18th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 18th century brocaded silks

Last week’s 1910s suit had a few serious admirers, but also cropped its fair share of criticism: the colours were quite dull, the collar too frivolous, the cuffs awkwardly sized, the proportions off, the pressing issues too distracting, and the presentation poor. I think you’re going to have to learn to forgive the last two from time to time, as if I only chose perfectly pressed and styled and presented garments, my pool to choose from would be so limited, and my choices so well known, it would quite take the fun out of Rate the Dress!  Whether it was the styling or just the cumulative effect of all the little flaws, the suit only managed a 6.8 out of 10 – not terrible, but certainly not stellar.

This week’s dress also comes from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Made of rich, brocaded silk (of plain weave, with supplementary wefts forming the pattern, alas the MFA does not tell us if they are left loose as continuous wefts, or cut short on the back of the fabric) my choice continues yesterday’s theme of brocade, damask and jacquard. The dress has a lovely provenance.  In 1740 it was worn as a wedding gown by Mary Waters, of Salem, Massachusetts.  Twenty-three years later her daughter (also Mary Waters) had it restyled in the fashions of the 1760s, and also wore it as her wedding dress. There are three available images of the gown, and they give three very different options for styling.  First, a youthful, romantic look, with an 1760s inspired hairstyle, as it might have been worn by the younger Miss Waters as a bride.

Then, the gown as worn by an older woman – as if the elder Mary Waters had simply allowed her daughter to borrow the gown, and then wore it again herself for years to come.

Finally, a back view (sadly, not in colour) with an interesting cap, so that we can admire the beautifully done pleating:

What do you think of the dress, the vivid green, the striking 1730s brocade?  Is it really a dress for all seasons and all decades? Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

37 Comments

  1. I like the color (it’s a lovely dark green) and the stomacher, and the styles of the mid-1700s are so graceful. However, the pattern of the dress does not appeal to me, and the stomacher isn’t the best match for it. So I’d say a 7.

  2. Belinda says

    I like it best styled for the older woman. It’s lovely, but it doesn’t totally grab me styled in the younger way. 8/10

  3. holly says

    that dark green brocade is stunning. The stomacher not so much.

    Scored only for the brocade; 9/10

  4. Truly love the main color, and oddly enough the large scale of the print I find quite pleasing, as I do the stomacher (and even both of them in combination. The lace trimming I also find to be beautifully combined.

    This is one I truly wish I could wear.

    9 of 10

  5. Susan says

    10 out of 10 for me. Gorgeous colors, gorgeous lines, and nice to see something so becoming to a lady of a certain age.

  6. The fabric is wonderful! As is the back – the pleating is so neat. But what happens on the front, on the knees? Strange. And it fits the older lady better, she has more of a bust to fill it out. 🙂 It’s an 8 for me.

    • The gown’s open in front, over a matching petticoat – at knee level, the petticoat has a ruffle. But all in the same fabric, it’s hard to distinguish what’s going on!

  7. Wow. Isn’t it impressive that there used to be a time when clothes were passed on from mother to daughter 30 years later and were actually worn as a wedding dress then? I wish clothes were still valued like this.
    I think it’s a very pretty robe. I am not a big lover of green but even I have to admit that it’s a very nice shade of green and I love the pattern. 9/10.

  8. I like the main colour, but the overall pattern is too large for my taste, and I’m not a fan of the stomacher. The one thing that makes me awed is the pleating in the back, and that gets the dress up to 7/10.

  9. I’m not a big fan of green bit I like the pattern, I think it’s interesting that it’s pictured with two different stomachers, are they both original?

    8/10

    • I’m pretty sure both stomachers are original, but I don’t know if either one of them was originally worn with the dress.

  10. Amber Walker says

    I love it! I’m 22 and I’d wear it!
    8/10

  11. letthemeatcake says

    Now was this dress considered a l’anglaise or a la francais ? Anyhow looks like by the mid 18th century there were already some skilled dressmakers around in the colonies. It’s interesting how the rather rural “new world” with its puritan and more democratic values interpreted ancien regime grandeur. But looks like at that time they sticked pretty close to the original, especially if I imagine it worn with a bow under her neckline or a full row of them running down the stomacher and a nice rococo choker…yet I could imagine the lady wearing it used a little less rouge than her european counterpart and she might have covered her décolleté with a nice fichu. The green looks rich and fresh but it doesn’t quite “talk” with the beige embroidered stomacher….and a row of plain silk bows in the right colour would please me more.I prefer the smaller panniers on the first picture since large hoop skirts are more court dress- ish in my imagination and this wasn’t were those american settlers were going.All in a all I give it an 8 because a good quality 18th century dress can hardly do wrong and I like the story that comes with it.

    • letthemeatcake says

      Not sure If a row of bows would be to bulky here…maybe one would do but with the stomacher in the fabric of the dress…

    • Elise says

      This exactly matches my own sentiments, and I will plagiarise your score: 8

  12. Erin says

    I love this fabric in the first photo – the deep green and large pattern look so rich! For me the stomacher and the lace trimming add a necessary distraction so that the main fabric pattern doesn’t get overwhelming. Really lovely. 9/10

  13. fidelio says

    The combination of the name Mary, with New England, the era in question, and green brocade wedding dresses led me to wonder if this was Ocean-born Mary’s wedding dress, made from the pirate’s silk, but that apparently only survives in pieces.

    But it’s a lovely dress, even if it’s a different Mary. 8/10, as I too wonder what’s happening around the knee level on the skirt there.

  14. I’ve never been over-fond of the early 18th century large-scale brocades. This may be one of the reasons the gown looks better on the more statuesque older mannequin–it overwhelms the more lithe figure completely. She looks buried by brocade!

    However, the construction is just stunning–I love the back pleats of the earlier anglaise styles! I love the details of the sleeve flounces and trim, and the ruffle on the petticoat (barely visible in some lights, per photo #1!).

    Not fond of the lace neckline trim–looks a little stuffy for my taste.

    Overall, 7.5/10.

    • Elise says

      I feel the same way about all of the rail-thin young models wearing the large flower prints fashionable right now on runways. The print is not to scale with the person.

  15. juliaergane says

    I love Georgian style in general; and, this dress does not disappoint at all. I absolutely love the dark green brocade!!! The first example would definitely be in my closet. 9.5/10

  16. I prefer the stomacher on the “older” lady mannequin. The colour balance in the first picture is gorgeous though and probably closer to reality. I think the “odd cap” in last pic is actually a rather dubious fabric “wig” substitute.

    The dress DOES look better on the older figure.

    It depends. If you LOVE brocade, which I do, and 18th century styles, which I do, then this is gorgeous. But at the same time – it is kind of generic. A superb example of its kind and very special, but I’m gonna say 8/10 because excellent as it is, it does not have that special spark to raise it above other equally lovely brocade gowns of similar date and style.

  17. Brenda says

    I love the gorgeous lace of the sleeves and the bodice. I also really like the pattern of the stomacher(?). What I don’t love is the green color: in the first picture, it looks too dark and in the second picture the shade looks, I don’t know…kind of tacky. But overall, a lovely dress in what is to me a classic example of an 18th century dress.

    8/10

  18. Mmmm…I’d say 8. I don’t like the color, but it is still really pretty.

  19. The back pleating is stunning, and the fabric is very beautiful. And I like 18th century styles in general. 9/10

  20. Johanne says

    I love this dress—almost. It took four days to come to that conclusion, much moving from one photo to another, appreciating the back, the stomacher on the dress for the younger figure, the glorious material, the cascade of flowing lace on the sleeves. At first I thought Scarlett O’Hara had been at the curtains again, but that proved to be only color and weight of the material. It’s not a gasp-er but someone paid close attention to designing and executing the dress.

    8.5/10

  21. Johanne says

    I love this dress—almost. It took four days to come to that conclusion, much moving from one photo to another, appreciating the back, the stomacher on the dress for the younger figure, the glorious material, the cascade of flowing lace on the sleeves. At first I thought Scarlett O’Hara had been at the curtains again, but that proved to be only color and weight of the material. It’s not a gasp-er but someone paid close attention to designing and executing the dress.

  22. Not my era but if I were to wade into that one I think I’d want a dress like that! Lovely color! 10/10

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