The 18th-century "Robe Volante" is undoubtedly one of the first iconic models of 18th-century fashion. Indeed, by its lines, it imposes a vestimentary renewal. But Robe Volante also owes its fame to the break of the codes that the model induced.

The 18th-century Robe Volante and Philippe d'Orléans' Regency

At the turn of the French Regency, a significant upheaval in the dress code of court women took place. The hourglass silhouette, de rigueur under Louis XIV, was replaced by a much fuller garment. They called it a "flying" dress because it was inspired by the dressing gowns of the previous century.

Comfort above all

The style of the 18th-century Robe Volante was, above all, comfortable. Indeed, floating around the body, the dress concealed the contours. Moreover, the Marquise de Montespan, mistress of King Louis XIV, used this robe for its purpose was to hide from the court the many pregnancies resulting from its adulterous relations with the sovereign.

Une robe volante en damas de soie bleu datant des années 1730. (Christie’s)
A robe volante of ice blue silk damask, France, 1730. (Christie’s)

The 18th-century Robe Volante: shocking floating lines

However, this fashion of the dressing gown is initially displeasing. First of all, because the garment was designed to be confined to the bedroom. A lady could wear a dressing gown to receive guests in her boudoir, but not to walk this way in the palace's corridors.

A "sloppy" dress...

Thus, André Blum, in his Histoire du costume : les modes au XVIIe et au XVIIIe siècle, reports that Elizabeth Charlotte, Madame Palatine did not like this model. The princess used to complain that the ladies of the court, wearing with their Robe Volante, looked like they had just gotten out of bed.

... but also extremely expensive!

However, the critics did not focus only on the careless look of the model. There was also some concern about the large amount of fabric required to produce them, making it a costly garment.

Paniers are also victims of criticism!

Ruinous, indecent, the flying dress seemed unsuited to the dress codes of the Regency. But it was also scandalous because of the bell-shaped paniers that provided its generous volume. They used to take up a lot of space. Moreover, the swing of the basket left the feet, even the calves uncovered… so shocking!.

What exactly was a Robe Volante in the 18th-century?

The robe volante broke with the hourglass lines of the previous century. It is therefore above all "floating".

Fullness in the back

A large width at the back brings the volume of the dress. Indeed, the fabric was gathered into flat pleats along the neckline. On the other hand, on the front, the cut did not emphasize the waistline. Thus, the two sides of the dress, also very wide, are brought to the center, covering the corset.

Then, thanks to the bell-shaped basket, the dress falls from shoulders to feet and flares widely from the waist.

L’Enseigne de Gersaint, Antoine Watteau (1720)

The evolution from the Robe Volante to the Robe à la Française

The flounced dress was all the rage between 1715 and 1730! Then, the model evolved to fit the canons of feminine beauty. These wanted the clothing to highlight the women's assets. The Robe Volante tightened at the waist and flattered the bust. It turned into the Robe à la Française, returning to the hourglass silhouette abandoned in 1715.

""(…) prominent breasts, slim waist, and voluminous hips, such are the assets of a beautiful woman. The secondary sexual attributes are put forward because they testify of the reproductive function of the woman."

La robe en France, 1715 - 1815 : nouveautés et transgressions. Charlotte Stephan

Tightened waist and wider hips

Worn on paniers that widen, sometimes excessively, on the sides, profusely embellished with flowers and falbalas, this French-style dress was in line with the conventions of the protocol. Thus, it became the court dress par excellence in Versailles, until the Revolution


  • André Blum. Histoire du costume : les modes au XVIIe et au XVIIIe siècle, Ouvrage illustré de 210 reproductions en couleurs et en noir. Hachette. 1928
  • Charlotte Stephan. La robe en France, 1715 - 1815 : nouveautés et transgressions . Art et histoire de l’art. 2014