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Rate the Dress: Chiffon, stripes & tucks ca 1900

Last week I showed you an 1880s dress, with a skirt that had been re-made from an 18th century petticoat.  You were almost unanimously in favour of the petticoat – though not necessarily remade into a 19th century gown, a bit of re-use which frankly, horrified some of you!  The more recent additions to the ensemble got mixed reviews.  Some of you REALLY didn’t like it (it’s hard to get past our modern sensibilities that see quilting like that as a home furnishing look, rather than a clothing look), and some of you REALLY liked it.  The dis-likers brought the score down to a still very positive 8 out of 10.

This evening dress by obscure French designer Raoul Lafontan features the soft, romantic, slightly transitional 1900s silhouette, with the bodice moving from the more fitted 1890s style, towards the full pigeon breast of ca. 1904.

The bodice fullness may be slightly restrained, but the colours, fabrics, and other design details are heading intp full-blown Edwardian mode.  The dress is made from fabric striped in chiffon and eu-de-nil satin, with the chiffon sewn together in tucked pleats for most of the skirts, only releasing to its fullness near the hem.

The dress is trimmed in eau-de-nil chiffon and a gauzy ecru fabric, looped round the neckline in asymmetrical swags, and bound around the arms in a style that evokes Greek & Roman drapery.

There is a slight suggestion of fading and darking in the fabrics of the dress, so it may have been slightly lighter and brighter originally, though the golden ecru and palest eu de nil were certainly fashionable shades in the first five years of the 20th century.

What do you think of the dress?  I think we can all agree that Lafontan displays exceptional technically mastery in this dress.  But does that make it a good design?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I love the skirt. And like the back of the bodice. The front of the bodice looks a bit frumpy/crushed/boring in comparison. So, 8/10?
    That skirt, though… that’s so brilliant. And must have been time-consuming and boring to sew.

  2. There are things I like about it. The silhouette is lovely, just the perfect transition between two fashion styles. I also admire the workmanship of all the pleats in the skirt. There are things I really don’t like though. I’m trying to look away from the colours and think that they might have looked better when new, but the trim around the neckline only looks like a wash rug that has been thrown onto the dress. As much as I admire the pleats for their technical difficulty, I think they make the skirt look too heavy and too much like a quilt. In totaly I give it 6 out of 10, because the silhouette is still wonderful.

    • Marie says

      I agree about the pleating. It’s such a beautiful, light, fabric yet I feel that the pleating makes it look heavy and matronly. I love the colours and the fabric though so 8/10

  3. I have always loved the look of the Edwardian skirt, because it is both graceful and natural (no distortions like bustles or hobbles), and this skirt is a remarkable exemplar. The bodice, perhaps due to the consequences of aging, doesn’t particularly appeal — it’s not outright offensive; the eye just sort of glides over it without registering on the way to the skirt.
    10 for the skirt, 6 for the bodice, so 9 overall, since the skirt really deserves a greater influence in my vote

  4. The silhouet is really nice, and the pleating gorgeous and so smart.

    But I really don’t like the drapey stuff around the neckline and arms, it remembers me of fishermans nets and while I usually really like associations that have to do with sea/fishing/boats this doesn’t seem to work for a dress thats supposed to be elegant.


  5. The skirt has a lovely shape from the back….

    Otherwise, I don’t like this much. I’m trying to account for the fact that such delicate fabrics have undoubtedly gotten smashed down over time, and that the original silhouette would have been gauzier, more furbelows than flaps. Even so, I still don’t like it. The color scheme is too muted, and the drapes on the bodice make it look shapeless rather than graceful. A 5 from me.

  6. Rachel says

    I was underwhelmed by the front view until I scrolled down to the skirt. I haven’t seen anything quite like it – it’s a really nifty (and lovely) effect, complementing the skirt’s long flutey shape and adding some contrast without resorting to a different fabric. I’d love to see that skirt in motion.

    As for the back, yes to fussy close-fitting elbow-length sleeves, and I like the overall shape and idea behind these, but the execution strikes me as a little lumpy. The back of the neckline hits the shoulders and back in a really lovely way, very graceful.

    But the front of the bodice still underwhelms me. It looks kind of half-baked and not-pleasingly asymmetrical. As much as I like the skirt, that bodice really drags down the score for me.


  7. To me, it looks unfinished. There is something missing and I think either some sort of short overly on the skirt of the matching chiffon or maybe a bit of the chiffon as trim at about the tea length part of the skirt, where the pintucks end to really emphasize the flair. It think the frumpiness of the bodice is due to a simple improper silhouette for this dress. The mannequin should have the full s-curve going on and it doesn’t. Also, it doesn’t look puffed out properly.

    7 out of 10

  8. Barbara Stevens says

    Maybe this dress just didn’t photograph well. The colours are less than muted – practically non-existent, dirty dishcloth springs to mind. The execution of the designers idea is exquisite, I just wish the colours did more for the design. Except for the dangly bits on the sleeves I love the design – those dangly bits must have been a real curse to the wearer of the dress, they would have caught on everything.
    And when will museum curators get some mannequins that conform to the correct body image for period clothes? I agree with Isabella that this dress would look much better on an s-shape torso.
    Rating: because the colours are so mucky I can’t give it any higher than 8/10.

  9. I love the rippling, almost watery texture of the pleated chiffon/satin – there is a stunningly beautiful 1956 Matilda Etches ballgown in the V&A made from a similar fabric treated in the same way. And the chiffon and ecru does add to the ripply watery effect. The chiffon does look a bit crushed and rumpled where it releases from the pleats, but it’s such a clever technique and compared to other dresses of the period, really very understated and minimalist. I do feel the waist needs something around it, as it seems a little exposed/unfinished, maybe it originally had a blue chiffon sash or draping around the waistband. I LOVE the back view, with all the fluttery bits and swishiness focused there, so that the dress has a real backwards sweep and movement. It really is a dress that repays gazing at and contemplating. Initially, I was a bit underwhelmed, but as I looked at it, I loved it more and more, for the details and the subtlety and the wittiness of the embellished sleeves. So I will say 8.5/10.

  10. The pleating is very clever, but I wish it was done in a different fabric. I’m trying to imagine the dress as it would have been originally, before the colours dulled with time, but even then I don’t think I would have liked it. It’s too bland and just not very appealing. 3/10.

  11. Lyn Swan says

    Transitioning from structured bodice to the Pouter Pigeon look…Wish that that one had been skipped all together, but, when new, this was revolutionary. A sexy appealing change. The pleating and back are brilliant…. I would have loved to have worn this dress.
    9/10 just because its age is showing.

  12. This is one dress that I wish I could’ve seen in its prime…I have a feeling the colors have muddied and the shape of the bodice has deteriorated a bit. And I can’t really say why…it just has a bit of a tired look to it.

    But those tucks. O my goodness, those tucks. And the release of them. Like an aging beauty queen…a little droopy, a little faded, but still showing the bone structure and grace that once made her the belle of the ball. 9/10

  13. I love the idea of the pleating in the skirt, but the bodice ruins it for me. The trim reminds me too much of wet rags and netting (yes, that sounds harsh, but it does!). And the dress looks like it is not positioned properly on the mannequin, so it doesn’t quite do the dress justice (at least that’s what it seems like to me).

    5 out of 10

  14. Lynne says

    I really, really like the pleating/tucks on the skirt! The way it gives it substance, the way the tucks open out so softly to the fullness, the way the tucks meet, centre back and front. The shape is overall very pleasing.

    But it is beige! Beige! You might as well put stones in your cardigan pockets and head for a river! So depressing. I was trying to think of the kind of woman who would look good in this, and really couldn’t come up with one. A suntanned blonde amazon might be able to still look okay, but it is the kind of colour that eats most people.

    All that lovely style and effort, wasted.

    6 out of 10.

  15. I absolutely adore it. Silk chiffon is a terror for losing its oomph and I can just imagine it when it was new – the colours more distinct and the drapes graceful and elegant.
    That skirt! Oh me oh my! It is so gorgeous but whoever had that job must have just about been committed. And the drapes, the neckline is clever and the sleeves, well, they are different and how clever to put the details to the back of the sleeves which are so often decorated along the topline.
    I love transitional garments, so often capturing the best of past and future together, or he worst which can be interesting too.
    I think this captures the best.
    I give it a 9.5

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