Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Elizabeth Craven, Lady Powis, in flora and fauna

Last week’s Rate the Dress entry was an 1860s gown transitioning from late crinoline to early bustle.  The general consensus was that the transition was a bit problematic – the lace hip ruffle, and unresolved bustle fullness, plus the hard-to-swallow (pun intentional) from a modern viewpoint high throat, but that the dress still had a lot of lovely points – earning it a respectable but not stellar 7.6 out of 10.

This week we’re looking at a 17th century portrait featuring Elizabeth Craven, Lady Powis, in a coordinating jacket and skirt featuring embroidered flora and fauna.

The elaborate embroidery on the skirt and bodice highlight Elizabeth’s skill as a needlewoman, and her knowledge of plants and animals.  The sheen of fabric suggests that the embroidery might have been done on silk, rather than the more common linen.  This, along with her sumptuous double-pearl earrings, pearl necklace, and lush lace cuffs and collar, demonstrate her wealth.

The portrait makes a clear statement about Elizabeth’s status and accomplishments.  Does it do an equally successful job of speaking up for her taste?

Previous early 17th century fashions (invariably portraits) on Rate the Dress have been criticised for the improbably low necklines, which manage to dip well below the armpits without showing the slightest hint of cleavage, and the more peculiar silhouettes, like hanging sleeves and wheel farthingales.  Will Elizabeth, with her V neckline and more subdued silhouette, fare better?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.

31 Comments

  1. I can’t look at it without thinking “where did she hide her bust?” Now that said I really like the jacket, I think it gets a bit too much with the skirt though. I would really have liked to see the jacket on its own, with a monochrome skirt. The silhouette is quite simple and clean, in a way it feels quite non-specific timewise. I like it, but I don’t love it, so it comes in to a 6/10.

  2. Julia Ergane says

    Her embroidery skills are top notch and the colour selections are marvelous. The 17th century is so tricky because Elizabethan modes are still in evidence early. This dress has definitely lost the Elizabethan and is firmly in the late (early) Stuart period (before Charles II). I tend to like the design of this period better as most of the ruffs have been left behind and the clothing, especially the skirts, seem to be flowing much better. I really like this dress and will rate it a 10/10.

  3. I love the more natural lines of the Stuart era, and the embroidery is spectacular without being gaudy. I like the partial lining of the lace cuffs and color, linking them to the embroidery.

    10 of 10

  4. Seems like the painters were focusing on the print and pattern of the dress and forgot about shape and form of the person, so I will ignore the lack of human shape… that embroidery design is awesome. I love it so much, I’m saving the image as a reference. I love the way the embroiderer handled the birds and butterflies at different angles. Can’t stand the lace, though, so it’s a
    7/10

  5. Oh, I do like this one – the whimsical embroidery on a neutral ground and the sharp contrast of oranges and russets. Excellent taste, Lady Powis! 10/10

  6. Emily says

    I’m seeing a faint white line across her throat, just above the necklace – I believe she’s hiding her bust under some kind of shift/partlet/fichu/what have you. It’s a natural carryover from the styles of the previous century.

    • Sally Nelson says

      agreed. muslin chemise or shift was all the go – and also protected the clothes from body odour etc.

  7. I want that jacket. I think I have a plan for a fetching length of Arts and Crafts inspired fabric in my stash. I even have a collar. So,I must love it. I do. Not quite so low cut mind.
    It’s lovely, I like the simplicity of the shapes and lines after Elizabethan geometry and engineering. I remember when the extreme looks of the the late 80’s started to dissolve away i the mid 90s to much softer but sill sumptuous styles, so I can relate to what was probably the relief of all concerned.
    10/10

  8. 10/10. The fabric and embroidery sing. The lace is used sparingly and to great effect, and I love the underlay of deep pink which allows the lace design to show. Plus, the silhouette and styling are graceful and not needlessly exaggerated or distended.

  9. The only thing I dislike about this ensemble is the neckline. It’s not indecent, like some early Stuart necklines, but it’s awkward and ugly. However, the embroidery, fabric, and colors are lovely, and I like the simple jacket-and-skirt style. A 7.5.

  10. Barbara Stevens says

    Every time I see a picture of this era I wonder how did they move their arms? You couldn’t lift your arms very high with that sleeve cut.
    However – that embroidery is spectacularly beautiful and the lace is pretty fantastic too – just a bit much together though, for me. But as that was the fashion of the time, so we must accept it. I agree that she is wearing some sort of false front/ under bodice thingy, look carefully and it seems there is something there – even if not, this is not an exceptionally low cut jacket.
    Overall, I give it 8/10, mainly because I think while it is a feast for the eyes I think it must have been quite restrictive to wear.

  11. PatW says

    I too sense a sheer white fabric filling the neckline. Love the embroidery; the lace is perfect. I’ll give it a 10/10

  12. Louisa S. says

    As a normally lurking but rarely commenting enthusiast of textiles AND scientific illustration, I have to chime in on this dress- I think it is gorgeous! I like the subdued silhouette and to my eye either piece would work in a modern wardrobe (perhaps sans lace, though). I find this ensemble super inspiring and for me this is a 10/10!

  13. I like the overall look. How feminine it looks with the lace and the pink. And the contrast between the silver/ivory and gold/yellow is very nice.

    9 out of 10.

  14. Gail says

    I think the dress is lovely. The embroidery is thought out and balanced. Also the lace softens the red collar and cuffs.

    9/10

  15. I would so wear that. Clobber for a muse: so many creative
    inspirations with the symbols, colours and design.

    10/10

    As an aside, I watched the Streisand version of “A Star is Born”
    on DVD recently and much of the costumes Babs wore (from her
    own wardrobe) had elaborate embroidery like this. Echoes of
    the House of Merivale & Mr John (clikum name)

  16. Lynne says

    As well as looking stunning and rich, this lady manages to look comfortable. That has to count. This transitional stage works very well as attractive and practical clothing.

    A very beautiful portrait and outfit. The embroidery, the fabric, the lace – all outstanding. I agree with Daniel that the colour under the lace is very pleasing. Nothing like keeping the jewellery simple, either. Just earrings, with pearls the size of pigeon’s eggs, and a perfectly matched pearl necklace, with pearls the size of marrow fat peas!

    10 out of 10. (Because I’m not allowed to give 11.)

  17. Having read the chapter on Margaret Layton’s waistcoat in Seventeenth Century Women’s Pattern, while thoroughly regretting that life’s just too short, I covet this outfit. This has ironically very little to do with wanting to wear it. In fact, the cut on its own is dowdy, if not downright ugly. The sleeves look uncomfortable and her upper chest region is very strange.

    But this jacket is not its questionable cut. It’s literally years spent on tiny stitches. 10/10.

  18. I think it’s glorious, it’s designed to show off the fabric and it succeeds in that beautifully. The chest area is a bit odd, but as said previously it’s probably got something sheer in that area to protect the skin and the fabric. If you’ve gone to that much effort to embroider it you won’t be wearing it directly against the torso without something between it and you.

  19. Sara says

    Wow, she looks so natural and comfortable. The fabric is beautifully decorated and the lace cuffs look lovely with the relatively severe cut of the 2-piece dress. As a design it reminds me very much of a 50s matron’s suit which she incidentally looks far to young for. I love it, beautifully pulled together. I wouldn’t wear it without adjustment in 2015 but it is certainly inspirational, more particulary from pattern usage and embroidery skills envy. 9.5

  20. Rachel says

    Not at all my favorite period, but… I like this. I think what’s really drawing me is the embroidery. It’s so pearly and opulent, and I think the two designs play well together. And the colors are great, the soft grays with the gold and coral. The neckline’s too deep, but I think a deep V is the right choice, counteracting the wide, structured hips.

    Maybe it’d be overwhelming in real life. It could be Lady Powis in a 17th Century clown suit. I can only guess. I haven’t read the other comments, and if they point out key flaws, I might be talked out of it, but I’m going to go with my initial, unsullied score.

    8/10

  21. Elina G says

    How could I not like that, practicing my embroidery for such a jacket. I find, however, the combination of silvery fabric and gold a bit curdling. The neck line is funny. Could it be the jacket was made with red lining and she has left the top untied and opened it up and softened the result with lace? Similar treatment for cuffs. The shift/smock is very plain. Was she maybe feeling too hot buttoned up or wanting to exhibit her pale bosom? Background is nice too. And is that a lace tablecloth?

  22. Elina G says

    Oops. Forgot to add 9/10 (loss of points due to sliver/gold clash).

  23. marie says

    the jacket looks like it has been embroidered with caterpillars.
    5/10

  24. Erin says

    I must try this embroidery pattern! I don’t mind the shape of this outfit at all, but I do think the lace cuff and collar make this look a little too dowdy for me. 8/10

  25. 8/10 from me, I think, because I’m torn between “spectacular” and “kind of weird”. It seems like the embroidery on the skirt is denser in the front than at the sides, and I can’t decide if it’s an intention, or the artist’s mistake, or just a result of the folds? And the neckline, once again, really seems too deep, which I’m not sure I like in combination with its shape and the lace around it. Although I suspect this really is the artist’s fault and that it would have looked nicer in person, without the distortion caused by the artist’s shaky grip on perspective and shape.

  26. Wow! Stunning embroidery, beautiful lace. Not my colours, but so what? 10/10 and respect for her skills.

  27. Would she have done the embroidery herself? It is stunning. I just love the fact that her dress is decorated with embroidered botanical and zoological illustrations. I’ve never seen a better way of telling the world that you’re a nerd scholar. 10/10

  28. I love the rich embroidery from this period, and this is a awesome (and I mean awesome) example. Great colors for her and the fit looks right. Fabulous use of the lace with just enough color underneath to complement the embroidery and avoid an outright clash. Wonderful. 10/10.

  29. Meiriona says

    While the embroidery is fantastic, it’s too busy for me. Had the skirt been more subtle, I might like it more. The embroidery on the jacket draws the eye wonderfully, but when it continues to the rest of the ensemble it becomes too much and I lose interest in seeking out the details. Also the ribbon in her hair looks downright silly. A solid 8.5/10, with a subtler touch on the embroidery it would have been perfect.

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