Calash Bonnets & Chemise a la Reine: Late 18th Century Paper Doll Dresses

logo-late-18th-centLate 18th Century gowns before the waist begin to rise at the turn of the century are often defined by simpler lines. You can see in some of them the beginings of the aesthetic and gave rise to the Greek inspired looks of the Empire period in France and the Regency period in England.

Working left to right, as is my usual practice, she has a caraco jacket with a peticoat based on this caraco and quilted petticoat from the Museum of Antwerp and this outfit circa 1785-1790 from the V&A.

The middle dress is based on a robe à l’anglaise from the Kyoto Costume Institute that is dated to the 1780s. I have seen very few other examples of this style of gown in museums, though I would be curious to know how wide spread the style was. The belt is particularly distinct in these gowns and I can only recall having seen one other.

On the far right,there is a gaulle, or chemise a la reine. This radical style was introduced by Marie Antoinette in the early 1780s. I based my version of this iconic garment off a portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and His Wife from 1788. To understand the shock such a garment would have induced in the 18th century, consider the reaction people might have if the First Lady of the US suddenly started talking around in her bra and panties in public, rather than chic clothing. Never the less, as is often the case with fashion, the simple lines of the gown caught on and it wasn’t long before all sorts of women were being painted in elegant and simple versions of the chemise a la reine. In fact, this gown could be seen as a direct predecessor to the simpler styles of the Regency and Empire periods. Very few of these gowns seem to have survived from the 18th century, but here is one example from the Manchester Art Gallery.


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There are two distinct hats to go with today’s paper doll gowns. The first hat is a formal hat and comes from a portrait of Adélaïde Labille-Guiard from 1785 held at the Met. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard was an accomplished female painter in 18th century France. She was inducted into the French Académie Royale in 1783. Also, she clearly had excellent taste in hats.

The other hat is what was called a Calash. Calashes were a type of bonnet that was boned and could fold down for storage (and also was tall enough to get over the crazy high hairstyles of the century.) Calashes can be found easily in museums. Here are a few examples of them- one, two, three from the Met and one from the MFA in Boston. The Calash isn’t just an 18th century thing, either, these bonnets can be found in the 19th century as well.

The shoes are fairly standard 18th century style and aren’t based on anything specifically. I just thought my three paper dolls might need another pair of shoes.


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The color selections were all dictated by the original garments colors, except for the caraco jacket ensemble on the left. The one I wanted to do in warm autumnal colors since the chemise a la reine always seems a summer or spring sort of style to me.

This brings us to the end of this little series. If you missed any, check out the entire 18th Century Pixie series.

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  1. I love them all!
    Too bad you only used the hat from the Adélaïde Labille-Guiard painting though! 🙂
    It’s one of my favourite portraits of that era and I’ve been planning for at least 15 years to make that dress at some point. (I used to be an avid LARPer, mostly historical, when I was younger, but sort of fell out of it, never got around to picking it up again.)
    The hat is beautifully rendered though and I really love the shoes!

    1. Yersenia, my mom okayed the paper dolls now! I told my therapist that they tell people I’m listening without me looking like a fool, and they are a better exploration into fashion (food, the mirror and I are on not-so-friendly terms).

      Oh and I have quite a few of those adult coloring books.

      1. That’s good news!
        I am really happy for you that you can now pursue a hobby that you enjoy and that is good for you without stress and your mom disapproving!
        All the best! 🙂

    2. I seriously thought about drawing her gown as well, but I couldn’t quite figure out what was “going on” with it between her sitting position and the placement of her painting pallet.

      1. You’re right, the pallet is awkwardly placed if you want to see the bodice. I always figured it to have a closed, undecorated bodice, like the one in Gainsborough’s portrait of Mrs Graham (the white and pink one). They seem to have been common in the 1780s.
        Or in another portrait by Labille-Guiard, of Madame Victoire, it seems to be a closed and decorated with bows as well, but her arm is in the way.

        Either that, or a la turque, like in Vigée-Lebrun’s “Marie-Antoinette with the Rose”-Portrait.

  2. Who knew I’d learn such an interesting fact about hats on a paper doll site?! “Calashes were a type of bonnet that was boned and could fold down for storage ” I looked at the links you provided and am amazed that women of that time period had such elaborately constructed hats. Today we wear clothing styles that use much less fabric and that are constructed with machines that those 18th century sewists never could have dreamed of using. Think of the time they spent creating garments and hats with detailed construction and so much fabric (gowns). Not to mention we don’t even wear everyday hats anymore!

    1. I am always a little in awe when I think about the level of skill and time it would have taken to hand-sew the sorts of gowns women were wearing in this period.

  3. Thank you SO much for these and so many other printable historical dolls and costumes! I am entertaining three girls ages 6-11 for 24 hours later this week, and they adore both paper dolls and history… so I have printed plenty to keep them entertained. This is a wonderful site!

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