Overdress of a woman's robe à la française - ROM2019_17457_20


Overdress of a woman's robe à la française

Medium:Chintz: cotton tabby, painted mordants, resist, and dyes, glazed, silk lining, silk trim
Geography: Textile made in coastal southeast India for the European market, dress likely constructed in France
Date: c. 1770
146 cm
Object number: 959.80.A
On view
Gallery Location:The Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles & Costume

The beautiful, and exceptionally well-made, robe à la francaise, or sack back, is an elegant example that highlights the importance of the new patterned cotton and how European dressmakers were required to use it creatively. The dress, fashioned from painted florals with branches of roses, peonies, and chrysanthemums, is glazed. The bodice of the overdress is completely lined with a yellow and grey striped silk taffeta that adds weight and body. The importance of weight is reiterated by heavy lead weights, encased in silk taffeta, placed inside the elbow-length sleeves to ensure that they stay demurely down. More importantly, the taffeta provides the sound of luxury: the rustle of silk that heralded the wealthy’s arrival. 

More costly Indian chintz had a glazed finish (burnished rice starch), which added a stiff, luxurious hand. This made the textile better able to hold form, even without a lining and, for the dressmaker or tailor, offered a more familiar hand, like starched linen or crisp silk. Glazing made the cotton sturdier, though even glazed cotton could barely survive a one-time use for a lining before it wore out. A glazed finish also provided a surface barrier that allowed easier wiping and repelled stains. Washing would counter the attributes of glazing and is another reason to reconsider the significance of the washability as part of the desire for high-end luxury chintz. In addition, the polished glazed surface emulated the light-reflective property of silk and was sometimes further augmented with gilding and silvering.

A mirrored design required ingenuity and preplanning in order to reverse the design on the paper pattern and pounce the same perforated outline pattern. It was a nuanced change that was technically simple and basically cost-free, and provides clear, visual evidence and that the garment was custom painted and not made from a repeating yardage, adding more exclusivity and status.

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