Pitt Magazine

Take a closer look at this undergraduate researcher's pièce de résistance

Jones works on the front of the dress
Maya Jones labored over her 18th-century French court gown for more than 300 hours over the course of four months. Photography by Aimee Obidzinski

When Maya Jones jetted off to France following her first year at Pitt, she had a particular destination in mind: the Palace of Versailles, home of former French queen and noted fashionista Marie Antionette.

Jones, a theatre arts and history major, had long wanted to design a French court gown, but to create a garment worthy of a queen is an expensive venture. So, she set her sights on the Creative Arts Fellowship from the David C. Frederick Honors College and used that trip to Versailles as inspiration and an impressive addition to her fellowship application.

The gambit worked. Jones received $4,000 to research, design and create a grande robe à la française. But don’t be fooled—this gown is no replica. That, Jones says, would be incredibly boring. Her gown is a wholly original creation that pulls inspiration from several different decades of 18th-century French fashion, when the size of your skirt signaled your standing in society.

“It was the first time people talked about fashion by decade or year instead of by hundred or thousand years,” Jones says. “It was really the beginning of fast fashion.”

The gown is on display at Hillman Library through summer, and it is a sight to behold — a silk taffeta confection and a window to the odd and intricate styles of the past.

Court dress by the numbers

1,223: Dollars spent on materials needed to produce the dress, including fabric, hooping wire, pattern paper and reference books

313: Hours of labor over four months (including 109 hours on the trim alone)

16: Yards of silk taffeta used

15: Circumference of the skirt in feet

10: Fashion and history books referenced to inform the design and create a digital display at the library

7: Layers of fabric, including an open robe, a stomacher, a decorative petticoat, a plain petticoat, a grand pannier (the hoop that gives the skirt its impressive shape), a stays (a structural garment akin to a corset) and a linen chemise.