Costumes

Top 7 Looks from Outlander: #2- Emerald Robe á la Piemontaise

Outalnder-starz-claire-green-promo

So excited to talk about #2 of the Top 7 Looks from Outlander S2: Claire’s emerald brocade Robe á la Piemontaise!

When I first saw this promo photo I wanted it soooo badly! If you’ve known me for longer than five minutes that comes as no surprise because green is my favorite color. That gorgeous fabric gives me daydreams of using the rent money on yards of silk. Just kidding! That’s what credit cards are for. Emergencies… very important fancy fabric emergencies. *sigh* Being a responsible adult is no fun.

Outlander Claire green profile
Much pretty. Much arm flailing.

So while I enjoyed the NYC billboards with VIVE LES FRASERS, and I’m presuming 10-foot-tall cleavage, I just wanted to see this dress in action. We had to wait until episode 7 to see it!  Unlike #1, the 1740’s Dior Suit, this is a true 18th century style. However, the Robe á la Piemontaise was not fashionable until the late 1770’s to 1780’s so it’s about 40 years early. Back in January I joined in on the #GeorgianJanuary Instagram theme month, and mistakenly called this gown a Robe á la Française. I simply hadn’t read as much at that point and didn’t notice the difference from francaises. Also called sacque or sack-back dresses, these gowns both have pleated fabric across the shoulders that look almost identical from the back.

I don’t speak French, but it’s safe to say that if I can figure out robe à la Française means French dress, you probably did as well 😉 So what’s a Robe à la Piemontaise? According to Google Translate it’s “dress with piemontaise,” which makes it sound like it comes with a sauce on the side. *eye roll*

I still remember un po’ italiano, and recognized the Italian term “Piemontese,” as in cucina piemontese. Piemonte is Italy’s Piedmont region in the north along the Alps, as the name comes from “foot of the mountain” (piede + montagna). The capital of the region is Turin, which I got to visit very briefly back when I did study abroad. A Wikipedia rabbit hole led me to Clotilde, sister of Louis XVI and later Queen of Sardinia. She was a devout Catholic and wanted to become a nun, but a royal marriage is simply too valuable politically to be wasted. The King, her brother, arranged for her to marry Charles Emmanuel, Prince of Pièmont when Clotilde was just 16 years old. Her sister-in-law Marie Antoinette writes of her younger sister Èlisabeth being very upset over her sister leaving France, but apparently there was no love lost between the congenial-yet-conservative Clotilde and her fashionable SIL. The official marriage, after a proxy one in Versailles, took place in Turin in 1775—right around the time this dress was briefly fashionable! Unfortunately I couldn’t find any direct references to this dress style possibly being named after the new Princess of Piemonte or an Italian import, and it will take more time to look for primary sources.

Let’s compare these sack-back dresses, which look very similar at first glance.

Cream silk gown of Spanish origin from San Telmo Museoa, a museum dedicated to Basque culture. Likely 1770-85.

Green imperial brocade Robe á la Française of French origin from The Met, NYC. Likely 1750-75.

However, the profile tells a different story!

You can see that the gown on the left has detached pleats and the green one on the right has pleats that are one piece (back and skirt). So now we know the cream gown is a piemontaise, and confirmed that the green brocade is indeed a francaise. You can’t see the wall behind the dress in the profile view of a francaise. (Sorry, going to get lazy with proper terms.)

Those pleats were often used as an opportunity to show off some nice pattern matching like these two:

Claire’s piemontaise has this as well, but her pleats are wider. This could also be for visual balance since Caitriona Balfe is 5’10”, but it’s very likely that this dress was actually meant to be a francaise before the production team lost their cutters (more on this in the great Frock Flicks interview with Terry Dresbach).
outlander s2ep7 screencap
Very wide, cape-like pleats. Also, squinty-disdainful royals.
Although the francaise and the piemontaise look like dresses with a long train attached to the neckline, both are constructed from a long length of fabric with a complicated draping so that the skirt and the train are one piece. Keeping in mind how valuable fabric was during this time period, this technique makes perfect sense because you can easily remake the gown if fashion or your body changes. You still have yards of uncut fabric. Garments were given as gifts or inherited, and altered to suit the new owner. This is why you might see a museum item with a description like “Spitalfields silk c1720-30, dress altered 1750-1760” where the textile can be dated decades before the style of the garment, with old seams or pin holes as evidence of a re-fashioning.
Here’s what it looks like on the inside!
AugustaAuctions-shrimp-interior
Look at this crazy mix of lining fabrics!

The back can be fitted with the CB ties, and you can see the reinforced fabric and stitches where the pleats are attached. This is a museum deaccession from the Brooklyn Museum that was sold by Augusta Auctions.

Damask or Brocade or Jacquard?

Since I don’t have much on the provenance of the dress, I wanted to delve into the textiles and the confusing intermingling of damask/brocade/jacquard. Shopping online you might see descriptions like this one from Mood: “British Amethyst Damask Satin-Faced Jacquard.” What the heck does that even mean?!

Let’s look back to see where this word salad came from.

French jacquard loom
Jacquard loom with punchcards from Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, via techniques-patterns.com.

Silk fabric production came to Europe from China, and by the Renaissance we can see evidence of complicated woven fabrics in paintings and frescoes. For example, “The Birth of Mary” by Ghirlandaio, which is in Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The fabric pattern on the noblewoman in the middle is very beautiful in person, and the detail is impressive even five centuries later.

Birth_of_St_Mary_in_Santa_Maria_Novella_in_Firenze_by_Domenico_Ghirlandaio
Zoom in on the gilt fabric. Image via WikiCommons

Brocade comes from the Italian wood brocatto originating from the past tense of broccare, which my dictionary give as “to brocade” but the older usage apparently meant “to stud with nails.” Brocco means stick or thorn in modern Italian, and broccoli means “tiny nails” so you can see the etymology. Brocade patterns required great skill and a lot of time; it would take weeks just to prepare the loom with up to 40 different thread colors, and then months of weaving it with the help of a draw boy standing overhead.

The name “jacquard” given to fabric refers to fabrics made on the Jacquard loom, invented in 1804 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard. His loom used punch cards to help create the design, meaning that a less-skilled worker could make a beautiful fabric much faster. A Jacquard loom can make various kinds of weaves including damask, brocatelle, brocade, and matelasse. So you could say that all of these are jacquard fabrics, but the way it’s most often used now is to describe a lighter-weight damask or brocade, with brocade calling to mind a heavier, stiff fabric. The Dreamstress blog goes into more depth and I really recommend it if you’re curious to know more.

I browsed the NYC garment district for some examples:

Damask: A reversible floral or ornamental design often in one color (flat and satin) or two (design and solid ground).

Brocade: Various designs, but gives a raised embroidered look. It is not reversible–wrong side of fabric will usually be striped.

IMG_8453
Typical striped reverse showing the different thread colors.

This was tagged as a “double-faced brocade” and you can see that this one has been woven to be reversible.

Imperial brocade: A type of brocade with metallic threads

IMG_8446
A nice shade of green, but obviously intended for a priest’s vestments!

Compare with this embroidered satin–see how there’s no visible weave or loose threads on the reverse?

IMG_8459

I came up with a little jingle to help me remember.

Flip it, mirrored- damask!
Flip it, striped- brocade!
Flip it, hairy-  discontinuous brocade!

Okay, that last one needs work, but maybe it will help you 😉

 How to Make It

We’ve gone over how a Piemontaise differs from the Francaise, the most popular formal gown for the latter three-quarters of the 18th century. But looking more closely at Claire’s version, I’m certain it’s actually a bodice over a cartridge-pleated skirt—just like the Red Dress.

Claire Fraser promo photo green brocade dress

There should be a petticoat underneath the open skirt of the gown like the extant dresses above. The large box pleat at the center of the skirt allows the bodice tabs to lie flat, and also mimics the look of gown-over-petticoat.

Green-brocade-OutlanderCostume-twitter
Terry’s a big fan of cartridge pleating, which looks gorgeous and gives a lot of volume. Georgian gowns have the skirt knife-pleated to the bodice.
claire-emerald-damask-byfireplace
Definitely looks like a single skirt here

 

Type: Robe à la Piemontaise

HA Rating: 9/10

Materials:
Silk damask or brocade, also blue/green changeable taffeta
Hook and eye closures (front)
Boning (along center front)

Est. Yardage:
Gown with matching petticoat: 10-12 yds
Satin fabric or ribbon for ruching trim (plus lining, lacing for lining back, etc.)

Patterns:
JP Ryan Robe à la Française/ Pet en l’air
Reconstructing History Robe à la Française
Robe a la Piemontaise tutorial by The Fashionable Past (with layout from Danish museum)

Robe a la Francaise overview by Couture Mayah
Mill Farm Robe a la Française
Overskirt/Petticoat – Simplicity-American Duchess 8411

Undergarments (to be used for all costumes)
Paniers/Side Hoops: Simplicity-American Duchess 8411, Dreamstress Panier-Along tutorial
Stays: Recommend strapless stays with this neckline. See Corsets and Crinolines (Diderot and half-boned stays), Butterick B4254 (View A or B), Simplicity 8162, or Reconstructing History
Shift/Chemise: Self-drafted or Simplicity 8162

Accessories:
Poison-detecting necklace (optional)
Drop earrings
Silk stockings with ribbon garters
Green satin 18th century repro shoes (Modern heels like these would fun if you’d like to look more like a time-traveler 😉 )

Back to fabrics—
If you’ve ever tried to find brocades or damasks that don’t look like they should be on a couch or a Halloween costume, you’re already well aware of how frustrating period fabric shopping can be. The lack of appropriate prints makes looking for a specific color like this beautiful deep green practically impossible. Months ago I found a perfect silk brocade for this project at a famous NYC fabric store… for the low low price of $79.95 a yard!
I would plan on budgeting for 10 yards, and for solid and jacquard silks you can expect to see $20-65 a yard. Beauties like this silk masterpiece can set you back $155/yard.
French cream silk brocade
This sample has been swatched so you can see the reverse.
This is assuming that you already have all the necessary undergarments and don’t need fabric for those as well. So yes, historical costuming can be an expensive hobby! In fact, the high cost of these textiles is why the Outlander costume department hand-painted and embroidered fabrics to extend their budget. Polyester is more forgiving for actual wear and your wallet (I would not want to see a dry-cleaning bill for this gown!), but the drawback is the choice of colors. The chemical dyes used can give vibrant colors than don’t fade, but the colors available are too garish to be HA. Affordable fabrics in natural colors are much harder to find, but make the difference between looking like you stepped out of a Watteau painting or got lost from the set of Amadeus. (GREAT movie, terrible costumes.)

Up Next: #3, The Red Dress!

 

Sources

Stills: Starz, Screencaps: Outlander-Online.com
The Silk Industry in Spitalfields
Britannica Online
Patterns of Fashion and other books on the Recommended Reading list

 

[Edited 8/30/17: Reading list missing link]

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5 thoughts on “Top 7 Looks from Outlander: #2- Emerald Robe á la Piemontaise

  1. Love, love love your blog. So much hard work, too. Because you did the research, I’ll be able to go for it. Thanks so much.

    1. Thanks so much! I’m so glad to hear that because that was my intention- to make it easier for someone unfamiliar with this era to make their own gown. Be sure to share when you finish!

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