Hoo boy, it’s time for a big project – a Robe a la Francaise, or sack-back gown, from the skin out.
First reason, I’ve never done any 18th century costuming, so that’s a big era missing from my wardrobe. There are definitely places to wear it, so I want to start building the pieces.
Second, I go to a convention known as Jordan Con, and like most conventions, it has a costume contest. And as a costumer, I like entering costume contests! It was nearly physically painful when I only watched last year and didn’t enter (since I had nothing good to enter)
Moiraine Damodred is a character in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books. As a main character, she gets cosplayed *a lot*. Heck, I’ve even done it before.
However, I’m pretty sure no one has ever done it right.
Pretty bold statement, given that the first book she appeared in was written in 1990. In 25 years, no one has done it right?
See, Moiraine is from the fictional country of Cairhien, and here is a description of their dress:
- For formal wear, the noblewomen’s dresses are very wide, so that they have to turn sideways to pass through a doorway of ordinary width (The Great Hunt, Dangerous Words)
- Cairhienin noblewomen wear their hair in an elaborate tower of curls on important occasions, every woman having a different arrangement (The Great Hunt, Dangerous Words); the higher the woman’s rank, the more elaborate and high the tower (The Fires of Heaven, News Comes to Cairhien)
(For more details, scroll down to the Cairhien section of this article)
Does this sound familiar at all? Yet in all this time, I have never seen *anyone* cosplay in historically accurate (or even not-so-historically-accurate) 18th century french dress. You get lots of general medieval gowns, corsets and skirts, pseudo renn faire stuff, etc.
Time to change this.
And bonus, I get a historical gown which doubles as a cosplay outfit! Birds, stones, etc.
So, here are all the things I’ll need:
- A shift (already have linen from Farmhouse Fabrics)
- Stays (argle bargle this will be the hardest part by far)
- Pocket Hoops (woohoo, already made these!)
- Under petticoat (a plain one, not meant to show. Also done!)
- The big one – the sack-back gown itself
- Matching Petticoat (ish – I’ll be changing out the petticoat depending on whether I want to do historical or cosplay. More on this later.)
- A big 18th century wig
As usual, no clue whether I can finish this one on time. I really don’t want to rush this one, so if I can’t finish, it will have to wait for the 2016 costume contest. We’ll see.
(Totally unrelated note, what is your preferred term for these dresses? I go somewhat interchangeably between sacque (or sack), and robe a la francaise. Problem is I don’t actually know how to say robe a la francaise out loud since I don’t know which of those words are pronounced in french).
Pronunciation? You put on your silliest French accent and do thusly:
“Robe” is just like in English, except your R is very…French. Back of the throat.
“a la” is like “a la mode,” nothing special there.
“Francaise” is “fran-sez,” again with the weird French R.
Google translate has an audio option that will help!
Anyway, I call it a sack-back or a sacque mostly, but only because I feel like a Monty Python character when I bust out into faux French in the middle of a conversation.
Also, stays aren’t as hard as curvy corsets! You can do it!
Excellent! Now at least I won’t accidentally embarrass myself if I try to say that out loud!