The Mysterious “19th Century” Velvet Sacque-Back Dress

December 31, 2013

NERD RAGE and a Happy New Year to You!

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas! Today’s New Year’s Eve, so I thought I’d share a pretty party dress with you–or at least a very unusual one!

I knew that they existed, but I never thought I’d find a extant silk velvet robe á la française– listed in the 19th century portion of the Met Museum’s archives of all places!


It actually dates to the early part of the 18th century (the Met says second half, but it just doesn’t look post-1750 to me).

Velvet Robe á la Française, 18th century (listed as late, probably early)

Back view of the Velvet Sacque Back with Glimpses of the Silver Cuff Trim and Lace

It’s worn through, but it must have really been grand back when it was new! I really wish there were close-ups of the silver trim on the cuffs and that the gown was displayed in the appropriate shape, but it may be to fragile to handle much. It almost looks like a man’s banyan as it hangs, but the sacque back and round hem (instead of having excess fabric on the sides to accommodate panniers) suggest that it’s an earlier dress. In fact, I don’t think it is a Francaise at all, at least when it was first sewn. The lines look much more like a Robe Battante, a style of loose dress popular during the 1730s. There are even paintings showing battantes made of velvet, like this one:

”Reading from Molière” by Jean François de Troy, circa 1728
For more info on battante and volante gowns, this post by Curse Words and Crinolines is a good one.

I have so many questions about this dress, but the online collections entry is severely lacking. That’s one of my main struggles with the Metropolitan Museum of Art: they have such interesting objects, but rarely write more than a cut and paste blurb about them, if at all!

PB Table Flip Gif


Anyway, I hope you guys all have a fabulous New Year! I’ve pledged to do more much more sewing. I’ve got a whole box full of brand new patterns and lots of Walmart value fabric that needs to be put to good use! I’m going to keep up my mission to continue making historical costuming more accessible for the average folks like me: more research, more tricks, more tutorials.

See you in 2014!

–> UPDATE! <—

This post inspired a new Pinterest board: Mishaps at the Museum!
Check it out and let me know on Facebook if you find any cringe-worthy museum records to add to it!

7 Responses to “The Mysterious “19th Century” Velvet Sacque-Back Dress”

  1. What a curious piece. It could be a battante, but it could very well be 19th century too. There was a massive revival for all things 18th century, in the 1870s and 1880s – you see all kinds of pieces that confuse us to bits these days. Without inspecting the construction, we’ll never know which it is. (Fancy a trip to the Met? Think they’ll let us in?)

    • Liz Says:

      It may be reworked a little. Sacques were were really popular in the 1860s especially (another “big dress” era), but I don’t think this one is 19th century. The Met even dated it 18th century, so someone just put it in the wrong category when they uploaded it into the online collections. However, it is a really neat piece. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if they let us in? Even just for a few moments!

  2. I would imagine a Velvet Robe á la Française being abit bigger in the skirt.

  3. Laura Says:

    Yay! My 18th century red velvet Annie Lennox “Walking on Broken Glass” francaise is historically accurate! ;)

  4. Kat Says:

    If the museum where I work is anything to go by the reason they don’t have more information about their pieces is because getting the staff and the time to do all the research and the writing is really REALLY expensive. If you have specialist knowledge (I like the battante suggestion!), consider sending the Met an email and asking if they would add it to their description, for the benefit of others.

    • Liz Says:

      I might. I’ll have to look up their contact info, if they provide it. I’ve been so spoiled with the Victoria & Albert museum. They describe everything–but they often lack comprehensive images. Mayhaps I should write to ask about internships!

    • Cassidy Says:

      This is a good idea for smaller museums, but the Met actually has a VERY long and drawn-out process for updating their catalogue. Everything has to be accepted by various committees, and eventually it goes all the way to the top, so they’re very unlikely to accept submitted catalogue entries (which is very unfortunate, because a lot seem to have been written by volunteers in the 1940s and ’50s).

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