In the 18th century, fashionable silhouettes for women in England and France developed in different directions. While French court fashion of the mid-1700s was characterized by wide hoop skirts and elaborate decoration, English fashion moved toward simpler, columnar gowns that allowed for greater freedom of movement.
This shift in English fashion is emblematic of larger social changes taking place. As the Enlightenment emphasized reason over aristocratic excess, English women began to embrace more casual, comfortable clothing that enabled them to lead active lifestyles. The restrictive French "robe à la française" gave way to the versatile English "round gown."
Though less ostentatious than French fashions, the English round gowns of the 1770s had their own beauty and charm. Cotton chintzes featuring vibrant floral patterns were extremely popular. While still refined, these chintz gowns with their narrower skirts and reduced understructures allowed English gentlewomen to freely pursue outdoor activities.
This evolution toward simpler silhouettes signaled a new ideal of femininity in late 18th-century England. Beauty was redefined as being unadorned and natural. Fashion came to reflect women's growing independence and desire for mobility. The English round gown would pave the way for even more radical changes in women's dress in the coming decades.
The English Round Gown
The English round gown was a very popular style in the 1770s. Unlike the ornate French styles of the time, the English round gown had a simpler, more straightforward design.
The gown was made in one piece, with the bodice and skirt connected. It featured a fitted bodice with a low and rounded neckline. The sleeves were elbow-length. The skirt was ankle or calf length, much shorter than earlier 18th century styles that dragged on the floor. This enabled greater freedom of movement.
The round gown had a defined waist and a small bustle pad tied around the back of the waist to provide fullness to the rear of the skirt. This took the place of the wide hoop petticoats and large side panniers used in earlier decades. The result was a slimmer silhouette compared to the full skirts of French court gowns.
The round gown was usually made from lightweight printed fabrics like cotton chintz or linen. Chintz was especially popular, featuring vibrant floral patterns. The lighter fabrics and looser fit allowed for increased comfort and mobility.
Overall, the English round gown represented a transition toward simpler dresses that allowed upper-class women to engage in country pursuits and more active lifestyles. The style was in stark contrast to the ornate and restrictive fashions popular at French court.
An Active Silhouette
The English round gown offered a departure from the restrictive fashions of earlier decades. Its simple yet elegant lines allowed for ease of movement, making it the preferred dress of forward-thinking women in the late 18th century.
Unencumbered by elaborate underpinnings like the wide hoop skirts of the earlier Rococo period, the slimmer silhouette of the round gown enabled women to be more active. The modest trains and slightly lifted skirts showcased ankles and allowed women to walk freely.
With its clean lines and lighter fabrics like cotton chintz, muslin, and linen, the round gown facilitated an active lifestyle. Women could tend gardens, take long country walks, play with children, or pursue artistic endeavors without feeling restricted. The round gown suited those who wished to engage with the world in a more hands-on way.
The unrestrictive quality of the round gown also carried symbolic significance. Its wearers seemed to declare they had better things to occupy their minds than the trivialities of fashion. Practical, simple, and comfortable - the English round gown allowed women to live life vibrantly and purposely. For the forward-thinking 18th century woman, it was the natural choice.
Cotton chintz has a rich history as a hand-printed, glazed, dyed cotton fabric. Originating in India, chintz was imported to Europe beginning in the 17th century by the Dutch and English East India companies. The word "chintz" comes from the Hindi word "chint," meaning "spotted." The fabric was initially used for bed covers, quilts, draperies, and dressmaking.
By the mid-18th century, a flourishing chintz trade existed between India, England, France, and the Netherlands. The English Round Gown I made uses a traditional India/European chintz from this period - a floral pattern on a white background. The fabric has a lovely hand feel and sheen from the glazing process. Chintz fell out of fashion in Europe after 1780. But today it remains an iconic 18th-century textile that evokes elegance and exuberance. The floral motifs seem perfectly suited for a country walk on a summer morning.
The Louise Collection
The Louise dress is part of a collection I’ve created based on 18th-century women's fashion. Louise d'Épinay was a French writer, salon holder, and woman of letters in the Age of Enlightenment. She hosted a popular salon in Paris that brought together leading philosophers, writers, and activists of the time including Rousseau, Diderot, and Grimm.
I was inspired by d’Épinay’s strength of character and influential role in society to create a collection of 18th-century style dresses named after her. The Louise collection features my takes on French and English gowns, chemises, petticoats, and other fashions from the period. I use natural fibers like linen, cotton, and silk in my modern adaptations of these historical silhouettes and details. The English round gown showcased here embodies the collection’s goal of blending fashion, function, and femininity.
The Louise collection allows me to explore 18th-century fashion while empowering women today. By wearing these dresses, we connect to influential women like d’Épinay who challenged gender roles and made their voices heard. The simplicity and comfort of the English round gown specifically provides effortless style perfect for active, modern women. I hope my collection inspires confidence and timeless beauty.
A Morning Walk
The weather was beautiful on a June morning in 2021 in La Pobleta village. It was already quite hot, perfect for an early walk. I decided to head down the path from the village to the river wearing my new cotton chintz round gown.
The gown felt so comfortable and freeing as I strolled past the quiet gardens and vegetable patches. Soon I was on the open trail with expansive views of the countryside and mountains beyond. The path winds down through empty fields and pastures towards the sound of the flowing river.
I could feel the light breeze as I walked. The round gown moves easily with my body, allowing a full range of motion. The lightweight cotton chintz fabric also breathes well, ideal for a summer walk. I felt completely unencumbered and able to enjoy the surrounding nature and landscapes.
The gown enabled me to appreciate the morning sights and sounds, from birdsongs to wildflowers. Its practical design suits an active lifestyle while still retaining a feminine, graceful silhouette. I was able to relax and take in the scenery without fussing with elaborate underpinnings or a restrictive dress. It was a perfect morning stroll in a beloved English round gown.
The Countryside Landscape
Once past the village gardens, the path opens up to reveal expansive green pastures and sweeping vistas. The Pyrenees mountains loom large to the north, snow-capped peaks standing sentinel over the verdant valleys below.
With the cows and horses away for summer pasturing in the high mountain meadows, the fields sit empty save for the occasional oak or walnut tree. Their branches cast cooling shadows, a respite from the hot summer sun. A soft breeze rustles the grasses, underscoring the quietude.
Looking out across this bucolic scene, one can't help but feel a sense of peace and tranquility. The landscape seems endless, the eye able to take in mile after mile of open country. In the distance, the sound of the river can be heard as it winds its way through the valley.
It's a magical, timeless place, little changed over the centuries. The beauty and solitude refresh the spirit and connect one to the rhythms of nature.
Walking down the path from La Pobleta de Bellvehí in the morning, I pass by the village's quaint vegetable gardens. The gardens are contained within old wooden doors and fences, each one unique. At this early hour, the doors remain closed, but I can hear the ducks and geese inside already awake and quacking.
The villagers carefully tend to these gardens each day, nurturing tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, and an assortment of herbs. The gardens remind me of Monet's paintings of his garden in Giverny. Each villager adds their own flair - some paint their doors bright blues and reds, while others adorn theirs with flower boxes overflowing with geraniums in the summer. The gardens give the village charm and provide fresh produce for the villagers' tables.
As I walk by, I breathe in the earthy scents of the gardens. The ducks and geese continue their morning chorus. Soon the villagers will come out to tend their plots, but for now the gardens are still sleeping, awaiting the new day.
The Path to the River
Once past the vegetable gardens, the view opens on vast pastures with the Pyrenees mountains in the North. No cows or horses graze in these fields during the summer months. The breeders have taken them to graze in the mountains during the seasonal transhumance. The fields are empty, except for the oak and walnut trees that punctuate the landscape.
A magical atmosphere permeates this place, where you can hear the soothing sound of the river below. The landscape is a magnificent green, punctuated by the flowers in pots that the inhabitants of La Pobleta lovingly cultivate on their balconies. These flowers remind me of the floral patterns on my cotton chintz dress, echoes of the glorious heritage of traditional European textile arts.
Flowers on the Balconies
As I walked along the path towards the river, I noticed the brightly colored potted flowers that adorned many of the village balconies. Despite the early morning hour, the balconies were already alive with vibrant blooms.
The hot climate of the region allows for a wide variety of flowers to thrive. Bougainvillea in shades of fuchsia, magenta, and purple draped over balcony ledges in abundant cascades. Geraniums with blossoms in coral, red, pink, and white added further pops of color. Lantana, with its delicate clusters of small flowers, grew in terra cotta planters.
The creative flair of La Pobleta's residents was on display in the imaginative containers used for the potted flowers. Old ceramic pitchers, wooden crates, and colorful glazed pots of all sizes held the plants. This riot of blossoms spilling from repurposed holders created a festive, vivacious atmosphere.
As I walked towards the river, I found myself admiring the care that went into each improvised planter. The vibrant balcony blooms were a heartening sign of the villagers' affection for their homes and community. The flowers were a living reminder of the simple beauty that can be cultivated every day. Their presence along my walk made the morning feel more cheerful and full of promise.