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  • Writer's pictureAisha

Georgian Month: The Saque

Hello darlings!


Part three of Georgian month already, where does the time go? This week I'm going to be talking about the saque, one of my favourite dress styles of all time! Without further ado, let's get into it!


The saque gown, or robe à la Française (also called a robe battante, robe volante, innocente, sack back or Watteau-backed gown) is characterised by wide hips and two box pleats falling gracefully from the back.


Similarly to the Open Gown, the saque started its life as the mantua. As the mantua became more structured, women wanted a more relaxed, looser style of gown. This was compounded by the passing of Louis XIV and the ascension Louis XV, who was only a child, meaning that the rules of the French Court could relax a little.


Sobel has an example of this loose fitting saque in her book.

‘Draping Period Costumes’ by Sharon Sobel, p.126


In this form, it wasn't very popular with English women. They preferred something more fitted, so they continued to wear the open robe. This led to the definitions that we know them by nowadays; the French called the saque a robe à la Française, while the open robe became known as the robe à l’Anglaise.


At first, the back pleating varied until two uniform box pleats became the norm. These were often very deep, with a small pleat underneath to help the pleats kick out. They're very often stitched down to the bodice for about 3", before being left to hang freely from the bodice. After the 1760s, the size of these box pleats narrowed.


As Louis XV matured, the dress became tighter and took on a more formal appearance. Now, in order to keep its shape, it was always worn over stays. Later versions of the saque have been found to be lightly boned.


‘You ask me whether sacks are generally worn; I am so partial to ‘em that I have nothing else- a sack and apron, with a very small hoop, when I am undressed, the whole ones when I set out.’ Lady Jane Cole, Letters, 1751


Because these back pleats still hung loose, the saque was often constructed with a slash down the centre back lining, around 2" from the top of the bodice. This meant that the dress could be tightened beneath the box pleats to ensure a smooth fit.


Saques were usually worn with a stomacher as it was another opportunity to add decoration to a gown, but they could also have had a closed front.

Stomacher made by moi.


If the stomacher was adorned with a series of bows, it was called an echelle. Usually, the stomacher and petticoat would have been decorated to match the dress.


From the 1740s onwards, the tight, elbow-length sleeves were adorned with flounced cuffs. At first one, then two, then three. These were called engagantes, but are also referred to as stacked sleeves or waterfall sleeves.


Saques were worn over either pocket hoops or panniers, the latter giving the extremely wide shapes so synonymous with the Georgian period. These were wide at the sides but flat at the front and back, giving a narrow shape to the skirts instead of being wide all around like a crinoline.


Pocket hoops made by moi.


In order to cover these wide shapes, the skirts of the saque were often rouched or pleated. They also usually had a small slit in them so the lady could still access her pocket.

The petticoats worn beneath the saque were also often constructed with a plain or inexpensive fabric at the top to save on fabric, as it would never be seen.


There were also short versions of the saque, cut to the knees which was called a casaquin or pet en l’air.


Fun fact: The pet en l'air is called as such because when Madame Pompadour exhibited this new style of dress one of her maids ‘gave vent to some confined air’, which he found very amusing so she named it after the accident.


The saque remained in fashion for several decades, but by the 1780s the saque was only worn for the most formal of occasions.


~


Did you enjoy learning about the saque as much as I did? I have made myself one in the past but I really need to make myself another!


Until next time,

Aisha x


Sources:

  • ‘Costume In Detail’ by Nancy Bradfield

  • ‘18th Century Dressmaking’ by Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox (good instructions on how to make your own!)

  • ‘Aristocrats- The Illustrated Companion to the Television Series’ by Stella Tillyard

  • ‘The Cut of Women’s Clothes’ by Norah Waugh

  • 'Patterns of Fashion 1' by Janet Arnold

  • ‘Draping Period Costumes’ by Sharon Sobel

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