trianon cotoure: Robe à la Polonaise

Although the chemise à la reine is practically the mascot for the Queen’s bucolic fiefdom, the first frock stitched up for Petit Trianon was the Robe à la Polonaise. However–in true Tiaras and Trianon style–let’s backpedal a bit. (Aw, did you miss your desultory Blog Hostess? I bet you did!)

robe à la polonaiseIt was no secret that Marie Antoinette disliked the formality of the French court, especially the fashion. Even for everyday wear, the rib-fracturing whalebone corset, hippopotamic panniers and long trains were mandatory. The “Versailles Uniform” when completely assembled over the panniers and petticoats measured 13 feet in circumference. No yourobe à la polonaise didn’t read that incorrectly. Thirteen. Feet. Circumference. Next time you’re at Versailles, pay special attention to the door widths. So serious! We’re trying to imagine how a lady excused herself from dinner without sweeping china, crystal and candlesticks off the tabletop. Yikes, open flame. Imagine needing a minimum of 14 feet’s worth of physical self-awareness to avoid combustion. Yeah, life was hard back then.

So it’s no shocker that Marie Antoinette got on Louis’ case to loosen the dress code at Versailles. (Heck, if your daily girth were 13 feet in every direction, you’d nag the royal husband too. Proving once more it’s good to be Queen.) The formality was curtailed to smaller panniers and much shorter trains. We guess that these minor truncations weren’t enough for M@, as Rose Bertin’s sartorial embodiments for Petit Trianon exemplify.

robe à la polonaiseThe Robe à la Polonaise nixed these dress-code staples, the panniers and train were removed entirely. Instead the polonaise featured a sassy bustle, perched pertly above the backside by gluing layers of cotton one atop the other. The overdress was short and similar to a waisted coat, reminiscent of the redingotes from M@’s early days at Versailles. The overskirt swathed up in three festoons to attach at the hip. The polonaise got its name from these three looping swags.

Supposedly coined by Cardinal Rohan, the name referred to the Partition of Poland by Austria, Russia and Prussia and therefore a jab at the Queen herself. What better way to insult the austrichienne than by calling her empress mama a “rapacious” glutton for power and land? (Even if it was the truth, Rohan certainly meant for the moniker to be malicious.)

Both overskirt and underskirt flounced a higher hemline that the gran habit or Robe à la française. Ankles could be seen! *swoon, faint, the audacity!* The polonaise was made for romping across the rolling fields and gardens of Trianon and the Hameau, not gliding through the Hall of Mirrors on the way to chapel.

robe à la polonaise

As if showing your ankles weren’t scandalous enough, this lady wants you to check out the entirety of her calf. Oh the humanity!

robe à la polonaise

I dig the drum majorette style she’s got going on here.

The Galerie des modes hailed the new style as “in keeping with the Principles of Rousseau.” Their sketches typically showed their models in the great outdoors because, let’s face it, you don’t sell tanning lotion in front of an igloo. The complex system of the draping the three-part overskirt closely resembled the loops and pull-cords with which Hungarian blinds are hoisted, it hardly seems in keeping with the simplicity of Rousseau to the modern eye. Heck, The overskirt-underskirt combo hardly seems like something in which you’d find on a modern day “nature girl”.  (We’re imagining a bunch of hippie girls twirling around in Robes à la Polonaise at a Phish show. heh…) But in 1775 prancing across the lawn in no less than five yards of fabric was liberating.

Interestingly enough, the Polonaise had a resurgence in the Victorian era. The Victorian interpretation bares little resemblance to Rose Bertin’s original masterwork.

Victorian robe à la Polonaise

Which part represents Austria? I see neither swags nor those jaunty bustles and not an ankle to be found! We declare this miscarriage of fashion a swing and a miss!

Pannier-free, no pesky train for someone to step on and ankles al fresco must have felt positively buoyant. It’s what Heloïse would have wanted, right?

robe à la polonaiseThis one’s my personal favorite. A rough translation describes it as a Polonaise of blue and white toile bordered (?) with an assortment of flat strips of toile painted in all colors on a white background. Yeah, if any of you francophones out there know what “vermicelée” means, please, help a blog hostess out!

About ♔ la dauphiine ♔

Connecticut-based jewelry monger, history buff, Mets fan. On the hum-drum side, call me a lauded poet, novelist and ghost-writer. (That's right, I haunt prose.)
This entry was posted in france, marie antoinette, period fashions and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to trianon cotoure: Robe à la Polonaise

  1. belocchio says:

    Oh my goodness gracious. Oh my paws and whiskers. What fabulous fabulous women. Love the skinny you dish out. The dresses – out of this world. This exquisite pointed silk slippers – to dye for. I would love to cover an entire room with these illustrations. Virginia


  2. Angelyn says:

    Clever post–the partition of Poland, hippopotamic, austrichienne. Oh, the humanity!


  3. Titanic Buff says:

    Only five yards of material? How scandalous! The next thing you know they will want to cut down on the hair yardage of their wigs, as well. Appalling.

    Entertaining post, glad to see you back!


  4. Clanmother says:

    You have amazingly interesting posts! Love following your blog!!!!


  5. Pingback: trianon couture: la lévite | tiaras and trianon

  6. Hi! I’m a new reader who has (happily!) stumbled across your blog while researching royal tiaras (huh! Imagine that!) and has been helplessly enthralled by your glittering blog-world. I would like to comment on the meaning of “vermicelée”: I believe it’s the same as the Italian word “vermicelli.” In other words, worms. Looking at the decorative blue pattern on the dress, I think this translation has merit…Thank you for providing such entertaining posts! I’m addicted.


    • merci buckets and a deep curtsey for such sweet applause! I’m delighted that you’re delighted with my site; even more delighted to hear that you’re “addicted.” I hope that my tiara blurbs/photo montages! were helpful in your research.
      If there’s a tiara you’d like; we take requests. Thank you, again for your kind words and cheers for reading. Please continue both!
      All the best, nicole*


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