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Eighteenth Century Robes with Button Fronts

Compere / Button Front Dresses:

Here’s a list of dresses that have the button-front detail that we’ve found so far.We’ve included notes on each dress, so please feel free to comment, if you see we’ve missed anything.

Also, two of the images from the internet and one of the Janet Arnold images refer to these style of stomacher as a ‘compere’, but niether Cunnington nor Brooke ever mention this word in the works. The French word ‘Compere’ means ‘friend’ (as in ‘companion’) and one of the example where ‘Compere’ is used in the description of the dress it seems to be as a replacement for the word ‘Stomacher’.Also a quick Glossary:

-Furbelows = “They were long ruched strips usually of the same material as the gown. Except for scarves, furbelows were unfashionable between 1715 and 1750 and never worn with closed robes.” Cunnington ‘Handbook of English Costume in the 18th Century’ 1964, p.140


Robe a la Francais – 1765 – LACMA

18th Century - Robe a la Francais  - Marie Antoinette Costume - HandBound Costumes
– No robings (the pleated edge that runs alongside the stomacher) but the edge is finished with the furbelows (the ruched trim). These furbelows start off small on the bodice but the skirt trim appears to grow slightly broader.
– Sleeve knots made from the self fabric (sleeve knots being the bows on the sleeves – Cunnington ’64)
– Buttoned stomacher with furbelows running the whole length and curving in at the top.
– Lace decoration along petticoat centre and furbelow on the hem.
– Two or three flounces – it’s hard to see.
– Furbelow is edged with braid.- Furbelows are not just gathered either, they’re kind of a loose box pleat.

Robe a la Francais – c.1765 – Metropolitan Museum of Art:

18th century Costume - Robe a la Francias - Made to measure costumes


– Not a very good close image – but there appear to be no robings just the furbelows mounted on the edges. These start off narrow at the shoulder but gradually broaden as they get to the hem of the skirt.
– Furbelow trim is edged with braid.
– Petticoat has a gathered frill in self fabric about 10″ deep at about knee height and hemmed with furbelows.
– I think there’s only one flounce on the cuff detail which is heavily braided along the top that joins the sleeve hem..
– 9 x buttons.

Robe a la Francais – 1755 – Musee Galleria

18th Century Costume - Robe a la Francais - Button Front Dress


– As above. it’s hard to tell if there are robings to this dress but I am getting the feeling that if a dress is heavily furbelowed they might lay off the robings…hmm….
– All trim, as the above dresses also, is self fabric (ie.made from the same fabric as the dress)
– This dress has CF edge decorated 1st with embroidery and then with the furbelows flanking it along side in a wavy pattern.
– Furbelows appear to be slightly wavy on the bodice aswell.
– 10 x buttons.
– Buttoned Stomacher has smaller version of embroidery in a similar style to military frogging.

– One flounce on the sleeve and again embroidery/braid – it’s hard to tell – on the rim of the flounce that joins the sleeve.
– Petticoat has furbelowed hem, then a pleated frill and then another layer of furbelows.

Robe a la Francais – 1775 – French:

18th Century Costume - robe a la Francais - Historical Costume
– Furbelows has a deeper pleat to it – similar to a cartridge pleat.
– Petticoat is hemmed with a deep frill about 9″ deep but apart from that is otherwise plain.
– Furbelows remain even depth along the whole of the skirt CF.
– No Flounces to the Sleeve.- 10 x buttons.

Robe a la Francais – 1775-1800 – Met Mus of Art:

18th Century Costume - Robe a la Francais - Fancy Dress


– This time the furbelows aren’t just a ruched trim but petal-like shapes of the self fabric trimmed with braid. A smaller version also runs along side.
– Bodice only has the smaller version that gets smaller as it nears the shoulder.
– Petticoat has the larger trim at the hem, a line of the narrower version and then a gathered frill of the self fabric at a guess 8 or 9 ” deep.
– Seems like a single flounce with a broad-ish cuff section that joins onto the sleeve. This cuff section is trimmed with just a ruched furbelow – not the puffed look.- Notice how light the trim is and yet there are no robings. I’ve just been studying a Janet Arnold dress in her book Patterns of Fashion and I was starting to wonder if I’d gotten it wrong about there being no robings on the above dresses, as hers clearly did but this dress is so clearly without robings that it is just simply reassuring.- It’s hard to tell but I think tehre are 9 x buttons.

Robe a la Francais – 1760’s:

18th Century Costume - Robe a la Francais - Historical Dress
Robe a la Francais – 1760


– Sorry about the small image – I will try and find a better version.
– Don’t know if CF edgings would be called a furbelow – I’ll have to research this more – Cunnington refers to it as ‘plaited or ruffled trimming’ in the ‘Dictionary of English Costume 900-1900’ where-as this looks more like the fabric has been quilted/embroidered along a turned back facing, like an extension of the robings (although the robings weren’t ‘turned back facings’ but a pleat at the side – but you know what I mean). On this dress these ‘turned back facings’ start off almost just as wide at the waist at they finish off at the hem. The bodice seems to have narrower version as does the buttoned Stomacher.
– There is a ‘waist knot’ or a ‘girdle that ends with a bow’ I don’t know which is accurate as Cunnington seems to refer to this form of decoration as being possible to be both of the above and at present I can’t find it mentioned in such detail anywhere else.
– Sleeves appear to have very short ruffles, almost just an extension of the cuff detail, which is deep and almost keeps in mind the turned – back cuff look.

Robe a la Francais – 1770-80 – made from cotton:

18th century Costume - Robe a la Francais - Historical outfits
– With this close-up shot we can see (or I can as I have a zoom-in) that the gathered furbelows have a very thin trim that consists of an off-white circular braid folded into loops and held together by a green and yellow thread, woven into a braid around the bottom of this circular braid.
– Furbelows are just loosely folded and gathered with a centre line of stitching holding it on at the stomacher level but then two lines holding it on as it gets into the skirt. What’s interesting is that you can’t see the stitched – it looks like it’s been sewn on from behind and just the smallest thread has been grabbed from the furbellow at the front. This is a much neater way of doing it than some dresses I’ve viewed – where they have hulking great tack stitches, about an inch long, just running the length of the trim, visible for all to see.
– Furbelows at the front edge of the skirt come right up close. Quite a few of the dresses I have looked at in closer detail, have had the front egde finished in any other way than just the furbelows mounted onto it. This could be possible with this dress.


Robe a la Francais – c.1770-5 – Snowshill Manor:

– Just a point of interest (as I’m constantly wrestling with which term to use when and which names were contemporary etc, etc), but Janet Arnold first calls this dress a ‘Sack Dress’ and then in brackets uses the definition: ‘the french robe a la francais’.
– In her description she also tells us that the ‘compere or button’ front is infact a false front. This leaves it open to whether or not ‘compere’ means ‘false’ or ‘button front’ and it also leaves it open to whether or not this false front was standard. For example, all the dresses above could be false fronts – or sham (which is the modern day term).
The only main way to find this out is to either email the museums holding the above dresses or go and have a look myself. But this could take a while.
– 7 x Buttons (sham).
– This dress definitly has robings as Janet draws out the pattern for us – as seen below.
– One layer of Furbelows running along the robings, two layers on the skirt front, the wider being the second layer and two lines of the wider trim on the petticoat with a self frill – J.Arnold doesn’t give the depth of this frill but I’d estimate it as being around 8 – 9″.
– The sleeve ends in a ruffle cuff or ‘pagoda sleeve’ according to the Kyoto Institue. There are three ruffles or flounces and J. Arnold draws the dress with a ruffle also coming from the shift.
– Pleats are held down by a form of pad-stitching about 3″ or 4″ down from back neck.



BATMC.VII.04.28 – 1747-50:

Image courtesy of the Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council


Image Courtesy of the Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council.


– This is one of the few dresses that I’ve studied that actually has the skirt lined (the only other is the one below funnily enough).
– And I am not sure how this front actually closes – whether there was a stomacher that is now missing or they had a cuff-link type button, I don’t know. But, there are button holes ergo there must’ve been some sort of buttoning.
– This could be an example of a Brunswick: Listen to Cunnington’s Description in the ‘Named Varieties of the Sack’ section: And I quote: ‘The Brunswick or German Habit: This was a sack with short robings and the bodice buttoned up with a sewn-in false front….The sleeves were long and close-fitting from elbow to wrist…“I was trying to find a comment the Cunnington’s had written about the long sleeve not coming in til the Polonaise and was about to point out that this dress was therefore against the rule, but then I found this description. The sleeves do have a ‘riding habit’ look to them which would fit with the travelling gown idea, riding habits also being used for travelling.- I’m still intrigued as to how the buttoning worked but then atleast we can see that unless there was a further insert piece, these button holes weren’t ‘sham’.- No Furbellows but this is near the period when it wasn’t that fashionable and also, if this is a Brunswick, then it is more of a functional garment and maybe less likely to have such large trim.- This dress is lightly trimmed with a metallic looking braid, along skirt front egde and the long narrow section of the sleeves.

BATMC I.09.21 – 1760-63 – French:

Image courtesy of the Fashion Museum, Bath and N.E Somerset Council


– According to my notes there were no robings on this gown, just the furbellows sewn straight onto the edge. These edges have been turned back, the selvedge just folded back, but it is not straight and comes in at an angle! I might ask The Bath Fashion Museum if I can use another image for you to see the inside of this bodice section and the large stitching used to hold everything down.
– You can see in the image below the ‘pad-stitch type’ of technique used in sewing down the pleats. The ‘pad-stitch’ being a stitch used in modern day tailoring – well maybe not so modern – it is a hand stitch after all!- These sleeves are mid-length with what I call the curved sleeve. I love the detail on these sleeves and took some good close-ups of both the inside detail and the topside – I’d love to be able emulate it.- Here beneath is a close-up view of how the Buttoned Stomacher isn’t just joined to the bodice’s front, but is set in on it’s own piece of lining. This means that the Bodice’s front lays on to it in the right position.
– What’s also interesting is that the button holes are real and therefore aren’t sham but there are no buttons on the opposite side. Nor are there button holes. It might just be that they have been snipped off. I can’t really see from any of my images if there were buttons there, if there are soft marks where they’d been, or threads still looses from where they’d come off. What I’d really like to do is maybe on my next trip to Bath. is to ask them to pull this dress back out and really be aware of what is on the other side.

Image courtesy of the Fashion Museum, Bath and N.E Someset Council.


Image courtesy of the Fashion Museum, Bath and N.E Somerset Council

– I’ve included the above image as I think it’s an interesting detail. The Cunningtons mention in their ‘Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century’ that the lace-up or more controlled sacks came later in the century which would tie in with the date of this garment. You can see the the difference between this garment and for example, the one in Watteau’s ‘Cousins’ painting. These later dresses are far neater and restrained compared to the earlier forms.

– Here is also an image I took from some other website. I don’t know where it comes from but it’s interesting how the dress is very similar to the one above.
– This image refers to this as ‘Corsage cote doublure, un de deux ‘comperes’ est indique a droite par un pointille.’ Roughly translated that means the ‘The Bodice and lining from the inside (Corsage cote doublure)’. ‘And one of the ‘compere’ (which must be an old use of the word as it now means ‘friend’ well- ish),  is indicated on the right by the dotted line’. I was hoping for a more revelational statement but that is unfortunately what is says. (According to my very reliable french guys: Mathieu and Simon, who are indeed french.)
I’d love to know what ‘Compere’ means.
genealogie-averty.over-blog.fr/article-la-robe-a-la-francais-84290627.html as far as I can tell uses the word to describe a ‘stomacher’ except that it says it replaced stomachers around the 1755’s-60’s.

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