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Robe à la Polonaise

Silk Polonaise dress, English, about 1780

Silk Polonaise dress, English, about 1780

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This Polonaise gown or robe à la Polonaise would have been worn with its matching petticoat. Both are made of cream brocaded silk woven with clusters of flowers in pinks and greens. This style of dress is named after Poland which featured prominently in European news following its division by Russia, Prussia and Austria in 1772.

The dress was worn by Mary Mcdowell, daughter of William Mcdowall of Castle Semple. In 1779 Mary married George Houston of Johnstone Castle, a local landowner and textile industrialist who founded textile mills on the Black Cart Water and accompanying town for his workers in 1782. They had two sons, Ludovic born on 10 May 1780 and William born on 18 September 1781.

The large size of the closed bodice in comparison to Mary's other surviving gowns suggests that it may have been worn while Mary was pregnant. This is supported by the diaries of Mrs Jean Houston, Mary's mother-in-law, which record that Mary was still dining out with family friends in August 1781 and did not 'begin to make ready for her inlying' for William’s birth until 10 September. Jean later writes that on 1 October 'my dau[ghter] was in the Drawing Room at Dinner she is only 13 day bought to bed' which suggests that Mary had an uncommonly short lying-in period of only three weeks.

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