Regal, romantic, timeless. Watteau trains get their name from 18th-century French painter Jean- Antoine Watteau, who captured the growing trend of noblewomen wearing gowns featuring a draped pleated panel flowing elegantly from the back. “When the Watteau back was popular, it was about showing your wealth with how much fabric you could have on the dress,” says Cynthia Amnéus, chief curator of Fashion Arts and Textiles for the Cincinnati Art Museum and author of Wedded Perfection: Two Centuries of Wedding Gowns. At the time, it was popularized in two styles: the robe à l’Anglaise, an English version with the fabric tacked in at the waist, creating a refined look, and the robe à la Française, a progressive update to the French Rococo-style sack-back gown, with long flowing pleats.
Today the Watteau is getting a modern makeover from fashion designers who are putting their stamp on the style. “Brides are always looking for ways to be romantic and to be a princess for the day,” says Amnéus. “Starting in the 1940s we began to see this look back at historical styles, and we see that still today with designers looking back and reinventing what’s been done before.”