Of all the characters in Marie Antoinette, I loved the Comtesse de Polignac the best (come on – red hair, champagne, lines include “Fabulous!”). Of all her dresses, I weirdly loved this gaulle (or chemise à la reine) the best. Why best, I have no idea, but I was struck by: it’s not white (us redheads don’t look good in stark white), it’s fitted in back (some fitting somewhere is a really good idea when you’re a curvier girl), and it’s just too darn cute! So I knew I would have to make it at some point.
After peering at fuzzy screencaps for a long time, I determined: the dress is fitted in back (probably to a lining), gathered in front (no lining – you can see the sheerness); long fitted sleeves of the kind fashionable in the 1780s, with no pleating or gathering at the armscye; some kind of sheer, ruffly trim at the cuff; round waistline; long full skirt; rosy red sash at the waist.
My version is made of a very light peach sheer cotton lawn. The back is patterned off of my 1780s robe à la polonaise, with the shoulder straps cut a bit more curved at the back to mimic the back neckline. The back is lined with white cotton muslin, and interlined with peach silk organza (no, not period, but readers of this site know my love of silk organza as interlining). The back skirt has a round waistline that’s seamed (ie not cut in one with the bodice – no way to get that fitted bodice back with such a full skirt) and gathered.
The front of the dress is patterned off of the gown in The Cut of Women’s Clothes, with a slight scooped neckline. I turned over the edge of the neckline to make a casing there, and used a long strip of the lawn fabric to make a waistline casing. Although I couldn’t get the sides (under the arm) quite as flat as the film gown, I found that once I attached the gathering ribbon at the waistline and put tension on it (ie to gather up the waistline and tie it off), it helped a lot to keep the fitted back attached and to smooth out the area under the arm. The front is unlined.
The sleeves are patterned off of the long, fitted, shaped sleeve in Period Costume for Stage & Screen. I was surprised to find that I was able to get that similar no pleating/gathering at the armscye – I think the sheer fabric, and lack of lining, helped – in that the fabric was able to stretch. I had to mess a bit with the pattern, particularly pulling up the undersleeve piece a bit, as I was getting some weird wrinkling on the underside. Late 18th century long sleeves are cut with a very decided angle to them at the elbow, and I found I just naturally held my arm in that position throughout the day. The cuff is trimmed with two layers of sheer, ivory silk organza, box pleated separately (ie so they don’t stick together).
Except for the skirt side seams, the long vertical seam where I pieced together the front panels, and the armscye, the entire dress is handsewn. I just so prefer the look of handsewn seams on 18th century projects, and once I started it seemed silly to stop (for example, I kept thinking, “Oh, just machine the waist casing! It’s under the sash! No one will see it!” – but when it came down to it, I couldn’t stomach the thought!).
I wore the dress with a long sash made of red and white striped silk shantung (left over from my stripey bustle gown) — which although I cut to be very wide (3.5″), kept folding on itself down to about 2.5″; I think I need to interline it with something, or just cut it a bit shorter — a beautiful faux 18th c. portrait pin given to me as a birthday present by Shawna, and of course the whole ensemble is worn over my shift, 18th century stays, bumroll, and petticoat.