Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Robe Parée

OldRags on Tumblr recently posted an image of a "robe parée" from the Musée des Tissus de Lyon.  I could have sworn that I came across it being called out as a 19th century term on the now-vanished Historical Sewing Forum, and I wanted to look into it further to settle things in my mind as to what exactly it means.




Modern Sources

The modern sources disagree on the definition of the robe parée.  The glossary from the website of the Fastes du Cour exhibition states that it was a
[c]ontemporary name designating dresses opening onto a skirt of a different shape (à la française or à l’anglaise with turned up skirt) distinguished by embroidered decor distributed over the facings, sleeves and front of the skirt.
(It's unclear as to whether "contemporary" means "contemporary to the gowns themselves" or "used today".)  On the gallery of the website, the robe parée has a label which states that they had long trains, and were "expensive and refined".  Aileen Ribeiro wrote in Fashion in the French Revolution that
... in the 1780s [the française] was accepted at court except on very formal occasions, and at Fontainebleau and Marly where it was not the custom to wear the grand habit.  Slightly less formal was the robe parée, which we might call evening dress, and which, at court, was worn for evening entertainments and for dining in the petits appartements at Versailles; this gown could take the form of a sacque or a robe a l'anglaise, but it had to be elegantly trimmed and worn over a hoop.
And then in Dressed to Rule, Philip Mansel stated that
As was expected of a queen of France, she ordered an impressive number of dresses every winter: twelve grands habits, twelve robes parées and twelve petites robes.101 In 1780, in the middle of the War of American Independence, the Queen instituted a new presentation costume, the robe parée, with a monstrous hoop, to replace the grand habit.  Again the purpose was economic: 'to revive the old form with more magnificence and splendour and that, it is said, on the representations of commerce on behalf of our velvet and gold embroidery factories, which will collapse if the Court does not come to their help.'102
(As per usual with Google Books, I can see the endnote pages on either side of the one I want; I'm not entirely sure what the quotation is from, and how it refers to the new court dress.)

So while there is agreement that it was a very luxurious form of dress, the exact form and use isn't agreed upon. 

Historic (French) Sources

The term "robe parée", as far as I can tell, does not really turn up in historic sources during the period.  The most relevant mention is of course in Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan's memoirs, published after her death in 1822.  (Incidentally, Mme Campan was the sister of Edmond-Charles Gênet, who settled in East Greenbush, a suburb of Albany.  Two of Citizen Gênet's waistcoats are in the collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art, and will be shown in the exhibition, Great, Strange, and Rarely Seen.)



"The wardrobe valet on duty presented, every morning, to the first femme de chambre, a book in which were attached samples from the gowns, court gowns, undress, etc.  A small portion of the trimming indicated of what type each was; the first femme presented the book, on the queen's awakening, with a pincushion; Her Majesty placed pins on all the gowns she wanted for the day: one on the court gown she wanted, one on the undress for the afternoon, one on the robe parée, for playing cards or having supper in her private rooms."  (Robe parée given as "full evening dress" in the published translations.)

"The queen ordinarily had, for winter, twelve court gowns, twelve informal 'fantasy gowns', twelve rich gowns with hoops, serving for her card games or for the suppers in her private rooms."
("Robes de fantaisie" are described by Ribeiro as polonaises and simpler anglaises worn without hoops.)

It seems clear that in this context, the robe parée was worn by Marie Antoinette in the evening for relatively private events, and that it is the same gown described as "rich" and being worn over a hoop.  But is it a gown style on par with the française or anglaise?

L'Abeille du nord (1807), "Modes":
"The cotton gauzes or Berlin tricots haven't lost their vogue with the bad weather.  The quilted coat [pelisse?], the redingote have long amadis sleeves, very straight; but the short sleeves of the robe parée are ordinarily puffed."


Manuel des dames (1827), Mme Celnart:
"When one must dress for the evening, one cannot stay undressed until that time: to dress several times is very boring; on the other hand, an adorned gown is excessively troublesome, and would run a thousand risks if you put it on well in advance of the time of going out."

These two references seem to me to be referring to gowns that are "parée", trimmed or adorned in some way, rather than a specific style.  Neither quote seems to be speaking of a court gown, but simply evening dress - by 1807, short, puffed sleeves were only worn formally.  Further supporting the idea that this is a descriptive phrase rather than a type of gown is a line from Cours d'études des jeunes mademoiselles:
 "The Roman ladies passed from the bed into the bath, after which they made use of a pumice stone to soften their skin; then they anointed themselves with Assyrian perfumes, covered themselves in a gown decorated with all the ornaments of luxury and gallantry ..."

Given that the excerpt is from 1774, prior to the supposed introduction of the robe parée as court dress, and is apparently talking about the ancient Romans, it seems that "robe parée" at least could be used as just a noun + adjective phrase.  So the question is: is that what is going on in the earlier references?

I tend to agree with Aileen Ribeiro that, based on the above, it referred to a formal dress that was less formal than court costume.  It seems to mean embellished evening dress, not any particular style, and not to be worn at court.

What do you think?

4 comments:

  1. Dear Cassidy,

    Well searched! Wonder if you might check some French magazine sources, especially those that reported on the Court's activities. In England The Lady's Magazine reported on who wore what at special occasions: perhaps the French did similarly?

    You might check the Gallica website as well as the Japanese Bunka Gakuen library, which has a number of French magazines?

    Just a thought,

    Natalie

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    1. Thank you!

      L'Abeille du Nord is a magazine (and the Manual might be, I'm not sure) but I didn't think to check Gallica - great suggestion. I think Bunka Gakuen only has images you can't search for the text, but I'll give it another look.

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  2. Excellent article! I was wondering what exactly a "robe parée" was as well and am so glad this page came up in my search - thank you!

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    1. So glad to be helpful! This GdM page also has a plate identified at the bottom of the description as a robe parée/full dress.

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