I can usually anticipate some of the reactions to a Rate the Dress, but I was completely blindsided by the initial reactions to last week’s royal fancy dress. Sure, it wasn’t a court jacket, but badly made seems a harsh accusation for a 200+ year old costume that still looks nearly pristine! The frat boy comparisons did crack me up. Isn’t it odd how our modern perceptions of a ‘look’ completely change how we see it in a historical garment?
However, after the initial wails of ‘tacky’ and ‘cheap’, a whole bunch of you swooped in with 10/10 ratings. There were 14x 10/10 ratings, compared to only 11x of any other #! The enthusiasts pointing out that the costume was awfully fun, did exactly what it said on the tin, and was quite practical for a theatrical performance. After all, a real bear skin would have been extremely hot and heavy and hard to move gracefully in!
Thanks to all those 10s, Karl got a 8.4 out of 10. Rrrrowr!
(sorry, I couldn’t resist!)
This week Rate the Dress goes from late 18th century theatrical fancy dress, to mid-18th century formal attire.
This robe a la francaise in brocaded silk in muted puce-brown features the very fashionable, extremely square hoops of formal mid-18th century garments.
They may be odd to our eyes, but in the context of their time they served three important functions. First, they lent the wearer literal stature: by making the wearer take up more space, they become more physically imposing. Second, they served as a showcase of wealth: fabric was extremely expensive, and the large, stiff hoops required more fabric. Finally, they became a frame for the beauty of the fabric itself, holding it in smooth panels, so the elaborate weaving patterns could be admired to their fullest.
The fabric of this dress shows patterns that are a transition between the large shapes and wilder colours of the ‘bizarre’ silks of the early 18th century, and the more delicate, lace-like patterns of the mid-18th century, with the classic rococo serpentine line. The wide, pale, curved lines show a clear dept to lace patterning, while the mix of colours, and overall scale, looks back to ‘bizarre’ prints. The addition of shimmering metallic threads adds an extra element of depth and interest to the fabric. Their gold sheen is echoed in the metallic stomacher the Museo de Roma has paired the gown with.
The maker cut the spiralling stripes to symmetrically frame the front of the dress, emphasising the interplay between curves and straight lines. They would have drawn the eye to the petticoat (now missing) visible under the overskirts of the robe a la francaise.
The stripes also flow symmetrically down the back of the gown, disappearing in and out of the so-called ‘watteau’ pleats that characterise a robe a la francaise. The dress becomes a coy balance between stiff formal lines, and playful curves: the perfect embodiment of the Rococo.
I’m not too thrilled with the hairstyle the gown has been staged with. The volume is more Edwardian pompadour than 18th century poof, and the height is more 1770s Marie Antoinette than 1750s Madame de Pompadour – who did not wear pompadours! Sigh. Ah well, let’s not focus too much on a less than ideal museum hairdo, and focus instead on the garments.
What do you think? Would this robe a la francaise make the wearer suitably elegant and imposing, while still retaining a sense of fun and flirtatiousness?
Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10