The Robe a la Polonaise is probably one of the most debated styles in 18th century dress making. What makes a Polonaise, how do you define it? And how, then, would you sew it.

If you follow Kendra van Cleave and Brooke Wellborn in their article, partially published on Démodé Couture the Polonaise is not only defined by the looped up and poufed skirt, but by the front as well. I found a wealth of pictures, but no real tutorial how to make one, all they ever said was „draped based on“. I‘d like to fill in that gap, with one caveat though: I am reproducing this jacket with a sacque back and Polonaise front and: sometimes the photos are of the „do as I say, not as I did“-sort, no need for you to repeat my mistakes.

I started with the well-fitting bodice of my blue worsted gown cut with a compere front instead of the stomacher. For a „real“ Polonaise you should start with a Robe a‘l Anglaise where skirt and bodice are cut in one piece. I won‘t discuss the construction of the dress back here, as I draped my back a la Française, same as my museum example.

First thing you do is to cut the lining and outer fabric for the compere front bodice. Then you add a second layer of outer fabric, the same length as the back, whose shape follows the neckline, shoulder line armscye and side seam of the first layer:

In this example I marked the „proper line“ in green. This was my mistake number one: not to realize that the front indeed ends at the side seam of the bodice. The additional width doesn‘t have to be as much as you see here, 20 to 25 cm will do. In a classical polonaise that width is pleated into the side seam. In my case there is a lot of additional width pleated in the Anglaise-style skirt part of the historical jacket so I decided to take some of the width of the front panel.

In the next step you decide on the angle on which you want your Polonaise front to fall back. Fashion plates and extant gowns show a variety between „almost straight“ to „angled to the side seam“. I chose a moderate angle that works better with my rather busty shape. Too straight down looked boring, a steeper angle made me look uhmmm… let‘s say less than my best. I pressed and seamed that angle.

As I had finished my lining bodice complete with false front, I had to stab-stitch the polonaise front on. If I were doing it again, and I‘d recommend that for you, I‘d sew the side seam as well as the neckline with the underbodice fashion fabric flatlining the polonaise front fabric. Considering the silk charmeuse I had chosen for the false front this would have ended in a nightmare though.

When you are making a Polonaise dress, you pleat the remaining fabric into the side seam. For my little pet I used it to enhance the pleating at the back.

Here the finished pet without any decorations yet. It will get a lace tucker as well as a ton of frill made from grosgrain ribbon in the exact shade of the silk Charmeuse.