This week’s rate the dress is a little delayed because I read the comments on last week’s Rate the Dress and thought ‘uh oh…’
I owe you guys an apology for last week’s post. I was in a hurry when I wrote it, and while I thought I indicated that Fannie’s outfit, while rarely seen in paintings or photographs, was a common, and totally proper and unexceptionably, outfit, I obviously didn’t make it clear enough. So Fanny copped a lot of criticism which assumed that what she was wearing was scandalous, or intentionally rebellious, because the sheer blouse showed her corset cover. From a modern perspective, this makes sense – we’re not that far off from an era when a peep of petticoat was naughty or slovenly, and even today exposed bra straps are forbidden in many school dress codes.
However, Fanny’s corset cover would not have been considered an undergarment in the same way a bra is. It’s much more like a camisole under a sheer shirt: totally appropriate under any circumstances that matched the formality of the rest of the outfit. Fanny and her portraitist weren’t trying to deliberately flaunt authority – they were merely showing an upper class young lady in an outfit that was perfectly acceptable for her social class and age.
The perception that undergarments in and of themselves are ‘naughty’, or even the way in which we classify undergarments, is quite modern. Throughout the 18th c there were situations in which women of all social classes could show parts or all of items that we think of as undergarments (chemises, stays, etc). There were also garments, such as petticoats/skirt, which could be layered as undergarments on cold days, or appear as outerwear on warmer. More recently, there are numerous decades and fashions in the 19th and early 20th century when showing certain undergarments was totally acceptable. Among them is the use of beautifully decorated corset covers under sheer blouses and swiss waists, as we see on Fannie.
Because of the confusion I am not going to count the rating for Frances Adeline, as I don’t feel she got a fair and accurate viewing. We’re always going to judge with a modern eye, but I try to provide context so we can at least have an idea of how an outfit was perceived at the time, and this time I didn’t. I do apologise for that: it’s entirely my fault for not presenting the painting with enough background or social history about the outfit, and it’s something I’ll try to avoid in the future. Rate the Dress is meant to educate as well as entertain!
This week I’m presenting another outfit with a bit of misinformation – this one coming from the museum itself. This lace confection by Doucet is labelled a ball gown, but it’s clearly an afternoon reception dress. If it were a ball gown, it would have a low, exposed neckline, and would be significantly less likely to have a train (they aren’t that easy to dance in, after all).
The date on the gown is also off by at least 5 years – by 1910 the puffed sleeves, very high Alexandra neckline, and full pigeon breast had disappeared, and the fuller trumpet skirt had become a slimmer column.
So, as a early 1900s afternoon reception dress, how do you like this confection in elarborate, and expensive tape lace?
Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10