There was a really fascinating range of reactions to Madame Houbigant’s all-white (excepting her vivid red shawl) 1810s ensemble last week. Some of you felt it flattered her more in the portrait than in real life, and some of you felt the combination of fashionably relaxed lounging didn’t pair with the heavy silk, and just made it look like she had poor posture, and that in real life, standing up straight, she would have looked much nicer. You were fairly universally not in favour of her extremely ruffled chemisette. All those ruffles are just one of those aspects of this era’s fashions that are hard to love with modern eyes!
Madame Houbigant came in at 7 out of 10, and while not a winner in the sartorial sense, the topics of discussion that came out of the post definitely make it a winner in my books!
This week’s 1880s natural form dress reminds me of last week’s, in the expanses of smooth silk, and the way it plays with proportions, only with the ruffles and interest inverted: last week they were up around the neck, this week they are down around the hem. (There is another element that reminds me of a different, recent rate the dress, but I dare not mention it…)
With its extremely fitted bodice and slim upper skirt, with draping and ornamentation that seems to tie around the skirt, confining its fullness, only to explode in a plethora of pleats at the hem, this dress is classic natural form.
The pale colours, while not necessarily characteristic of the natural form era, keep the focus of the dress on the drapery and ornamentation. The material itself becomes a background to the way in which it is manipulated and shaped.
(We’re going to ignore the hairstyle. The wigmaker had clearly just perfected their paper spiral technique the week they did this one, and got a little carried away showing it off…)
I think this dress does a particularly interesting job of balancing the very simple, streamlined upper body shaping, with the abundance of trims, textures, and detailing around the hem.
The way the drapery spirals around the lower body is also quite fascinating. Notice how the the drapery is intended to give the effect of being knotted around the dress, and the swags slip through loops of other fabric, fringe and all.
It’s almost as if is meant to give the illusion of folds of fabric artfully swagged around the wearer at the last minute. The overall effect is a conceit of carelessness, in carefully planned folds of meticulously trimmed taffeta.
What do you think? Does the faux-casual drapery effect work? Is this the epitome of elegance, circa 1880s, or a bit too contrived and contrast-y?
Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10