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Rate the Dress: 1820s flame red aerophane

Oh poor frock from last week! I think I doomed it by pointing out so clearly that it wasn’t Parisian.  If I’d only told you it was by Doucet you’d probably have lived it so much better!

As it was, so many of you disliked so much about it.  The skirt fabric (one of my favourite parts actually, for being such a fascinating textile) came in for particularly harsh criticism.  I would have rated it an 8 out of 10, for being the absolute perfect balance point between 1890s stiffness and 1900s too-much-froth, but alas, not enough of you agreed with me, and it came in at a paltry 5.2 out of 10.

Since you didn’t like the textured textile and the mix of different fabrics last week, this week’s selection is in just one colour, and predominantly one fabric.

This evening dress or ball gown of flame red aerophane silk (one that I missed when researching aerophane, due to a spelling error in the LACMA catalogue) features self-fabric streamers bound in silk satin which flow down the skirt and are caught up at the hem, where they are interspersed with large flowers fashioned in the same manner.

In the lightweight aerophane the whole gown would have floated and fluttered as the wearer danced in it.

Would the effect have been attractively eye catching, or absolutely appalling?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.

28 Comments

  1. Tricky one. I love the idea of flame-coloured fluttering gauze – it must have looked like ruddy autumn leaves caught up in the wind, or dancing flames, and I would be SO intrigued to see a replica of this dress in motion. I love how it moves in my imagination. It does look light and airy and floaty, and even though it is quite a “heavy” red, it is also a very lightweight fabric and I like the contrast of hue vs texture.

    Actually, I really like this, looking at it – I wonder what the underdress colour would have been – if it was red satin to match the trimming, it might have been too much, but over the white mount, it does look much airier and lighter.

    I think it needs something at the waist, a simple satin belt, but otherwise, I’m giving it a 8.5/10.

  2. Johanne says

    Yes, yes, and yes again. Clothing for women from that period normally doesn’t appeal, but the material, the decorative gatherings of the skirt and especially the cuffs are all so pleasingly proportionate and well done. I hope the wearer loved it, too.

    9/10

  3. PepperReed says

    Glorious! Now I’m not a fan of those balloon sleeves, but they’re not *too* big and the lightness of the fabric makes them less fussy. The decorations follow the line of the dress and the color is lovely — I agree it looks best with a light colored underdress. I’d Mos Def want to wear it!

    A solid 9/10.

  4. I’m of two minds again.

    On the one hand, the cluster of streamers at the hem falls in a lovely way, and the draping of the bodice is beautiful.

    On the other hand, the sheen of the silk combined with the transparency of the sleeves looks…odd. Almost as if the gown were made of cellophane, rather than aerophane. And Daniel is right that it could use a belt of some kind.

    7.5 out of 10.

  5. I find this amazing (in a pleasing way). The combination of such a diaphanous fabric and bold color is unusual without being freakish.

    9 of 10

  6. Aleksei says

    Utterly gorgeous. I usually don’t like a lot of the transitional period from Regency to Victorian, but this one charms me. It must be the colour and the effect of the streamers, I love that detail. 9/10, because holy sleeves, Batman.

  7. Julia Ergane says

    I am not sure about the bodice. The shirring between the breasts is too much because the bodice is too long. I would prefer the Napoleonic/Regency look there. Otherwise, the dress is really quite beautiful. 8.5/10

  8. Rachel says

    Last year, you did a Rate the Dress for a 1830s red silk moire from the Met – this immediately reminded me of it. If I’m remembering right, I mewled about that dress’ enormous sleeve puffs, and I guess I still have that problem. The earlier 1800s don’t offer a whole lot for me.

    BUT … this is kinda cool. Very unique, and probably very arresting when worn. I can just imagine how stunning candlelight glimpsed through the aerophane would have been. I can guess it was probably a bit titillating, even though the dress’ actual lines aren’t unusually revealing.

    For a period I don’t really like, this is a really interesting and unique dress. The flame-like embellishments on the hem are very cool. The allover aerophane (which makes me think of another -phane, cellophane) is a bit much, but it doesn’t look bad. And the only things I flat out dislike are the ruffs along the cuffs. They just seem a bit too clowny. But they’re also kind of growing on me.

    I’d love to see this with a glittering, embellished belt for contrast. And maybe a sparkling brooch for the bodice.

    8.5/10

  9. Deanna says

    What lovely fabric! The effect when in motion must have been charming. The streamers and trimmings give it a distinct look. I thought the trim on the lower skirt looked a little heavy at first, but after second look, I think that was the effect of shadows in the second photo. Looking at the trim close-up, it is an unusual shape and well-balanced. It gives a sense of movement all on its own. The shape combined with the color made me think of flames. The trim on the skirt and cuffs echo each other nicely. The sleeves are pretty, and the puffs seem rather restrained for this period. I wonder if it is missing its belt? I found the petticoat distracting, but maybe it’s not original to the gown. I think this is another gown that could have gone to a summer Christmas Ball.

    8.5

  10. 10. Oh, 10. 10.
    A teensy percentage off because I’m not sure I adore the gauzy cuffs as I adore the rest of the outfit, but still:

    10/10

    Makes me want to have Doctor-like abilities just so I could morph into a raven-haired beauty and use my time machine to dance the night away (and just skewer some of the beaux’ hearts) in some 1820 candle-lit ball room.

  11. I love the color of this dress, and the bodice is absolutely awesome! Normally, large sleeves that resemble balloons are a no no for me, but the drape of this fabric is keeping the puffs stiff, without being too upright.

    I also like the slight nod to flames on the skirt; that is something I don’t think I would have imagined on an 1820’s dress. While I like it….I can’t help but wonder if it read as just a little costume-y for the era.

    8/10

  12. Susan Haseltine says

    This is one that requires being seen in it’s period, freshly pressed, on a moving woman. I can imagine it would be like flames, rather than the bedraggled rust of it’s current condition. If the potential I imagine for it was realized then it would have to be my favorite garment from a lamentable period. 9/10

  13. 9 out of 10 for me! I looooove the skirt, the bodice is great but I’m not a big fan of the sleeves. I especially like the (I think) satin binding on the fluttery bits at the hem…it gives some definition and texture to them.

  14. Sarah says

    I think it’s a splendid colour and love the skirt, especially the moire patterns you see with the multiple layers.
    The bodice however is odd – the shirring/gathering in the centre looks like the body of a moth/butterfly then the gathered fabric wings spreading out over the bust…

    so 7/10

  15. I don’t care for the twiddly bits at the bottom but the rest is fine. 7/20.
    Now when do we get to critique the mannequin – because I really hate this one.

  16. I echo the above comments about fluttering leaves, flame, and the dress in motion… but the photograph makes me think of the movie Carrie. You know the poster picture, right? Girl against dark background covered in blood? The red over whit in the picture accentuates the illusion, especially in the folds where the red is darker. This brings to mind a more Pride and Prejudice and Zombies version of the wearer’s hypothetical ball!

    Other than that, I like everything about it. I just can’t get dripping blood out of my head. I hope the original wearer wore a different color underdress– orange, maybe, instead of white!

    9/10

  17. Lyn Swan says

    8/10 This is one of the many dresses that I believe would be charming on a real lady, but suffers from presentation on the stark white mannequin. Wonderful bodice,sleeves and skirt. It would be a joy to dance in.
    I do like the aerophane silk, Sadly It is hard for me to get beyond the color…not quite bronze or red, just not to my liking. Perhaps with (as someone else mentioned) a different colored underdress? Maybe brown or bronze?

    • Wearing this gown over an underdress of bronze–especially a shiny bronze silk that looks metallic–would be very interesting. I bet it would be fantastically gorgeous.

  18. This dress feels rather boudoir to me, probably because of the white under dress. It’s gorgeous, but feels intimate.

    I’ll agree with other posters, it would be amazing to see it moving, and in general I’m curious what the original under dress was.

  19. Lauren says

    Rather boring. The lovely colour is watered down too much by the white underlay, and the sheerness together with the many gathers and flouncy bits makes it all look kind of messy. I like the lines. It would probably look much better on a real person. 6/10

  20. This is right about the point where fashion turns into what I consider unbearable levels of ridiculousness for about twelve to fifteen years. (I wonder if that means I shuld turn to this point for the “Ridiculous” challenge? But I don’t want to because I have no use for it…)

    … anyway, it has traces of that ridiculousness in my eye, but also a lot of saving graces. The light and airy fabric helps a lot; in heavier fabrics or 2D fashion plates, that passion for heavy decoration coupled with this approximate silhouette comes across badly, but this is like the platonic ideal of all that. I still don’t like it to begin with, but it actually works here. So it’s an 8 from me, for being, well, dignified?

  21. I just don’t like it. The bodice is odd, the sleeves, whilst not as puffy as some (which is a mercy) instead look kind of droopy, and the decoration on the skirt looks rather strange at rest (I think it would look interesting if we could see it when the wearer was moving.) I’m also not a fan of the red over white colour scheme. 2/10

  22. Delicious. It’s such a weird period of fashion and this is the first dress I’ve seen that makes my heart go pitter pat. RED!! Over a pale colour, so all the diaphanous qualities and depths of fabric layers just glow. I think it shows an incredibly understanding of fabric and design, and restrained opulence. And so much better for not being shown with one of those weird poky hair dos that the wearer probably had!
    Actually the neutral mannequin is probably a bonus 😉
    9/10

  23. Wendy says

    hmm bit of a tricky one. I don’t actively like it, but I don’t actively dislike it either. In another colour I’d like it better. The aerophane silk and its satin binding is intriguing. I don’t dislike the gathering on the bodice; it looks like the wearer has a big butterfly sitting on her chest.

    The highness of the mannequin’s bosom is a bit weird though. It’s throat-throttling boobie time.

    Hate the wristlets.

    7/10

  24. LoriWatk says

    I’m really glad someone mentioned intimates, bedroom wear. It’s far too intimate for me to consider this a dress… Which makes me think of a few questions, please feel free to answer them since this is the only place to get an answer for a question like this. Since there is no front opening I’m assuming (and keeping a very vulgar response to assuming anything to myself) that this is actually a dress not a night dress. What lady would venture outside in this dress? Ladies of this time frame would not knowingly show their under garments especially not in public, so once again I’m assuming that the under garments were a dark color, maybe even black or even a blackberry color. Maybe it’s just me being old fashioned (and I’ve worn Daisy Dukes) but I do not see this as being for a proper lady. Summer dance? Maybe but it still bounces off my moral compass! So onto my questions…
    Is this from England or France?
    Would a lady still be considered a lady if she wore this outside? Wasn’t it very expensive to dye fabrics then? A woman would most likely have had her under garments made or dyed to a respectable color to match the outside color, right?
    I understand (it’s hard to imagine but I do understand) that Christmas is not cold everywhere in the world but would this not be more costume then ball gown?
    I give it a 3 out of 10 far too much I dislike then like, actually I can’t seem to get past the color.

    • I’d say you’re taking a very modern approach to undergarments in looking at this dress. There are widespread, notable instances of sheer fashions, that show what we think of as undergarments, in the 1810s-30s, again in the 1860s, and again in the 1900s and 1910s. In all these eras extremely proper, moral ladies could wear sheer garments that showed their petticoats, corset covers, and other undergarments without being the least bit risqué – and this dress is just an example of that. Coloured or dyed undergarments would actually probably have been more risqué than the white showing through. Even beyond that, undergarments as we think of them today are a very modern concept. In the 18th century (not very far at all from this dress) we know that a lady could receive visitors of both genders in her chemise and stays, and that poor women would wear only chemise and stays when working publicly in hot weather. Chemise and stays weren’t undergarments that MUST stay under the clothes, they were just the initial layer that must be worn. The sheer muslin dresses of the Regency, immediately preceding this dress in era, would show the undergarments as much as this one does. As long as the skin was covered, it really was not remarkable, risqué, or even mildly saucy that this dress shows the petticoat.

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