Since I don’t want my HSF-marathon posts to get monotonous, I’ve come up with the clever idea of combining them with other thematic posts, for double-goodness. Today I have a cute finished project, and a long overdue terminology post.
First, some terminology:
A reticule is a small drawstring bag carried as a purse by a woman in the 18th and early 19th century. It was also used as a synonym for any kind of purse or handbag carried by a woman.
The name comes from the latin reticulum, meaning a net or mesh bag (the same word has given its meaning to reticle – the cross-hairs (or net) in a firearm scope or telescope). It entered English, as so many fashion words did, from the French, in this case, réticule.
Fichu de Velours, Redingote de Merinos (and a tasseled reticule), Costume Parisiene
The word was first used in the 1730s, but remained relatively uncommon through the 18th century. The Memoirs of the Reticule states ” I am not aware of any mention of the reticule until after the French Revoluton.” At the end of the 18th century, as fashions changed from full skirted dresses that could easily conceal pockets, to slim garments of light fabrics that would show unsightly bulges over pockets, that reticules came into their own. Easily made, easily carried, they were the indispensable accessory of the last decade of the 18th century and the first three decades of the 19th. They were, in fact, so very indispensable that they were also known as indispensables.
Reticules might be indispensable useful, but they weren’t beyond reproach. Older women continued to prefer pockets, and reticules were seen as being almost risqué, because they were essentially pockets, and thus an undergarment which was suddenly carried on the outside. One could liken them to corsets in the modern world – while it is acceptable to wear a corset as evening wear, it’s still a bit suggestive, and certainly not appropriate for conservative dress. Reticules were also condemned for being masculine, because men carried their money and other items outside their dress, in pocketbooks and bags, and women hid their items away in pockets. Now women had a purse of their own that could literally be passed from hand to hand (and the obvious metaphor of pockets vs purses especially when your purses are the usual reticule shape all becomes a little well, obvious and weird about this point).
Reticule, 1818–30, Mexican, glass, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009.300.1902
Even if not scandalous, the idea of women carrying their private belongings externally, in their hand, was considered ridiculous. The Almanac des Ridicules, 1801, begins with a little rhyme about reticules and their riduculousness to the effect that a woman looses her reticule, and wants to post a sign “don’t do a thing, says her husband, you will always have enough ridiculousness.” Reticules were already widely known as ridicules by this time.
Walking outfit, Ackerman’s Repository, Vol. 5, Feb. 1, 1811
Although reticules ceased to be as important as fashion accessories once styles changed, and stiffer handbags, and full dresses with pockets, came into fashion as the 19th century progressed, reticules were still used, both as fashion items, and as a term to designate a specifically feminine carry-all. In 1867 a small dictionary was entitled: ‘The Reticule and Pocket Companion, Or, Miniature Lexicon of the English Language’. A male user would carry his edition in his pocket, but a woman, rather than having a purse, would have a reticule to carry hers in.
One of the many advantages of reticules was how easy they were to make. Stiff leather purses required special tools and strong hands, and were the provenance of leather workers, but any seamstress could make a reticule. The 1831 American Girl’s Book: Or, Occupation for Play Hours, has a whole chapter devoted to reticules, with instructions on ten different varieties, from a ‘melon shaped reticule’ to a ‘pocket book reticule’ (instructions for making all the reticules, with illustrations, begin on page 262 for those who are interested).
While the drawstring bags were never at the height of fashion again, reticule was used to describe small handbags and drawstring workbags into the early 20th century.
Hiner, Susan. Accessories to Modernity: Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth-Century France. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2011
Monroe & Francis, The Spirit of the English Magazine. 1831
Riberio, Aileen. Fashion in the French Revolution. B.T. Batsford Ltd: London. 1988
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930. Faber and Faber: London. 1968
Knitted pineapple reticule in the Kyoto Museum’s 1800-1810 collection
One of the most famous, and certainly most charming, reticule fashions was for pineapple shaped reticules. Many sources credit the trend to a fashion for exotic fruits inspired by Joséphine de Beauharnaises homeland of Martinique, but pineapples had been a symbol of ultimate exoticism and luxury in European arts and fashion since their introduction into Europe in the 17th century. They were grown in greenhouses across Europe from the 1720s, and in the late 18th and early 19th century you could even rent pineapples for your dinner party centrepieces, to give your event that final touch of wealth and elegance.
Historical examples of pineapple reticules were usually knitted or crocheted, but in my usual “I can’t knit, but how can I replicate this style” way, I’ve been working on sewn versions of the pineapple reticule for years now. American Duchess won my first one in a giveaway, and I was thrilled to see in a recent photo that she still carries it.
For the HSF, to cross a few more challenges off my list, I’ve made another pineapple reticule. This is my fourth attempt, but I’ve misplaced at least two along the way.
It’s not as cute as the crocheted versions, but I like it! So what challenges does it cover?
#1: Bi/Tri/Quadri/Quin/Sex/Septi/Octo/Nona/Centennial – pineapple reticules were most fashionable in the first decade of the 19th century, but there are examples from as late as 1830, so this one is definitely plausible (or as much as it can be in its inaccuracies) for 1813.
#7: Accessorize - It’s a reticule!
#9: Flora and Fauna – It’s a pineapple!
#11: Squares, Rectangles & Triangles - Two rectangles and 11 triangles = one pineapple reticule.
#21: Colour Challenge Green – The green leaves and bottom should make it qualify, right?
#22: Masquerade - This ones a teeny bit of a stretch, but since it’s not perfectly historical, and it is quite fantastical, I think it works.
#25: One Metre – Clearly not a lot of fabric in it!
#26: Celebrate – Since pineapples were so celebratory, I think I can count this one as well.
The Challenge: #24: Re-Do
Fabric: scrap of orange-gold silk with pintucks, scrap of green silk (both from stash, and free)
Pattern: my own
Notions: Ribbon (icky poly satin, so I need to find a better alternative
How historically accurate is it? The idea of a pineapple reticule is accurate, but the materials (despite being silk) and execution are not.
Hours to complete: 2ish. Fun little evening project.
First worn: Not yet, but it will make appearances with Regency gowns.
Total cost: $0
Knitted pineapple reticule in the Kyoto Museum’s 1800-1810 collection
One of my favourite sewing techniques is flat lining.
Flat lining is used extensively in historical (particularly 19th century) sewing and couture sewing, but it’s a technique that is not frequently taught or used in modern sewing books or patterns, which is a pity, because it’s awesome, and opens up many possibilities for design techniques and fabric use. I used it to make thin, flimsy fabrics strong enough to make corsets and jackets out of, and to make bodices that shape and hide squish without adding bulk and weight.
Though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, flat lining is not quite the same thing as interlining. These days (according to Shaeffer’s Sewing for the Apparel Industry) interlining is used to mean the same thing to as interfacing, whereas flat lining is an underlining, and is never fused. According to the Singer Sewing Book interlining is meant to add warmth and bulk, while flat lining or interfacings adds strength and support, but bulk and warmth should be avoided.
When picking a flat lining fabric, pick a fabric that, when it is combined with your outer fabric, will have all the qualities that you want the finished piece to have. The best flat lining fabrics are very strong for their weight/bulk, and very stable.
If you want a to add strength to a thin silk for a summer wedding dress, while keeping it light and cool, flat line with silk organza. If you need to stabilise a ‘squidgy’ and moveable piece of fabric (one with a high sheer rate) pick a very stable, but thin fabric. Coutil can be used as the flat lining to an attractive but not-strong-enough-for-corsetmaking fashion fabric, so that you can make a corset out of the fashion fabric. If your outer fabric is strong and stable on its own, but you still want a layer of fabric between your outer and you without a traditional lining, a soft, fine muslin/calico is ideal
Victorian bodices, from Worth creations to those made by humble local dresmakers, are almost always flat lined. One of the most common flat-lining materials seen in Victorian bodices is a thin crisp-but-soft polished cotton, often in an unbleached brown:
Bodice of Yellow Silk Crepe and Brown Velvet with Embroidery, 1897-8, Antique Textile
There are also many examples flat lined in what is essentially a fine, soft cotton muslin, and many examples flat-lined in silk – usually a thin taffeta.
Dress of French Blue with Wide Gray Stripes Silk Taffeta with Two Bodices C 1860, via eBay
For my example of how to flat-line, I’ll be flat lining the bodice of Rowena’s 1840s evening gown. Because Rowena needed to wear the bodice without a corset, I used a very strong, very stiff flat lining of cotton, to add as much shape and support as possible to the silk of the gown.
So how do you flat line? It’s really simple. Basically you are just sewing your outer fashion fabric to your flat lining pieces, so that they become one piece of fabric.
First, cut out your flat lining pieces the same as your outer pieces.
Pin each piece of your flat lining to the corresponding piece of your fashion fabric, WRONG sides together:
You want to smooth out your pieces and make sure that they fit exactly, with no possible folds or bubbles. Sometimes I iron the pieces and pin as I iron to ensure that they match perfectly.
Once you are pinned, sew around all of the outsides of your pinned together flat lining and pattern pieces. I use a slightly-longer-than-normal stitch (3 rather than 2.2-2.5), and a 1cm seam allowance.
When I come to corners, I just sink my needle, lift the foot, turn, put the foot down again and keep sewing.
Here is my front bodice piece, with the silk now firmly sewed to the flat-lining.
Of course, my bodice front has darts in it. How do I manage to catch both layers of fabric when I sew those in?
First, mark your dart placement. I’ve used green transfer paper and and a rolling maker to mark it into my flat-lining:
Then, using your slight-longer-than-normal stitch length, sew a line of stitching just inside the line of your dart, through both layers of fabric. At the top point, sink your needle, lift your foot, and pivot the fabric, so that you can sew back down the other side of the dart.
You can see clearly in this photo how the line of my stitch is just inside the marked line of the dart:
And here is what the sewn-in lines of stitching that mark the dart and hold the two layers of fabric together look like from the outside:
And the inside:
Now, carefully matching both sides of the dart, pin your dart together:
Using a normal (2.2-2.5) stitch length, stitch your dart, stitching directly on to your marked-on dart line, which will be just to the outside of the line you sewed around the dart.
Here are the two lines of stitching – the lower one is the initial stitching line around the outline of the dart, the upper one is the actual stitching line that holds the dart together.
And here is what the dart looks like from the outside. Both layers of fabric caught perfectly, no lines of stitching visible!
And here are the darts from the inside:
The rest of the flat-lined pieces were then stitched together, just as if they were only the outer piece of fabric.
With modern sewing, the raw edges visible on the inside can be finished in any way you want: hong-kong seams, overlocking, zig-zag stitching, pinking, etc. In 19th century sewing, I’ve seen examples of hong-kong seams (though I’m sure they weren’t called that in-period!), pinked seams, seams that were left raw, and, most frequently, seams neatened with hand-stitching.
And here is the finished project:
It’s not the same as wearing a bodice over a corset, but the flat lining does help to add support and structure. If I were making a more period-accurate 1840s bodice, I’d still use a flat lining, but I’d use a much lighter, softer flat lining, as the corset would provide a shape for it to sit over.
I hope that was understandable, and useful!
Synchronisity is an amazing thing. I wrote this post in January of 2012, and got it completely finished all save one last quote from Queen of Fashion that I wanted to add, and then got distracted and never published it. And then, at the beginning of August, I came across my not-published post, and went to the library to borrow Queen of Fashion, only to find it was out. Literally two days later Kendra at Demode posted about making a robe de coer and started the 2014 18th Court Ensembles Project.
Well, Queen of Fashion has finally come back in, and just in time, because I’ve finally been tempted into joining the Court Ensembles project. I actually have the beginnings of a 17th century robe de cour in my UFO pile, but it’s not 18th century, so instead I’ll be making this:
Alexis Simon Belle (1674–1734) , Portrait of Louis XV as a child pointing to a portrait of his fiancée the Infanta Mariana Victoria of Spain, circa 1723
Obviously I mean Mariana Victoria (yellow-gold brocade….rrrrow), though if things go really well Mr D is going to find himself sporting a russet velvet justacorpse.
So, now that I’m making one, what is a robe de cour? Kendra has already posted about the basics, but you can never have too much terminology information! (or at least that’s what I think), and besides, I already had this pretty much written.
A robe de cour, also called a robe de corpse, grand habit, grand habit de cour, and in English, the stiff bodied gown or straight bodied gown, was the formal court wear across much of Europe, and most particularly in France, throughout the 18th century. It was based on a design implemented by Louis XIV, the Sun King, in the 1680s. It consists of a stiff, boned bodice which laces up the back, a skirt, a separate train worn either at the waist or falling from the shoulders, and detachable lace sleeves.
Louis XIV admired women’s decollate and shoulders (really, to the point where he refused to allow even the older women of the French court to cover them, in church, in the middle of winter) and despised the informal loose robes (mantua) that were becoming stylish at the end of the 17th century. To counter them, he had the off-the shoulder, fitted bodice robe de cour designed and made mandatory wear for women at all formal events at the French court. In 1704 he angrily ordered two noble ladies from the theatre for daring to show up wearing something other than a robe de cour.
Madame the Duchess of Orleans was much in favour of the robe de cour at the turn of the 18th century, claimed to own no gowns but robe de cour and riding habits, and said:
At Versailles which is considered the royal residence, everyone who comes into the King’s presence or into ours , must be in full Court dress, but at Marly, Meudon, and Saint-Cloud mantuas are worn, also for travelling. I find Court dress much more convenient than mantuas, which I can’t endure.
A robe de cour is notable for the stiff boned bodice worn without stays. Louis XIV based the robe de cour on the gowns that had been fashionable when he was a young man in the 1660s & 1670s, like the ones I used as inspiration for the Ninon gown.
Élisabeth (Isabelle) d’Orléans, Duchess of Guise by Beaubrun in the 17th century fore-runner of a robe de cour, 1670
The bodices of robe de cour have wide, off the shoulder necklines, but the based on extent portraits, the neckline still manages to be relatively modest, and few portraits show any visible cleavage. Robe de cour were often worn with an extra piece of lace above the low neckline of the bodice itself.
Archduchess Maria Elisabeth of Austria (1743–1808), 1760s
Below the neckline were very small sleeves of the same fabric as the bodice, and the rest of the arms were covered by detachable lace sleeves with rows of stiff, pleated lace.
The arrangement of the ruffles, and the shape of the lace sleeve, changed slightly from decade to decade, so portraits can be dated based on the style of sleeve.
Though the robe de cour was worn without stays, the heavy boning that was built into it and the back lacing that held it closed meant that it was more constricting than stays. In a modern sense, we view visible garment lacing as risqué – associated as it is with corsetry and undergarments. In contrast, in the early 18th century it was the pinned-on mantua, with its hidden closures and ability to be worn without a boned undergarment (and thus the implication that the wearer could undress and redress herself quickly), that was risqué, and the back-laced robe de cour was the epitome of propriety.
Though robe de cour were always made of rich fabrics, the bodices could be further ornamented with stomachers and jewellery (including jewelled stomachers). Diamonds, the favourite of Louis XIV, were often used, though many stones were used, both on the bodice, and the skirt. When Marie Leszczynska was married “the Fore-Sides of her Stays and her peticoat shinn’d with divers pretious stones.”
François Albert Stiemart, Marie Leszczyńska at Versailles, 1726
The shape of the skirt worn with the robe de cour had always changed with the fashions of the time, but the bodice, barring some very slight alterations in style, remained quite static. The only major change in the bodice style was a shift in the 1770s and 1780s from very low, scooped shoulder-baring necklines to slightly higher, squarer necklines that matched the current fashions. Compare the necklines of the extent green bodice below, with the earlier yellow bodice at the end of the post.
Robe de Cour sur le grand panier, cette robe est de gros de Naples et garnie de dentelle entrelassée de rubans noués de distance en distance, Gallerie des Modes, 1778; MFA 44.1354
Court bodice associated with Marie Antoinette ca. 1780-87, from the Musee Galliera
Because the shape of robe de cour skirts change with current fashions. The first robe de cour were worn without hooped petticoats, as the panier did not become common in France until at least 1720. In the 1720s robe de cour had relatively restrained, conical skirts:
Le Mariage de Louis XV et de Marie Lecszinka dans la chapelle de Fontainebleau le 5 septembre 1725 Marie wears a blue robe de cour
In the 1760s the skirts become enormous, but very thin and rectangular:
Sofia Magdalena’s wedding gown, robe de cour, worn at the wedding at the Palace Church November 4, 1766.
Martin van Meytens (1695–1770) Maria Carolina of Austria (1752-1814) 1760-70, Wikimedia Commons
By the 1780s, the skirts were not as extreme and rectangular, but they were laden with a profusion of trimmings.
Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755–1842) Description English- Marie Antoinette of Austria, Queen of France (1755-1793), 1783
There were also regional differences in skirt shape. In the 1740s-60s the English tended to wear a very rectangular hoop, where the French wore a hoop, that, while just as wide at the hem, was more sloping and less square at the corners.
The train of the robe de cour could be worn either from the shoulders, or from the waist, though the latter was more common. The length of the train was an indication of status: the longer the train, the higher the rank of the wearer. The etiquette of train wearing varied from country to country. In England one held ones train up, draped over one arm, as a sign of respect. In France, despite the much-remarked upon filth of Versailles’ hallways, one wore one’s train down as a sign of respect.
Francoise-Marie de Bourbon, legitimised daughter of Louis XIV, at her marriage, 1692
In France, throughout most of the 18th century the robe de cour was mandatory at all formal occasions in the presence of a royal. When presented, ladies wore a black and white (or silver) robe de cour, and the next day, they appeared at court in a coloured robe de cour.
M. Garsault in the 1769 Encyclopedia Description des Arts et Métiers, describes:
‘The day the Lady is presented to the King and Queen, etc., the bodice, train and petticoat must be black: bit all the trimmings are of lace, net, etc. The upper arm, except at the top close to the shoulder where the black sleeve of the bodice is seen, is covered with two flounces of white lace, one below the other, to the elbow. Under the lower flounce there is a decorated band (bracelet noir, forme de pompons). There is also a border of white lace around the neck-line and under that a narrow black tippet (palatine) also decorated from neck to waist: the petticoat and bodice are decorated with puffs, all of which are made from net, lace, etc., also gold.
‘When the day of presentation has passed, everything that was black is replaced by coloured or gold material. This style of dress has long been worn and has remained unchanged until the present day for ceremonial wear.
If the Lady to be presented is not able to endure the heavily boned bodice than she is allowed to wear a lighter one, covered with a mantilla, with the court train and petticoat. As the mantilla covers the upper arm the top lace flounce, which would not be seen, is omitted. The mantilla is made from any light material such as gauze, net, lace, etc.
There were occasions to wear other gowns, but leaving off the robe de cour was considered a privilege. In 1754 the Duc de Luynes wrote:
Two or three days before the Court leaves for Fontainebleau or Compiégne ladies are permitted to wear a robe de chambre. Those who are not travelling or do not go in the carriages of the Queen, Madame la Dauphine, or Mesdames, must always wear full court dress.
It was in the 1770s, that Louis XVI, influenced by Marie Antoinette who called robe de cour “obsolete and unbearable”, allowed women to wear modified robe de cour, with smaller paniers and shorter trains, and to wear robe a la francaise at all but the most formal occasions. In the 1783 he went further, and it became acceptable to wear a grande robe a la francaise (one worn with large paniers) in lieu of a robe de cour, except when a lady was being presented to the King, Queen or a Princess or Prince of the royal blood, and at ceremonial bals (unless, presumably, her health prevented her from wearing boned bodices).
The English term for the robe de cour was a rather literal ‘Stiff-bodied gown’. Mary Granville described the wedding of Anne, Princess Royal, to the Prince of Orange in 1734, and Anne’s gown of silver tissue:
The Princess of Orange’s dress was the prettiest thing that ever was seen – a corpse de robe, that is in plain English, a stiff-bodied gown. The peers’ daughters that held up her train were in the same sort of dress – all white and silver, with great quantities of jewels in their hair and long locks’
A portrait of Anne’s sister in law, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, painted at the time of Augusta’s marriage to Frederick in 1736 shows her in a similar ensemble of brocaded silver fabric which was probably her wedding dress. Silver robe de cour were the standard wedding dresses for royal brides across Europe in the 18th century, from Augusta to Catherine the Great to Marie Antoinette, among others.
Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales (1719-1772) by Charles Philips, 1736, Collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London, image via Wikimedia Commons
There is only one extent English robe de cour bodice that I am aware of, now in the collection of the FIDM Museum
The robe de cour was never mandatory in England, as it was in France, and there was no occasion in which it was not acceptable to wear a formal mantua (one worn with extremely wide paniers, and from the 1740s onward, triple sleeve ruffles) in lieu of a robe de cour. The mantua, distinctive from the robe a la francaise because of its folded and pleated back and hanging train, remained the acceptable court dress in England long after the garment went out of fashion for any other use. By the time this 1750s mantua was made, a mantua was unlikely to be seen anywhere in England accept at court.
Formal English court mantua worn with French style hoops, English with French fabric, 1755-1760 (garment) 1753-1755 (fabric), Silk, silver-gilt thread, linen thread, silk thread, Victoria & Albert Museum, T.592:1 to 7-1993
The Austrians also wore robe de cour for many occasions during the reign of Maria Theresa, but when Marie Antoinette’s brother, Joseph II assumed power in 1765 he attempted to reduce the formality of the court costume in Vienna, and the robe de cour was seen less frequently. Before that, Austrian court costume had been heavily based on the French example, though they seemed to have a few regional quirks, my favourite being the elaborate robing ‘leis’ lappets (possibly the tippets described as palatine) worn by the Austrian princesses in many of their portraits.
The robe de cour was also worn by many other European courts, but the style was always defined by France, and the dresses often came directly from France. The gown that Marie Antoinette was ceremonially divested of when she went from being an Austrian Archduchess to being a French Dauphine had been made in France, and many other royal ladies sent to France for their robe de cour.
Not surprisingly, robe de cour were extremely expensive, and could cost thousands of livres. It took 20 to 22 yards of fabric (though this would be quite narrow widths). The tailleur de corps would make the bodice and train, the couturier the skirt, and the marchant de mode would provide the trim. Marie Antoinette was said to order 12 grand habits (robe de cour), 12 robe pareés (slightly less formal robes with paniers), and 12 informal robes every season. Quite an investment considering that in 1787 a grand habit cost the equivalent of 2,000 days wages for a worker!
The French Revolution momentarily did away with the robe de cour in France, but the precedent it had set remained in other countries. The hoop was so much a fixture of formal English court dress, that a hooped dress remained mandatory court presentation wear until 1820, despite how ridiculous one looked when paired with high-waisted Regency fashions.
The Marchioness of Townshend in court dress, La Belle Assemblee, 1806
The detached train, the ultimate symbol of status, remained part of presentation wear at the English court into the 20th century, and its echos can still be seen today in the prevalence of trains in modern bridal wear. Speaking of trends in modern bridal wear, I’m not a personal fan of the trend for strapless dresses, but I suspect Louis XIV would have approved!
Lady Blades in her court presentation ensemble, 1927, Lafayette Photo Studio
Arch, Nigel & Marschner, Joanna. Splendor at Court: Dressing for Royal Occasions since 1700. Unwin Hyman: Sydney. 1987.
Buck, Anne. Dress in 18th Century England, B.T. Batsford Ltd: London. 1979
Hart, Avril and North, Susan. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Fashion in Detail. V&A Publishing: London. 2009
Riberio, Aileen. Dress in Eighteenth Century Europe 1715-1789. B.T. Batsford Ltd: London. 1984.
Riberio, Aileen. Fashion in the French Revolution. B.T. Batsford Ltd: London. 1988
Mansel, Philip. Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II. Yale University Press: London. 2005.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930. Faber and Faber: London. 1968
Weber: Caroline. Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. Picador: New York. 2006.