My art: Living Fashion – polonaise gown c.1775

Living Fashion is a series in which I draw historical clothing on active people, inspired by Draw This Dress by artists Emily Carroll and Vera Brosgol.

I have this character named Mrs. Reynolds (no relation to Firefly) who is quite a lady. This took me about three hours. It occurred to me that she would also look fabulous in dark green, which I will post next week along with some close-up pictures.


I combined elements from two dresses from the later 1700s to outfit her. The first lives in the Mint Museum and is dated 1770-1790.

This type of dress, which consists of an ankle-length underskirt and a bunched-up overskirt, is called robe á la polonaise because it resembles Polish traditional costume – but it’s actually French. Bunching up the overskirt allowed a woman to walk outside without ruining the bottom of her dress.

Polonaise gown, 1770-1790, Mint Museum
Polonaise gown, 1770-90, Mint Museum

The second gown is from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is also French, from 1765-1780. I basically took the stripes and light-colored underskirt from this one.

Polonaise dress, 1765-80, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Polonaise gown, 1765-80, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Her dramatic hat is called a Gainsborough Hat. It was designed by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, for a portrait painted in 1787 by Thomas Gainsborough. My reference photo, however, is from the 2008 film about Georgiana, starring Keira Knightley.


I originally had Mrs. Reynolds holding a pair of officer’s pistols, but they’re super big, so I switched to the ladies’ muff pistol, made by Bunney of London around 1770. It’s just a lighter-colored version of the same gun made for men.


I couldn’t find a straight-on, pointing-at-you angle reference photo so I had to visualize it myself – I hope it looks okay! Also, I read about flintlock technology on Wikipedia and it has a cool animation that shows you how it works.

My last three Living Fashions have had weapons in them, so next month I promise – no weapons! Only nice things!


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