.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "In Style: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Costume Institute," November 17, 1987–April 17, 1988.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Eighteenth-Century Woman," January 1, 1981–January 2, 1982.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Ceaseless Century," September 9, 1998–November 29, 1998.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed," December 4, 2001–March 17, 2002.
Saint Louis Art Museum. "Vanity Fair: Four Centuries of Fashion from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 3, 1979–April 1, 1979.