The Fourreau

Posted by muhammad nasrudin

When people are discussing eighteenth-century gown styles, the fourreau does not rank alongside the polonaise and turque; in fact, it never seems to come up at all.

The main, traditional meaning of fourreau was for a child's dress. In Garsault's L'Art de la Lingere, infants are described as wearing various pieces of the layette until they reach three, at which point the girls are put into shifts and jacquettes, while boys wear the fourreau until they're breeched at four or five. However, in Galerie des Modes, the caption-writer is consistent in describing the young fourreau-wearers as girls. (It's possible that this is not contradictory - Garsault was published in 1761, and a shift in word- or dress-usage may have occurred over the following two decades.)

32e Cahier, 5e Figure, 1780
The fourreau depicted on children in Galerie des Modes is the typical children's gown of the eighteenth century: back-closing, but otherwise very similar to women's gowns. The fashion plates show that these fourreaux could be made à l'anglaise, worn retroussée à la polonaise - echoing fashions in gowns.

This sort of echoing existed in the adult woman's fourreau as well. The Cabinet des Modes reported that "gowns and fourreaux à l'Anglaise, à la Turque, à la Janseniste, à la Circassienne, are still in fashion.  When a Lady is in a green fourreauà la levite ...

The adult version of the fourreau appears in the fashion plates in 1784, around the same time as the chemise gown, and the plates seem to show that - like the child's fourreau and the chemise - it has a closed skirt.


39e Cahier (bis 2), 3e Figure, 1784
The fourreau could be full or fitted, but in either case it looks to have not just been a "round gown" with a closed skirt, but a back-closing garment like the one worn by children. There is no back view in a fashion plate to examine, but it seems most likely that it would fasten with hooks and eyes or pins, rather than lacing.

So far, I haven't been able to determine how late the fourreaux were worn - 1790 is the latest I've come across the term at the moment - but they seem to be generally part of the pre-Neoclassical Anglomania period. To my knowledge, there are no extant fourreaux in collections online, which would suggest that they were less common outside of the pages of fashion magazines. However, many portraits of the 1790s show very plain gowns that could possibly be fourreaux.

(As of this point, I haven't translated much of Cabinet des Modes or Journal de la Mode et du Gout, and given their time of publication it seems very likely that the fourreau will come up in more fashion plates and descriptions. This page may be updated later!)