A 1730’s dress in mint condition that may have been worn at the court of Versailles, and was part of a fashion revolution has sold in Paris for more than $150,000.
Known as a robe volante — or flying dress — the yellow brocade gown is patterned with silver thread. It is loose-cut, with soft pleats in the rear and a deep V in the front.
It was purchased by Palais Galliera, a fashion museum in Paris. Curator Pascale Gorguet-Ballesteros says that the robe volante is historically significant for France and for fashion as a whole. It is one of only three known in the world, the other two existing robes volante are housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Kyoto Costume Institute.
The fabric includes images of pagodas and exotic fruit. The Palais Galliera write that they believe the dress belonged to Françoise de La Chaise of Aix, wife of Pierre-Francois de Montaigu, who was the French ambassador to Venice and secretary to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
For women used to wearing tight bodices, the loose-fitting robe volante was a welcome change. In Louis XIV’s court, you had to dress in a certain way, and for women, that meant luxurious fabric and tiny waistlines enforced by stiff, tight bodices. Courtiers had to be as formal and magnificent as possible.
In court, the ladies did a lot of standing around — all the bindings made it too hard to sit. But by the end of the 17th century, the formality and magnificence became a burden and a fashion revolution was born. The volante, or “flying dress,” marked a transition from the mantua of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to the robe à la française (the front of the gown was fitted) the dress style that became ubiquitous in the eighteenth century. The unstructured silhouette of the robe volante, with its unbroken expanses of cloth, made it particularly appropriate for the display of large-scale patterning. Whilst still pretty burdensome by today’s standards, for women in the 1700s, though, the style was very freeing and and lacked elaborate corsets or caging. It was adopted by young women in and out of court, becoming something of a democratic dress. Because the style sometimes allowed a glimpse of a wearer’s ankle, it also eroticized women’s lower legs.
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