Last week’s Rate the Dress was a natural-form day dress in palest blue and silvery ecru. To no-ones surprise ever, the rosette bows festooning the lower front bodice of the dress were not popular. You deemed the rest of the dress both boring and fussy. It didn’t score a single 10/10 rating. The ratings, like the dress trim, mainly slid to the bottom of the rating heap. Overall ‘Whirlpool: The Dress’, as Rachel dubbed it, managed a paltry 6.6 out of 10.
Moving on: it’s time to look at a historical fancy dress for our annual Halloween Rate the Dress!
Before there was Tarzan, there was Hercules, Bacchus, and Wild Men: all costumes involving animal skins, and greenery. Variations on the theme date back to the ancient Greeks & Romans, (and possibly earlier). Wild Man costumes were popular throughout the Middle Ages. In the 18th century the wild man idea became linked to a romanticisation of nature and untouched society. Thanks to the Swedish monarchy’s fantastic habit of keeping their clothing, we have an extant 18th century Wild Man costume to rate. This outfit was worn by Karl XIII of Sweden as a prince.
This wild man costumes features an with ivory silk jacket-bodice (presumably to create the impression of a bare chest) joined to a draped ‘skirt’ painted in leopard spots and faced in vivid red silk. The look is finished off with a bear skin (complete with claws!) and garlands of oak or grape leaves. It’s a considerably safer costume (literally) than the straw-and-tar Wild Man costumes of the 14th century Bal des Ardents.
Both grape leaves and leopard (or cheetah) skins were associated with Bacchus. However, the bear skin suggests a more generic wild-man look. The outfit might have been for a masquerade, or an amateur theatrical or dance performance.
Both entertainments were immensely popular amongst the upper classes in the 18th century, and the decadent Swedish Royal Court of the 1770s was no exception. Karl’s sister Sophie Albertine is shown with a masquerade mask in one of her portraits. Karl himself was known for being a rather good dancer. His stocking clad legs would be nicely displayed under the draped skirt of this costume (which may or may not have been worn with breeches underneath).
What do you think? Would this wild man costume have stood out? Would have been a striking figure at a masked ball, or in an theatrical performance?
Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10