Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Beautiful "Bizarre" Silk Robe Volante, c. 1720s

This stunning “bizarre” silk robe and petticoat was recently on view at Historic Deerfield, Deerfield, Massachusetts (www.Hist_Deerfield.org). The sumptuous green and white silk droguet (or drugget in English), meaning a fancy silk fabric created with detailed, complicated patterns, was mostly likely woven in Lyon, France. Lyon is recogonized as a premier center of silk weaving during the 17th and 18th centuries. The textile is dated c. 1710s but the gown was made c. 1720 and reveals later alterations.
Ned Lazaro, Associate Curator of Textiles, shared the following:
“Patterned silks were one of the most expensive textiles available during the 17th and 18th centuries.  The time and effort to draft the design and to weave the pattern added significantly to their cost.  In this example, two sets of warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads create a repeating “ bizarre ” design.  Popular in the first decade of the 18th century, bizarre silks are characterized by their fanciful design elements, playful use of scale, and a western interpretation of eastern motifs. 

Known variously as a robe battante or robe volante (meaning floating or flying dress), this important survival illustrates the more casual French influence in women’s fashion after the death of Louis XIV.  The garment appears to float freely off of the shoulders, with the material in back loosely fitted with an arrangement of double box pleats.  Despite its casual outward appearance, however, the dress would have been anchored to a firm pair of stays underneath.  At some point after the gown’s initial creation, sleeve flounces and robings, gathered material edging the gown’s opening, were added in different, although matching, silk.”

A "bizarre" silk damask piece, French or Dutch, c.1700. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Textile detail of man’s "bizarre" silk sleeved waistcoat, c. 1715. 
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
The development of so called “bizarre” designs appear among the English silk weavers of Spitalfields around the same time. Before 1710 bizarre designs combined over-scaled and distorted florals with architectural references, as well as chinoiserie elements. By the 1720s, however, the relatively brief bizarre period was drawing to a close in favor of more natural botanical motives.


  1. Such a beautiful dress! Among all the 18th c gowns, the robe volante must have been the most impressive in motion, floating gracefully after the wearer. It's not a style that reenactors copy, either, so I've never seen one "in action." Maybe someday an enterprising curator will include a short video of a lady wearing one - imagine the entrance she'd make, coming down a staircase with the dress billowing behind her like a gorgeous silk cloud! :)

    1. I can picture it and actually hear the sound of the silk. A statement garment for sure!


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