Rate the dress
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Rate the Dress: Blue & silver brocaded satin, ca. 1914

Two weeks ago (we took a week off for me to Rate the Oscars) I showed a grass green gown from the 1860s.  The ratings were hugely clustered around “I really like this, but not quite enough to give it a 10, so here is an 8.5” or “This just seems a little meh to me – not terrible, but a 6”.  Quite a few people were surprised they liked it, which I always see as a huge triumph on the part of a dressmaker (as when Vionnet manages to make me like, nay love, a fringed dress!) – it’s almost better than when you already liked X thing, so of course you like dress full of X thing.

The dress came in at 7.7 out of 10

This week we turn from the structured geometry if the 1860s, to the soft draping of the 1910s

This evening gown from the Minnesota Historical Society features robins egg blue satin, brocaded with metallic gold or silver threads in a meandering floral pattern, interspersed with blond lace.

The dressmaker has arranged the lace and brocaded satin in panels which wrap around the wearers body, draping and pleating them, and tucking them under each other to create a sense of flow and movement.

The dress is an excellent example of how regional dressmakers interpreted European styles for local clients who had the opportunity and means to wear elaborate evening dress in lavish fabrics, but who chose to have their dresses made locally.

Despite the vivid colour, the dress is fairly conservative in cut, and is relatively large in size, indicating it may have been made for a more mature woman.

What do you think?  Do you like the balance of statement fabric and more restrained style?  Would the cut flatter a fuller figure?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

(and, of course, EVERYONE is welcome to have a say, no matter what your historical knowledge and experience is, just make sure that your comments are courteous and don’t attack any of the other commenters, or cast aspersions on anyone who may feel differently than you about a dress.  “This dress reminds me of a squashed toad on the road” is fine.  “Anyone who would like this is an idiot” is not!).

33 Comments

  1. Libby says

    This dress has me feeling really conflicted! The shade of blue and the draping really appeal to me — such a simple, pretty effect (though not the simplest to achieve!). The colors of the lace and the embroidery do not! The insertion at the side, in particular, looks really odd to me in that color, and sort of…. anatomical.

    But maybe the colors have shifted over time. I’ll say 7/10 overall.

    • Libby says

      Oh, and I had noticed and appreciated the fuller cut before actually reading the whole entry! I think this shape would be nice on a variety of ages and sizes.

  2. My first-glance reaction was “how lovely!” Then I realized that whenever I looked at it again, the bias draping looked less purposeful and more “I got it twisted putting it on and didn’t have time to straighten it”.

    Love the combination/colors of fabrics – elegant, yet not burdensome – and the nosegay is a lovely adornment.

    8.5 of 10

  3. Lontra Canadensis says

    I really liked it from the front, but then I got to the left-side view, where the resolution of the swirly drape panels just fails for me. I’m not skilled enough to know how to do it better, mind; but how it was done looks clunky. So averages out to a 7, I think.

  4. -“Oh no, my favorite evening gown no longer fits! But wait, if I rip it open here, and here too, and wear a lace gown underneath so it spills out through the openings… Yes, that will work! The extra lace goes nicely with the lace overlay on the bodice, so everyone will think it was intended all along. Whew! Darling, I’m ready to leave now!”

    The front view is nice; I really like the bodice and the draped skirt. The lace peeking out at the front of the skirt looked tolerable at first, but I really dislike the side view which spoils it for me. I give it 6 out of 10. I’d have loved to see what it looked like before she ripped it open. 😉

  5. MayravB says

    The colours are lovely, and I particularly like the shawl-y, sleeve-y top. I think it would be flattering on young, old, plump, or slim.
    I like the draping on the skirt mostly, but the narrow panel of blue on the wearer’s left throws it off, for me. The whole appeal of draping, for me, is how deceptively effortless it looks–“Oh, this? I was just haphazardly twisting and pinning and gathering and look how nice it turned out!” It’s the opposite feel to intricate seams and pleating, which are beautiful in a different way. Putting in that narrow panel makes it all seem more engineered somehow, and for me interrupts the flow.

    8.5/10

    • Kathryn says

      Yes, I agree completely with your take on draping, and how thsi draping in particular misses the mark. Well put!

  6. It looks like someone was trying to channel Paquin – I’ve seen that sort of asymmetrical drape and twist on Paquin dresses of the same period. And it more or less works, but not perfectly. The side seam slash DOES look like the dress split down the side and her lace undies are busting out. I think the blue and gold brocade isn’t quite the right fabric for this, as it is so stiff and imposing and regal, and not exactly meant for exotic drapery and swirly tricksy construction. The cute bodice sort of feels like it belongs to a completely different dress with a light, frothy, delicate skirt.

    But there’s very good ideas going on there. It’s a dress that ought to work. It has lots of good ingredients, but perhaps it was JUST a tiny bit beyond the dressmaker’s skill so that it just very, very, slightly didn’t work out.

    That’s just it. It should work, but unfortunately, sort of whooshes around the edge of the mark rather than hitting the bullseye perfectly. 7/10.

    • Elise says

      I agree, it looks like the dress was just out of range to the seamstress’s skill, or a product of isolation from a fashion center. My problem is that I feel too conflicted to give a score: would it be classist to score it low, because of the relative poverty of fashion? ARGH! I think that I will give it a 6/10. It has some merits, to be sure.

  7. The color/fabric is gorgeous, but I can’t help but think this would be really unflattering and matronly when worn.

  8. I think ti is lovely and I wish it was on a mannequin of the size of the original wearer. Those super slim arms make it seem out of proportion when really THEY are. Anyway, I do think it is lovely, and my only wishful moment is that the corsage be off centre not central – I find symmetrical elements mixed with asymmetrical elements rather off balance. Like the dressmaker or the wearer, whoever was making the design decisions, was taking elements from different fashion plates without taking in the whole effect. But the drape to the side does start in the middle so visually the line is there, so it works ok. I do wonder if the fichu was added to hide the wearer’s upper arms as the dress seems to work better when I tune it out. I wonder if that was added last at the wearer’s request to the mortification of the dressmaker? I often make up these vignettes in my head, having lived through so many of them – and people never change really do they!
    I give it 8.

  9. At first I really liked it and then the pattern of the blue fabric looked more and more like interior design fabric. The I realized that the folds and pleats looked kind of ramdom, like a curtain pulled to the side and then the mass of blonde lace became a lace curtain. And suddenly even the roses looked like the had been just taken out of the vase to complete this “let’s turn the living room into a dress” scenario.

    I can’t unsee it, really. I think the problem is that the dressmaker tried something lace-y and airy but kind of failed in the execution by being too stingy with the blue dress fabric and too generous with the lace.

  10. Rachel says

    While I would happily wallpaper my room in that blue and that print (ceiling and lampshade included), the dress doesn’t work for me.

    It’s the draping – it’s kind of lumpy, looks static rather than motion-ful (I’d say the draping isn’t sufficiently moving, but I don’t ask to always be moved by dresses), and doesn’t break up the dress in a very pleasing way. I can try to imagine how it might move and fall with an actual human inside of it, but I don’t think it would improve it all that much. The bodice doesn’t do much for me either.

    On the other hand, I like the blue, and there is a lot of it.

    5/10

  11. The soft colors are lovely. The draping reminds me, from the left-side profile view, of a sari.

    On the other hand, the front view is unexciting to me, and a little awkward. I can’t figure out what the bunch of pink roses is doing at the center of the neckline; it looks as though they wandered in and decided to nest there, to me. And I agree with the posters who think that the lace peeking out here and there on the sides looks odd.

    Would the dress flatter a fuller figure (assuming appropriate rescaling to the correct size)? I think that would depend on the woman’s shape. On a tall woman with generous but not extraordinarily large breasts it would look wonderful. On a larger woman who was pear-shaped, not so much. I’d have to see such a creation to be sure, though.

    Kudos for the dressmaker’s willingness to experiment, even though the results fail to thrill me. A 5 of 10.

  12. HoiLei says

    The top: I don’t like the lace fichu-cum-sleeves thing. It comes too low, I think; it would make a perky bosom look flat and a large bosom look saggy. The corsage would be better on the manikin’s right shoulder, to balance the lace detail on the left thigh.

    The bottom: I like the front view more than the side view. It would’ve been nice to see that side-swept panel from the front turning gracefully into something else at the back, instead of being truncated in a side seam.

    I wish I could see the back… seems like there’s an interesting flounce starting from the small of the back, which would look nice in motion.

    The colors: I like them, but I don’t associate them with the era. They seem too Louis IV, and the fabric too heavy for the Teens. Maybe the seamstress was stash-busting?

    7/10

  13. Ann Seabolt says

    7/10 the fabric & colors are lovely but the dress is rather matronly looking. It had the potential to be so much better than it is, but the draping looks rather haphazard.

  14. ceci says

    The more I look at it the better I like it…..except that I really need to see the back. And the very squared off train seems awkward and after-thoughty. And would be filthy so fast. But as a fantasy very nice, especially the rosebuds which seem to have just fallen and been caught rather low on the front bodice. 8 of 10, please.

    ceci

  15. Lynne says

    Lovely colours – the silk and the lace – and an overall pleasing shape. I do find the lace in the side off-putting, though.

    7 out of 10

  16. Kathryn says

    Huh. The last dress was from one of my least-liked eras, yet I loved it. And this week’s dress is from one of my all-time favourite eras, and yet…..nah. It doesn’t work for me. Blond lace is awesome, and so is robin’s egg blue, but they apparently don’t get along very well with each other. They really clash to my eye. Put too much awesome together and it just winds up competing! Which brings me to the cut and drape. The dressmaker was obviously really inspired by the client and the project, and had a number of awesome ideas. And then s/he proceeded to execute every single one of them on this dress. Asymmetry, contrast lace underlay peeking out, swooping panels, lacy fichu, inventive draping…it’s all too much. Replacing the blond lace wIth something paler, the fichu with some simpler robin’s egg cap sleeves, and eliminating that side seam peeking lace business would let the other details shine more. And, to top it off, that cluster of roses at the bust is a bit small, limp and underwhelming. Why not something brighter and more flamboyant to match the large presence of the rest of the dress? This outfit has good bones, but could use some serious editing. 6/10

  17. I love the combination of the lace and color of material, but unfortunately the asymmetry isn’t very well balanced, so it makes me worry that the mannequin is going to fall over (one of those visual illusions). I so want to love it… but… I have to give it 6 out of 10.

  18. Tracy R says

    I love the front so much; the lace fichu, the roses, the draping! Then I saw the side view and the narrow blue panel over the lace seemed so contrived and my overall impression was crushed. Not totally, but definitely just a 6 out of 10.

  19. Etta says

    I usually love this era, but not this dress- kind of the opposite reaction to what you mentioned in the post. The overall shape is pretty nice, and something I would personally find at least somewhat flattering, but the bodice is droopy and I have an irrational hatred of the color blue (don’t ask). Although the lower skirt draping is really rather lovely and effortless, the rest of it seems contrived and like someone just started adding stuff for the sake of adding stuff. I don’t get the floral decoration, but the pseudo-undergarment display slash is just wrong. It reminds me of how its stylish among certain groups to show visible bras- definitely risqué, but in the context of an overall conservative, somewhat matronly look it just doesn’t make sense to me.
    3/10, because the fabric would be nice in a different color

  20. Lyn Swan says

    As others have said, I was initially taken with this dress. The material is absolutely lovely, I would love to have about six yards to work with! That sais, I also concur that the side draping and lace insert is a bit awkward. I am not a fan of the nosegay on the bodice, but do not take points off for that. The dress should have ben wonderful, but alas does miss the mark. I do like the combinations of the blue with the gold lace….7/10 for me.

  21. Rebekah says

    I’ve never commented before, though I’ve followed your blog for years. This dress though. It is gorgeous! I adore the colors. 10.

    Thank you so much for all of your heard work! I have learned so much from it. 🙂

  22. I usually am a huge fan of anything and everything from this era… But there is just something about the skirt and draping that seems a bit off to me. Hmmmm…
    7/10

  23. I really love this dress; the colors are absolutely beautiful! The lace and the bodice are gorgeous. But I have to agree with everyone else, brocade is just too heavy to appear really graceful when draped. The simplicity of the design is smashing and something I would totally copy, I just personally would select a different fabric.

    Also: my first thought was that the colors were really youthful, but then I noticed that the dress was cut rather large. If it was a young heavy person that wore it, it would look great, but if it was an older heavy person that wore it, that might actually explain the draw to the brocade.

    I like this dress, but only on the condition that I know who wore it. 7/10

  24. This one is one of my favorite extant dresses – mainly because it’s my favorite color! I love that shade of robin’s egg blue. The pink roses on the front of the bodice balance the color perfectly. As for the dress itself, the way the lace is wrapped around the body is perfect. It’s a lot of lace but not so much that it’s overdone. It also gives the dress a lighter look given the heaviness of the brocade. I’ve always wanted to re-create this dress but haven’t found a good sub for the brocade yet – some day! 10 of 10

  25. Anna says

    I love the bodice and this colour, but I don’t quite understand the point of those cuts and draping. Plainer cut of a skirt would be much better 7,5/10

  26. JessieRoo says

    That lace showing at the left side seam is this dress’s down fall. Without it, this dress is a perfectly pretty evening gown of the era-not the most sophisticated or fashion forward, for sure, but nothing to be ashamed of wearing in public either. One of the things I like so much about 1910’s fashion is that women’s clothing styles did flatter women of many shapes, including non-waifish ones. 8/10

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