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  • Materials and Techniques:

    The Pattern of the silk is similar to designs from the Lyonnais silk manufacturers L.Galy Gallien et compe dating to 1765-70.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, room 2, case CA1

This sack-back - or robe à la francaise - is typical of gowns worn for formal or full dress occasions between the 1750s and 1770s. They were made to be worn over hoops or paniers, and the wide expanse of the skirts and the fullness of the back showed off the elaborate and expensive fashionable patterned silks of these decades. The cut of the gown altered gradually over time, whereas silk patterns changed seasonally, revealing how up-to-date the wearer was.

Well-to-do women had their gowns made to measure by dressmakers, who were economical in their use of the silk, mounting it on a bodice of linen, and stitching it down in a way that allowed for alterations at a later date. A French treatise of 1772 gave instructions on the making of such gowns, recommending eight stitches to an inch (about 2.5 cm).

Physical description

Made of shot silk faille, brocaded with multi-coloured bunches of flowers, a curvy stripe of lace, and a meander of lace and flowers. The decoration of the gown and petticoat - round the neck and down the front and skirt, and round the hem of the petticoat - is made of ruched bands of the same silk. Ground weft purple; warp pink. Brocading wefts: white, red, peach, two shades of blue, and three shades of green in silk floss, and white cordonnet (a tightly twisted silk thread). Internal lining and bodice are in sturdy, closely woven linen.

[gown] The silk is draped and sewn to a linen bodice, which is boned (whalebone) at centre front, centre back and side seams. Seven eyelet holes on each side at front and eight on each side at back for laces (dark brown laces may be later additions). Ruched lengths of the same fabric act as robings (the decorative bands that run from neck to hem) and additional decoration at the side of the skirt (possibly adjusted later). The back comprises two widths of silk, pleated into a double box pleat centre back and attached to bodice. Stitched down 7.5 cm from neck band. Elbow-length sleeves are also sewn to a linen base, and end in a double flounce with a scalloped edge. Linen protective band round inside of lower hem, runs almost to front edges, the quality of the stitching and the finish towards the front suggesting later alterations. Several colours of thread have been used in the construction of the gown, the uneven quality of the stitching suggesting alterations. Slits to allow access to pockets in side seam from waist down, about 15.5cm in length.

Materials and Techniques

The Pattern of the silk is similar to designs from the Lyonnais silk manufacturers L.Galy Gallien et compe dating to 1765-70.


Circumference: 60 cm, Length: 156 cm, Length: 49 cm, Width: 26 cm

Object history note

Received as a gift from Harrods, along with other dress from the collection of the painter Talbot Hughes. In a letter dated 20 August 1913, the Museum's Director Sir Cecil Harcourt Smith, on behalf of the Board of Education, wrote to the Secretary of Harrods to acknowledge gratefully the offer of the collection and a collection of shoes then in the Museum at Leicester. 'Thanks to the public spirited action of your Board, it will henceforward be possible in this Museum to illustrate to an almost adequate degree the history of English costume from the Elizabethan period down to the second half of the 19th century.' Cecil Smith's final paragraph noted the significance of the silks in the gift: 'I may add that many of the costumes now offered are made of brocades which may be classed among the most elaborate and costly work of English and French looms in the 18th century: the collection will thus provide an important and valuable addition to the material for technological study in the Department of Textiles' ( RP/1913/4054M. The gown was one of about 150 costumes of men and women... covering a period from the time of James I. down to the late Victorian age, almost all being English in origin (RP/1913/4023M).

Descriptive line

Sack back gown and petticoat, purple silk, brocaded with flowers and lace, French, 1765-1770

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Exhibited in 'Masquerade', Museum of London, July-October 1983


Silk; Linen


Woven; Brocading; Hand sewn; Technique


Fashion; Textiles; Europeana Fashion Project

Collection code


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