Friday, October 8, 2010

Historical Inspiration Costume--The Polonaise Walking Gown

The first inspiration for this gown was the sale rack at Hobby Lobby. I was perusing the fabric when I found a gorgeous silk taffeta, woven with a fawn-gold stripe. Love at first sight, but it had to be too expensive, right?

Nope, it was marked down to $2.99 a yard.

It had to be a mistake. I casually sauntered over to the nearest salesperson and inquired about the pricing of the sale items. "Oh, whatever sticker has the lowest price."

I quickly retrieved the bolt and bought all eight remaining yards.

It soon became my eighteenth-century wedding dress, a simple robe a l'anglaise with very little trimming--I didn't have much time to complete it. But the dress isn't really the point, is it?

Our eighteenth-century ceremony was held at a historic house where we have a fall market fair encampment. (We had a modern wedding, as well, but who really cares about those clothes?)

But what to do after the big day? Keep wearing the dress, of course. Unfortunately, transitioning into a ballgown wasn't the most practical--most of my events are daytime events, and a full-on dress gown would be out of place.

Then I found this in the Kyoto Institute's online archives:

It's a walking gown, with the skirts "retrousee dans les poches"--which is French for, roughly, yanked through the pocket slits. In the late eighteenth century, walking as a pasttime became quite popular for the upper classes when the French picked up on the habit from the English. Gowns designed with shorter skirts and petticoats and featuring rucked-up skirts (the long part of the gown) became fashionable.

And the red color scheme with stripes made me think quickly of the red silk--my wedding gown had found new life.

A few key differences--I did not create a matching petticoat, but instead wear either a gold or fawn colored silk taffeta petticoat (I layer the other one underneath for extra swishiness when walking). Also, this gown is a saque--it has the wide back pleats of a robe a la francaise, and I prefer the fitted anglaise back. Finally, I didn't do a retrousee dans les poches style--rather, I chose to create a polonaise style. One creates these "bum poufs" as I call them by tucking the gowns' skirts under themselves--much like modern French bustles on wedding gowns.

Sadly, I have no pictures of myself actually walking in the gown--though I have taken many lovely strolls--but have some shots from a Christmas party and dance I attended. This is probably the best full-length shot--you can see the simple white engageante on the sleeve and the full, drapey bum pouf. I don't wear much jewelry--just a simple pair of paste earrings.

I have such well-dressed friends with whom to converse. A note on underthings--of course, the requisite shift and stays, and an additional petticoat (again, the swishiness!) I also wear a false rump to accentuate the polonaised back. I've added a kerchief around the neck here, though this is an evening event and kerchiefs were often ditched in the evening--but this gown is so low-cut that I prefer a little extra coverage. My hair is dressed, but I'm not wearing a cap, as it's evening.

More well-dressed friends. When I wear this gown for walking, I wear a shorter petticoat--my fawn-colored one, which hits my lower-midcalf. This would have been fashionable and completely acceptable for the period--though this has caused one of my most common "tourist" questions at events to be "Aren't your skirts too short?" I simply reply, "No, you have me confused with another era."

Aren't new uses for old things fun?


Sharmon said...

These pics are wonderful. The rich reds and golds! Beautifully done work. The man's gold coat is exquisite, too.
Can't wait to see the peacock. :-).

Anonymous said...

That is beautiful! I love how you used elements of the inspiration without completely redoing your own gown. (And Hobby Lobby can be a great place to find fabric!)

Isis said...

Beautiful! And I love the colour combination!

Atlanta said...

How lovely! I love the gold and burgundy together! It's so great to give a new life to a dress!

The Dreamstress said...

Darling! And I am so beyond envious that you had an 18th century wedding!

Hema P. said...

Ah, you do live a charmed life, Rowenna!! Love the gown and the multi-faceted uses you put it to...

I love Hobby Lobby, too, btw -- I always come back from it all revved up, creatively. :-)

Rowenna said...

Sharmon--thanks! And I LOVE my friend's coat--I missed putting up a pic of his wife, but she wore a gorgeous yellow polonaise. She's one of the best seamstresses I know :)

Nuranur--thank you--I, too, love the Hobby Lobby fabric aisles...

Isis--thanks, I feel it's rather autumnal--perfect for the weather right now :)

Atlanta--thank you! I think I love it more now than I did at the wedding :)

Dreamstress--thanks! The eighteenth-century wedding was fun--there are always anniversaries as excuses for dress-up, you know!

Hema--thanks--I have to resist picking up a new hobby every time I go in there...

American Duchess said...

it's gorgeous! Yes, I think I'm going to end up going with a robe a l'anglaise polonaised in the back as well...and I've also got red silk, haha, coincidence, but it needs to be red, doesn't it :-D