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My Professor says Saque Backed gowns didn't exist. Am I crazy thinking I've seenthem or is she stupid?

My Professor says Saque Backed gownsdidn't exist. Am I crazy thinking I've seen them or is she stupid?

I've derived so much inspiration from your page... your writings anddedication to all that you believe in cause me to quote you quite often... I'm a studentat ***** College in *****, and this semester I am taking my first actual costume designclass. The professor, while talented, does not share the passion for costuming that Ifeel. Furthermore, she seems to be very close minded to ideas and new research. One simplycan not contradict her...which brings me to a point. While discussing 18th century gowns,she mentioned that the saque back gown was a complete figment of Watteau's imagination...now, is it just me, or is this wrong?? I can SWEAR I've seen similar gowns in theMetropolitan costume collection...I want to give her the benefit of the doubt...am Imissing some information? If you could provide some info on the subject, I could finallyput this to rest... Thank you! -Julie

I tend to try to be tactful and not undercut a costume cohort who I donot know, when I haven't heard her exact words on a subject, but I have to say that this isjust plain nuts. a saque was in pretty constant use for the 1720's-1750's and there arelots of painters besides Watteau who painted them. What is more, there are LOTS ofexamples of these things in museums. Now, if you want to nicely correct this lady in acivilized way, go online and order the Costume Society of America's 1998 calendarfor her for Xmas. The cover photoshows a gorgeous example of this from early America (1760's), and it is impossible toignore as it is documented with an exact provenance through the Livingston family of NY(signers of the Declaration, Governors of NY, etc. In fact this was the governorsdaughters wedding dress). There are not only examples, but there are PATTERNS reproducedby the guru of all costume historians Janet Arnold, who has copied these things fromEnglish museums.

Now, what is true is that for years these dresses were called"Watteau-backed" dresses, until it was noticed that in the 18th Century they didNOT call them this, and the period term, the "Sack" (English), or Saque (French)came back into use by historians. Your teacher may have had her own lessons in historygiven when this point was in dispute, and probably misunderstood her teacher's intent, orthe argument, and assumed that the statement "there is no such thing as a'Watteau-backed' dress" meant the dresses didn't exist, rather than that the NAME wasa figment of a Victorian historians imagination. This is where her confusion likelyarises. It is also possible that what SHE was trying to say to you was that the termdidn't exist, not the dress, and you only think she is confused by the dress. Trytactfully inquiring if she meant the term and not the dress didn't exist. If that is thecase, there is a bit of a communication problem between you, but nothing you can'tovercome if, as you say she is very talented, and there is other stuff worth learningfromher. If, however she insists firmly it doesn't exist, and she reacts in a hostile way to aTACTFUL demonstration that they do exist, you want to change schools to get anotherteacher that you can work with. (assuming you are mainly studying to be a costumedesigner.) Happily the Northeast, indeed the whole US is littered with costumedesign teachers and universities. You can certainly find one or more that meets youreducational needs.

Do not be too harsh on your teacher for not being quite so passionateabout costuming as you. Remember, this for you is like your first meeting with a guy youwill marry and live with--you are in love. She has been married perhaps 20 years. She maystill be in love, but she can't work up the all consuming passion for her job every dayfor 20 years without getting a nervous breakdown. At a certain point we all paceourselves, decide that costuming is not the kind of life and death stuff of brain surgeryor Atomic fusion, and we relax a little, develop other interests, and so forth. It doesn'tmean she doesn't take costuming seriously, it just means it no longer is an every wakingmoment kind of love like yours. By the way, have you seen the Janet Arnold books yet? Ifyour library doesn't have them, get them on an ILL and prepare to get positively drunk oninformation. -- ---Tara

"The Costumer's Manifesto"
by Tara Maginnis