Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Another "True" Robe a la Polonaise (Caraco)

Pattern: Self drafted. 
Fabrics: 100% cotton, jacquard weave of moire with pink stripes. 100% silk lining, baby pink. 100% silk organza, white for cuffs. 100% silk taffeta, white, for hem and neckline ruffles. 

Measurements:
*One of the great things about this style is how forgiving it is with fit. The pin closures allow easy adjustment up or down for body fluctuations. 
Chest: 38-41"
Waist: 31-34"
Hem: 37.5" at front, 40.5 at back (cut for a bull roll or rump pad)
Bicep: 14" max


Summary: The ensemble consists of the over dress (Caraco a la Polonaise), petticoat, and an extra wide stomacher that might have been referred to as a "false waistcoat." All visible stitching has been done by hand, including the application of the white silks trims and shoulder strap/sleeve insertions. The petticoat has hemmed by hand. 
Research
First, I want to acknowledge an amazing resource, the Pinterest board: 

The images there have been instrumental on helping me figure out this once incredibly popular--but for some reason historically opaque--fashion trend. The word "polonaise" has been used to describe several other styles over the centuries, so it's understandable how this version got a little lost. I like to call it an "open polonaise", though I don't think there is any historically backing for that. It's just my own clarifications. 

My biggest influences for this garment were two 18th century prints. The first shows a full length Robe a la Polonaise with the back puffs tied up and formed. In this one, you can really see how the garment hangs away from the body; a close fit, even at the back, was not particularly important. In fact, if the back of the robe fitted close to the back, the resulting sharp just out over the rump would have ruined the smooth hang of the those big swags. 




The second imagine I really liked, and which gave me the idea for a slightly longer caraco version, is the second lady in the famous Giant Calash print. Being shorter, this version is left to hang smooth without the swags, and I also took my cue here for the white ruching decoration around the full hem. 

Another thing I particularly like about this print is that is shows the use of miss-matched separates. The petticoat, caraco, and bodice (or stomacher, false waistcoat, no way to tell) are each made from a different fabric in different colors. The print quality is rather low, the front bodice appears to be lavender. 

The Caraco a la Polonaise
The jacket portion consists of two pattern pieces for the body--a front and back--, a shoulder strap, and a two piece curved sleeve. From what little info I've been able to find, the fact that the body consists of just two pattern pieces seems to be the main integral part of making a "true" polonaise. While other features came in a variety, this seems to have been pretty set. For example, my version here has a separate shoulder strap, while others have had the strap built in to the front piece. 






The Trims
Let me tell you, there is nothing fun about hand gathering 300+ inches of medium weight silk taffeta. I had to go incredibly slow to keep the gathering thread from breaking under strain, and I failed twice with that lol. But once I finally had everything gathered and pinned down it was a few relaxing hours of hand stitching (while binge watching Stargate Atlantis again). 


And here you can see the final product with the ruching stitched down and the gathering threads removed:




The trim on the cuffs is 100% silk organza. The top and bottom hems are hand rolled, and the gathered areas stitched down by hand with silk thread. I decided to do a very light gather on this because a) organza is stiff and doesn't ruffle well, and b) I wanted to keep the transparent effect so the pink stripes showed through. 




The "False Waistcoat"
When I first started looking in to the true polonaise, my first question was "What the heck were they wearing under it?" What was filling the open triangular space of the front torso? There seem to be just as many images of this body portion matching the polonaise as there are of it being contrasting. Also, the few museum pieces that survive are missing any matching filler piece that might have gone with it. In my reading I ran across the words "stomacher, or false waistcoat" more than once. I also imagine ladies might have had separate sleeveless bodices, or corsages, that they worse with such open jackets.      



Now, a standard stomacher as we tend to know them--the triangular pieces that fill in the open fronts of traditional 18th century gowns--really wouldn't work with an open polonaise. They are too narrow, don't cover enough area, and the open nature of the polonaise would make it easy to see the uncovered edges of a normal stomacher. As a lady walks, the open edges of the polonaise will move and flutter and show much more of the torso than a regular stomacher would cover. So, it there was some kind of "falsie" going on here, as opposed to a complete separate garment such as a low cut waistcoat, it would have to be wider. 

So, I figure that a false waistcoat is like the 18th century of a chemisette, except designed to "fill in" the lower part of the torso rather than the collar or upper chest. I devised this, essentially, extra wide stomacher: 


Cotton tapes and tabs allow it to be secured around the waist and pinned. I imagine another great feature of these would be that a lady could have several in different colors and switch things up with different polonaise caracos and gowns. 

FINISHED
Now, as usual, the massive repetitive photo dump =) 


































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