Rate the dress
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Rate the Dress: Cherry Bad or Cherry Good?

Last week, rather than having a standard Rate the Dress, I did my annual Rate the Oscars post.  So we have to go back a fortnight to Henrietta Cavendish Holles, Countess of Oxford, and her blue-striped riding habit.  While some of you really loved it, and most of you agreed that she was wearing it with confidence, the universal opinion was that it just wasn’t working, and the riding habit came in at 6.5 out of 10 – which is right where most of the votes were clustered.

For this week’s Rate the Dress I’ve picked one based on my recent obsession with 1890s-1910s gored skirts, thanks to the Scroop Fantail skirt.  You could get a very similar shape to the dress below from the Fantail by adding a second side gore, and gathering the side and back gores, instead of pleating.  And adding lots, and LOTS of petticoats! (yes, I’ve been looking at museum catalogues for four months while I worked on the Fantail, thinking ‘yes, if you just did x and x very simple adaptations, you could make it from the Fantail!)

I have mixed initial feelings about this dress whenever I look at it, because I usually hate cherry patterned things because they are such a cliché in vintage fashion.  However, after the initial reaction, I try to do what I always do with period fashions, and envision it within the context of its time: before anything with cherries was an instant cheap, lazy way to make something ‘vintage’.

The fabric of this dress is warp-patterned silk, and would have been anything but cheap and clichéd in its time.  It’s a slightly unrealistic depiction of cherries, showing both the fruit and flower at the same time, but each is depicted with an attention to detail worthy of a botanical print.

Evening dress, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856–1926), 1898, French, silk, rhinestones, Met 2009.300.1099a, b

Evening dress, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856–1926), 1898, French, silk, rhinestones, Met 2009.300.1099a, b

(can we all pause for a moment of utter happiness while we note that the above photo gives a rare glimpse of how the skirt opens)

Evening dress, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856–1926), 1898, French, silk, rhinestones, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.1099a, b

Though the skirt is a classic, timeless style, the bodice of the dress is very much of its time, transitioning towards the soft frills of the Edwardian styles, and already displaying a pronounced pigeon breast.  Aptly for a ball gown, the dress is as extravagant from the back view as from the front, as that is what would be on display to the room as the wearer was held for a waltz.

Evening dress, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856–1926), 1898, French, silk, rhinestones, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.1099a, b

What do you think?  Is it three cheers for cherries, or all a bit over-ripe? (I should really love fruit-themed historical things.  The puns are all so deliciously (har har) bad).

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

43 Comments

  1. Baa says

    8/10 I can see this in the ball room dancing I really like the back. The front not so much

    • Agreed, i adore the back, and the beige / off white colour… but the front top is just not nearly as elegant as the back, and almost seems casual. 7/10

  2. The back and the front don’t seem to belong to the same dress… the back so dainty and sweet but the front so bold. The pigeonbreast always makes me think of a much more vivacious personality: “did you notice my bosom? No? Here!”. While cherries may be a “vintage” cliche now, at the time, wouldn’t they have been suggestive of virginity in the 1890’s? Perhaps a coming-out ball gown, debuting the young lady to prospective suitors? In that case, it’s more crass than cliche, and I kind of like it for its frankness.

    I love the fan-tail back, the gorgeous ruffly under-sleeves, and the deliciou print. Don’t love the pigeonbreast, but it does place it in its time. 8/10.

    • Lynne says

      youtube.combartleby.comWhile cherry blossom might be virginal, the cherries themselves suggested a readiness for love! A poem by Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674) was set to music in the Victorian era and was widely known and sung. “Cherry Ripe” was very popular. Here it is, sung by an American soprano. Imagine it sung, with significant glances, in Victorian sitting rooms… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ve3EENUieiI
      There is also the poem by Thomas Campion (1567 -1619) which was well known at this time. The suggestion here is that the gentleman has to wait until the lady says she is ready.
      http://www.bartleby.com/101/168.html
      Both these poems were anthologized in widely-owned books of poems.

      • Marvelous! Thanks for those links, Lynne!

        I remember, too, in Browning’s My Last Duchess, how the jealous husband suspects his wife of infidelity because she accepted a bough of cherries from another man.

        I wonder how long cherries have been associated with sexual ripening. They still are, since people still talk about “popping the cherry” when they mean losing virginity (though “popping” sounds vulgar).

  3. The fantail skirt is gorgeous, and the cherry print has a certain charm, except that I find the scale a bit large. The bodice front just doesn’t look like it belongs. I’m not sure whether it’s because of the proto-pigeon breast or the discoloration of age.

    7.5 of 10

  4. I think it’s adorable, and the fabric is beautiful but I kind of wish the pattern was just a touch denser, as there are some VERY large areas of dead space. It has a lovely cut and silhouette and real lightness and airiness about it. The hemline does remind me a lot of that other Rate the Dress, the Roger Worth dress, that so many people disliked but that you and I both liked.

    I do like those unusual looped stacked not-quite-bows on the back of the bodice waist and the bodice is nicely proportioned and not too fancy – this must have been a dress for a young woman or a debutante, as it has a certain innocence and youthfulness. But there’s a bit too much blank space in the skirt which I find visually annoying – the weaver has produced these wonderful motifs, but not really resolved the empty spaces around them, so the effect isn’t that great.

    I actually love cherries before they became ubquitious shorthand cliche, particularly the peppy 70s Pop-Art type cherries that went with all the kooky kicky cartoonish fun clothes, but yes, I think you do definitely get a lot of dead-horse-flogging once retro becomes mainstream and funky becomes cliché.

    7/10.

  5. Lontra Canadensis says

    I like the skirt and bodice back, but it loses me at the bodice front, and I can’t put my finger on why. 7.5/10

  6. Julia Ergane says

    I agree with the comments with the problem about the fabric. In addition, I also cannot see the pigeon-breasted front of the gown on a younger woman – it is just fusty (the fabric as well singles out a younger person). I love the back. My score: 7/10

  7. Rachel says

    Oooo. That back! Those cherries! I’d never realized why the back of a ballgown would be so important. And this one is so lovely. All those sweeping lines leading to that trim high waist, and how the puffed shoulders (with their odd, mushroomy striations) give the bodice a fan shape. And that lacy inverted triangle.

    And then I see the front and that darn pigeon breast. And suddenly the shoulders look silly. And it just looks sloppy and unfinished. I know that was the look, but the pigeon breast and big shoulders here make it look like the front of her dress is a fallen souffle sliding despondently towards the floor. Something about pigeon breasts tends to make them look very redundant and forgetable to me – perhaps it’s because they seem to lack structure?

    And I’m with Daniel that the cherry-rationing doesn’t seem very well thought out. It doesn’t need to be geometrically exact by any means, but it feels so slapdash.

    7.5/10

    • Elise says

      The back is important, kind of like a bride’s dress, I guess.

      The details on the sleeves are out of this world!

      And while I generally like the dress, I really dislike what the pigeon breast does to the shape and proportions. Cherries are so much more interesting than a floral-print dress, no matter what (even if it did become shorthand) I give it an…

      8/10

  8. LoriWatk says

    I’m there with everyone on the back, it’s lovely, the back only! It stuck me *funny* that the cherries had flowers, thanks for pointing out what my eyes and brain hadn’t figured out without an assist. I’m hating the front, it’s like looking at two different dresses, which confuses me. I don’t like that pigeon breast, eww. It makes me think she was well… Top heavy, way too top heavy. It’s like a dress made for Dolly Parton of yester years. But I’m liking this for some unknown reason, I’m sure it will come to me later, so since I like it now…. 8 out of 10

  9. LoriWatk says

    I figured out what it is I like, it’s that rare glimpse of seeing how the dress opens.

  10. Stéphanie says

    I love the fabric, and agree that the pattern could be a bit denser. I LOVE the back and the front is ok. The sleeves are just weird. I can’t decide if they look like silly cherub wings, or the gills on the underside of a fungus. so 7/10
    (10/10 for the fruit puns.)

  11. The “pouter-pigeon” element of the bodice does not work at all in this fabric and style, dragging the dress down a bit. But overall the fabric is lovely and the style very elegant. The back-view, showing the fantail skirt and the lacey fill-in of the back of the bodice, is particularly lovely.

    8.5 out of 10.

  12. Deborah Thomas-Wilton says

    Ok 9/10 , I am envisioning it newly made just a little lighter cream with brighter color on the cherries and crisper lace and puffs. I would wear this dress.

  13. Judi Moseley says

    I love the skirt and the bodice back, hate the bodice front. Not only do I dislike the pigeon breast for all the reasons mentioned by others, but the sleeve caps look like a dead bird has been affixed to the shoulders. I suspect that when new, the undertakes were fabulous,but now they just look kind of sad.
    7/10

  14. What a wonderful idea for a fantail hack!

    These are nice cherries. Definitely “botanical print” rather than “lazy attempt to look vintage”, and the fact that they have flowers enhances the impression of a botanical print. It suggests the printmaker wanted to show what the flowers are like as well as the fruit and leaves. Very nice use of pleating in the sleeves too. 10/10

  15. Lynne says

    I have weaknesses. One of them is a weakness for cherries on fabric. Or for real cherries, for that matter. When I was about eight, I had to make a gathered skirt for sewing at school. My mother found a lovely cherry printed cotton for me to use. It was a bit of an ordeal, that skirt. One back seam, zip inserted, gathered onto a waist band. All by hand. There was unpicking and re-doing. No choice of style, and it really wasn’t my style. I was a round little thing, yet to develop a waist, and my mother had sensibly clad me in gores and circles and such. The gathered skirt with cherries made me look as if I wanted to join the circus, and they would have turned me down! But through it all, I loved the fabric.

    So I would give this 11 out of 10 for fabric, if I could. Just beautiful! But although the skirt is classic, that fussy top (I know it is so right for the period, it’s just fussy) detracts from the simple elegance of the fabric.

    So, 9 out of 10. All of it for the exquisite cherry fabric!

  16. The only thing that bothers me about the back is that the print is not balanced; nice scattering on the left, big empty space on the right. I rather like the print itself; like a botanical illustration. So points for the print but lose points because it is rather lopsided in execution. I love, love the lines of the back…it looks like a lovely dress for a debutante…but the front looks downright droopy-bosomed matronly. However, I am also not a fan of the pigeon puff, so I may not be giving it full historical credit. 7.5.

  17. I have a red cardi with a cherry motif on the shoulder featuring both fruit and flower. It must be a Thing. J’adore this fabric, as one glance in my silk stash would illuminate. Creamy silk with red fruit or flowers, GET ME IN IT!!
    So 10. Pigeon fronts are what they did, no matter how we feel about their relative frumpiness. That skirt is everything.

  18. Erin says

    I love the quality of calm that this conveys. I agree that the open spaces need to be balanced better but I like the negative space and I’d like to believe that with slightly fuller underpinnings the pattern repetitions might be more visibly balanced and flow better. It is interesting that the relatively spare pattern makes the seams and pattern repetition so obvious. I would really like to see the whole skirt better and see how well that was used as a design element. The back looks sheer to me and I think that the effect on someone with a similar skintone would be striking. The sleeves seem as if they may have been been less compacted originally and I like the way the sheer areas balance the open space in the print. 8.5

  19. Wendy says

    Love the fabric and the skirt, don’t mind the pigeon breast. The sleeves look like cherub wings in the photo with the head, but look much nicer on the mannequin with no head. (Initially when I was trying to think what they reminded me of I was thinking gargoyles, but cherub wings it is).

    Don’t like the chopped in half bow on the back, it looks like she hadn’t finished doing the dress up when she was called to the ball. Don’t like the v-fill-in net type fabric on the bodice back, it looks kinda tacky, Overall, a solid 7/10.

  20. I really like this dress – the fabric is so beautiful and unusual, and the perky little bow at the back caught my eye. It brings to mind a waltz at a ball in early summer, with that skirt moving gracefully. 9/10

  21. 9/10

    The only thing that brings it down from perfect is that it would have been better without the pigeoun silhouette. Or if it at least decided to emphasize it more, right now it’s like it can’t really decide if it wants to be a pigeon breast or not.

  22. Just about everything by Worth is a 10 in my book! I really adore this dress and how the fabric is used in the skirt. Where can I get fabric like that????
    -Emily

  23. Lizzy says

    Love it! The cherries are elegant here, not cartoonish like last midcentury prints and reproductions. The sleeves are super awesome. I agree that the front bodice is baggy and a little out of place, but overall a fun dress. 9/10

  24. LoriWatk says

    I must ask since I’m watching “The Young Victoria”, this dress reminds me of her, would it have been appropriate for Queen Victoria at that time line?

    • Well, Queen Victoria was 80 years old, and almost as wide as she was tall by the time this dress was made, and had been wearing mourning for three decades since the death of Prince Albert, so this wasn’t really her style. One of her granddaughters, such as Queen Maude of Norway, might have though.

      • LoriWatk says

        I’m sorry. I didn’t phrase my question right, would this dress style have been right when Queen Victoria became queen? At the beginning of her reign not the end.

  25. Emelie says

    The skirt! I love the shape, the pattern, all of it! Were we just rating the skirt this would be an easy 10. Cherries definitively aren’t wrong, especially when there is blossoms!
    I am, however, not quite as keen on the bodice. The little angel wing sleeve caps are not doing it any favours, and neither the panel in the back nor the trim on the neckline in the front look like they fit in with the rest of the design. Worth can do better!
    So in total 7.5/10

  26. I love the shape of the back, unfortunately the print placement has left a large area of dead space on the right which just looks wrong! If there were more cherries to balance it the back would be gorgeous.
    The front I don’t like at all, the pidgeon front has never been something I’ve liked which doesn’t help and I can visualise it with a fitted bodice, and that looks so much better in my head!

  27. JessieRoo says

    So light and airy for an 1890’s gown. Less than ideal print placement, but I love the fabric nonetheless.
    8/10

  28. Hawke says

    Mmmm……
    I love it from the back, except that big white patch. I love the print, and I agree with the comment about botanical drawings. It’s a gorgeous fabric, and I’d love to have a skirt or dress in it (or even a jacket!).
    But.
    I am not loving the torso. I like the overall shape of the dress, but the lace and pleating just looks too fussy compared to the simple shape and fabric of the skirt.
    I’ll give it a 7.5, because I really do love that print.

    • Hawke says

      Adding on – about the pigeon breast. I’m normally not a huge fan, but I feel like this one would look better if it was presented properly. The way it’s shown on the mannequin it sort of….sags out dramatically, rather than the more gentle curve of most pigeon breasts. I wonder if that’s part of why commenters are disliking it so much, is the way it’s presented?

  29. Rachel says

    Hold on, I just noticed. Is that a cluster of fake grapes on her waist?

    Or are they cherries? *peers closer* They certainly look like grapes. But they could be cherries.

    Well, isn’t that … odd. Are they original to the dress, or just something the museum added?

    • LoriWatk says

      I was wondering the same thing. Looks like grapes to me as well.

  30. Ooh, the extra pictures at the Met website are fascinating – I see there’s print placement clunkiness on the side of the front that we can’t see in the pictures in this post, (another whomping big blank on the wearer’s left hand hip) and also in the Met’s record shot of the front of the dress, the pigeon bosom is much less pronounced – I wonder how that would have affected the rating if we could have seen the Met front shot as well as the fully mounted version.

    Plus there is one of the WEIRDEST shots I’ve ever seen of a Worth dress in the additional images…. There is so much What The Frog about this shot: http://images.metmuseum.org/CRDImages/ci/web-large/31.23_view2%20bw.JPG

    (Seriously, what’s with the “I’m Not Blind” sad little cherub?)

    Oh my, and I see there’s a (very old-looking) shot where they put the bodice on the wrong way round! (presumably from the 1930s as Brooklyn received the dress in 1931)

    None of this affects my rating, btw.

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