German Wikipedia brought me to the origin being "Kontusch" in Hungarian, meaning a pleated garment. I started searching for period Hungarian dictionaries, and Google Books helpfully pointed out that I probably meant "Kontusz" when I didn't get any results. There are academic sources, but the most accessible description is on Wikipedia: "a type of outer garment worn by the Hungarian, Polish, Belarusian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian male nobility". In the seventeenth century, it became "a notable element of male Polish national and Ukrainian cossack attire".
Anyway, what brought me to this now was that I was pinning frenziedly from Winterthur's online collections when I found this plate:
|Tailor's Wife, Martin Engelbrecht, ca. 1730; Winterthur 1955.135.2|
Köhler's History of Costume (1928, reprinted in 1963) is actually my earliest non-period source, and it is more specific than the Pictorial Encyclopedia (which describes it as "a comfortable morning gown in the 18th century"): "... wide overdresses. These resembled long cloaks with sleeves, without any shaping at the waist; they hung from the shoulders to the feet, gradually widening downward. ... they were open all down the front ..." It also states that "short contouches, reaching to the knees and worn only indoors, were popular in Germany, and were known as Cossäcklein." Which fits with the print, and since that's German it's impossible to say what it definitively means for French or English women (although since the woman is outside, that does bring it into question). So I look further.
|Mercure historique, 1740, p. 380|
Then I sort of went off on a tangent, and started looking up robe volante and robe battante. I don't think I came across any uses of the latter, but the former is mentioned fairly frequently.
|Travels through Germany, etc., 1755, p. 15|
|Dictionnaire universel, 1771, p. 459|
Contouche actually seems to come up the most on Google Books with French-German dictionaries, which perhaps implies that it was only used on the Continent.
So, no exciting revelations this time, just ponderings.