Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1936 feathers by Charles James

Last week you liked Maria Alexandra much better in the conventional fashions of the 1860s than in Russian attire – she scored a 8.5 for her frothy lace confection, much better than the 6.5 of her first rating.  Perhaps it is the genius of Winterhalter compared to the mere skill of Makarov; you certainly comment more positively on Winterhalter’s version of the outfit!

Let’s look at another recognised genius this week, and see if brilliance conquers all, or if even geniuses have bad moments.

Noted fashion designer Charles James began his career in the 1930s, and while his genius didn’t peak until the 1940s and 50s, this 1936 evening gown already demonstrates the masterful draping and sculptural aesthetic that James would become known for.

Evening dress, Charles James, 1936, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Masterful or not, some of James’ more experimental dresses were more challenging than beautiful, and did a better job of showing off James’ ability to manipulate fabric than the charms of the wearer beneath.

What do you think of this evening dress, with its boldly patterned feather fabric, muted colours, and twisted and draped silhouette?  Will it sink in the drapes of fabric, or soar on feathered wings?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10.


  1. sanna says

    I’d give it a 7, but I might be tempted to give it a full 10 if it had been made in a heavy, solid-colored silk. I love the draping!

  2. Kathy P says

    I love the draping of this dress but feel the print is distracting and somewhat casual and sporty for an evening dress. Perhaps casual but elegant is the look he was going for, though.
    I’d love to see this in a deep jewel-toned solid silk dupione or jacquard where the play of light against the fabric’s texture would really show off the changing angles produced by the draping.

  3. Paul Miller says

    I think Kathy P has really hit the nail on the head. I love the architecture of the dress, but feel the fabric works against it rather than with it. As an interior designer, I like the motif – it’s fun and unusual – but that’s the problem: it looks more like wall paper than dress material.

  4. jackiead says

    I can envision wearing this strapless evening dress to a country resort soiree, circa 1940, on a hot summer evening, while vacationing at the Catskills
    I give the dress an 8 for style and drape. Not sure about the draped pockets on the front, they distract from the flow of the skirt. I love the bodice halter-top; sleeveless strapless gowns are always so elegant for evening gowns.

  5. The more I look at it, the less I like it. Sorry, Charles James. I imagine the skirt draping would feel funny to wear, and you’d look a little awkward dancing. And the home-dec print? Not my favorite dress. 6.

  6. I love it. Here is a dress that in an era where the fashion only favoured the most slender, would suit a wider range of figures. I love the colours, love the feather pattern and love the draping. I love the fuller cut of the skirt and the clever way the draped loops fall to the knee, not around the hip as they so often do these days. Very disguising. Love the waist detail. Love that the feathers would move as the wearer did, almost like they were ruffling, and that the busier print would disguise the odd bulge.
    I think it is stunning on so many levels, I’d like to give it an 11!
    And I am a bit surprised at myself for that as it’s not ‘me’ at all!

  7. Sorry, I can’t give it more than a 3. Why?

    The fabric is just fine, but the print, though pleasant enough, is drab.

    The skirt looks to me as though it was made for a farmer’s wife–those huge sacks at the knee look as though they were designed to hold seed for planting!

    The halter front would be nice, if it only were fitted. But it’s only fitted at the sides. The front is just pulled up straight–a fit guaranteed to obscure the breasts on all but the bustiest of wearers.

    The waist detail is very nice, but not enough to save the dress as a whole from absurdity. So, a 3.

  8. I would give the dress an 8. I like the dress except for the halter neck, it doesn’t work for me. I love the print and the colours, and the drape of the skirt, and even tho I don’t really like the neckline if it was hanging in my wardrobe I would definitely wear it.

  9. Natalie says

    I love this dress. I think the draping is beautiful and expertly done. The pattern is perfectly suited to the 1930’s. It has an art deco feel and would not be out of place in this time era. BEAUTIFUL!


  10. Twinkle Toes says

    I love it! and would wear it now if only I could..
    The drape is gorgeous, the pattern maching at the waist draws the eye without needing extra detailing and I like the idea of lightness inspired by the feathers. A 10 from me.

  11. Julia Waite says

    This dress is so cool it hurts…Leimomi I want one!
    Great pattern matched with equally awesome fabric resulting in something utterly unique and beautiful. This is a work of art!

  12. I know I’m a bit late for this one, but I love it. I think even though it’s almost 75 years old, it could easily be worn today – in fact if I was the right body shape, I’d wear it this weekend :D.


Comments are closed.