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Rate the Dress: a tea gown with attitude

Today was a public holiday in New Zealand (Waitangi Day).  Most people took a four day weekend, so it’s thrown my usual scheduling out.  So apologies for the slightly belated Rate the Dress.  To make up for it, I’ve picked a VERY exciting Rate the Dress: a relatively unknown 1890s Pingat tea gown (probably) that caused quite a stir when I shared it on Instagram earlier this week.

Last week: a ca. 1820 dress re-made from 18th century chiné a la branche

I’m on a Rate-the-dress roll!  Once again, the majority of you loved the frock, though there were a few caveats.  The two main complaints were about the wide sleeves, the sleeve trim, and the muted colours.  Wider, more relaxed sleeves were often a feature of late 1810s fashions.  Chiné, by its nature, is muted, and this was a particularly restrained example.

The Total: 8.7 out of 10

Not quite as good as the week before, but still a very good score indeed.

This week: A c. 1892 Pingat ‘tea dress’ or tea gown

Since some of you didn’t care for last week’s muted hues, I present a decidedly un-muted 1890s couture creation:

The National Gallery of Australia has labelled this striking confection a ‘tea dress’ (by which I presume they mean a tea gown – read more about them here).  Whatever this gown is, it’s a very unusual garment.  Some of the elements are not entirely typical of a tea gown.  The dress ismore fitted, with more emphasis on the waist, than is usual for a tea gown.

It could almost be fancy dress, but for what?  The sleeves are decidedly Elizabethan.  The choice of fabrics and the colours are decidedly un-Elizabethan.  The ruff collar, as wacky as it is, is quite restrained for a fancy-dress collar.  It could be a theatre costume, but I’ve never heard of Pingat making theatre costumes.

The combination of historicism, exoticism, and theatrical elements is typical of late Victorian tea gowns.  The use of lavish and expensive fabrics in a garment that could only be used for a limited range of social functions was also typical of a tea gown.  By the 1890s, tea gowns were less likely to be loose, comfortable garments that could be donned without assistance, increasing the chances that this was indeed a tea gown.  Late Victorian tea gowns were also more likely to fill the function of a hostess gown: being slightly more outrageous than what your guests would wear, which certainly describes this dress.

So, with no obvious clues to the contrary, I shall assume that the NGA means tea gown when they say tea dress, and that their classification is entirely correct.

With that aside, what do you think of the dress itself?  Tea gowns were not meant to be shrinking violet garments, but is this one a bit too outré?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

(as usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment, so I can find it!  Thanks in advance!)

41 Comments

  1. Madeleine says

    Ummm … oh dear! Okay. Here’s what I’m going to have to do this week: skip the scoring. I don’t want my near-zero score bringing down the average.

    Honestly, I kept leaving and coming back to this hoping to see something else in it, or convince myself that this is, indeed, a fancy dress situation.

    However, I would love to see that gorgeous, embroidered center front panel reworked into something that’s not … this.

  2. Buttercup says

    I love lots of things about this dress – the colours, the fabric, the style and just its overall “look at me” factor. I’m giving it 9/10. I’m taking one mark off because I cannot figure out why they have stuck a hall runner straight up the front of the skirt.

  3. Heather says

    Im giving it a 9/10 for sheer wow/wtf factor. It seems like the equivalent of full on emo teen gear, you can’t look away. Crazy but very cool, that fabric just glows. A lot of the elements don’t even go together but it works as a whole. The more I look at it the more I want to look at it.

  4. Wendy says

    As a friend of my mother used to say, that’s a a lot of look. My firsts reaction was ow, my eyes hurt. Closer inspection however reveals those gorgeous sleeves and that gown fabric. Not my favorite colors but on the right person, wow. And frankly I am sucker for any kind of fabulous collar. 7/10 because I had to grow to like it.

    And to Buttercup – two thumbs up on the hall runner description!!

  5. Wow. Definitely not a tea gown for a shrinking violet!

    I love the color scheme and the lushness of the fabrics, but there’s entirely too many different patterns to the fabrics for me to give this a 10. However, the effect is too harmonious for a low score.

    8 out of 10.

  6. Rachel says

    What happened:

    1. Designer Bob Mackie fell through a wormhole to the 1890s and, rather than try to get home, stayed put.

    2. There he happily dressed people the same way he dressed limited edition Barbie dolls, content for the rest of his days.

    Or:

    3. Cate Blanchett, in her role as Lady Tremaine in the 2015 Cinderella, fell through a wormhole to the 1890s, but while wearing one of her costumes. It being half-finished, she added contemporary elements in hopes of being decent.

    4. But before she could finish, she fell through another wormhole to Elizabethan England. While body-doubling as Queen Elizabeth, she managed to complete her dress.

    5. Before falling through one more wormhole that, rather than launch her through time, sent her to another planet. Which was full of aliens in correct but ostentatious Victorian dress who, embracing her as one of their own, took her to their leader.

    6. Who was Bob Mackie.

    Yeah. This dress is pretty incredible. That two-toned fabric is so striking and bizarrely modern looking. The whole thing gives off this air of being made for a late 1960s stage version of Anne of Green Gables where the director was feeling experimental. I kind of love it for what it is, but it’s so absurd that I’m not sure it really succeeds. Whatever it is. Whatever it’s trying to be.

    It’s certainly opulent and dynamic.

    6.5

    • I give this comment 10/10.

      Actually, I give the dress 10/10, too, because it’s stunning and fabulous! I want it! I wish I had the coloring to wear it. If it is a tea gown, it’s only because this is the evil woman poisoning the tea.

      10 out of 10.

  7. Lyn Swan says

    Hello,
    I haven’t weighed in for quite a while, but this…this is amazing. The lushness of color and fabric is stunning, and the back view is a perfection. I agree that it is an elegant Mashup of styles…I was thinking theatrical, An Empress from Dune, meets up with either Dr. Who or an Elizabethan actress? I would love to know about who designed this dress, and who wore it. I do think I love it as a stand alone garment if I don’t try to put it into a specific place, time, social context. What the heck…8/10 just because it confuses me.

  8. Johanne says

    As my screen rolled up revealing the ruff and shoulders, my heart skipped a beat. Cautioning my heart, my mind followed with an “Oh, yeah!” The outrageousness, the colors, the bravura use of trim. Thank you for this one. When this designer went over the top, she meant it.

    10/10

  9. My first impression was that this had to be a theatrical costume, but not one by a designer much impressed by historical accuracy. It would certainly stand out under stage lights!

    There are certainly elements I very much like – the gold and coppery color, the fabric of the sleeves, the hem trim, the drama of the high-backed color, but my brain can’t make it into a cohesive whole.

    7.5 of 10

  10. WETA. I saw it in the Facebok link and thought “this is a Weta dress”. Not as in the famous movie making studio but as in, the enormous and amazing native insect. The colours, the sculptural elements – it is the dress inspired by the most beautiful and beloved insect of our country.
    Which of course it wasn’t, but a girl can fantastise. Clearly Pingat did! And because I am a card carrying maximalist, how could I ever give this astonishing dress anything less than:
    10.

  11. Lalaith says

    …very bold. I wonder whether the ombre-ish effect on the skirt is an original feature or a result of aging?

    7/10 for sheer outrageosity.

  12. Lalaith says

    …very bold. I wonder whether the ombre-ish effect on the skirt is an original feature or a result of aging?

    7/10 for sheer outrageosity.

  13. Deanna says

    It is stunning! I tend to love Pingat. These colors are not ones that I’m usually drawn to, but they look amazing here. My goodness, the back view…the fabric is just gorgeous.

    9.5 – only because my personal taste would have preferred more elongated, rather than round shapes in the embroidered panel.

  14. Trying again…the first post didn’t get through.

    OH! and Wow.
    Please may I have one of these? Just to pet and look on in awe. A huge 10 inspite of other votes which I will now go and read.

  15. Kathy Hanyok says

    I absolutely love this gown! It shows that Steampunk is real. Where are the shoes made from gears and the top hat secreting a pistol?
    10/10

  16. Elaine says

    I’ve been looking at this off and on all day. My initial instant reaction was that I hated it. But it is growing on me. It does look costume-like but I’ve come to like the dramatic details. Nothing is going to make me like the color, but I think I’d like it a lot in a cool color or a deep red. 8/10.

  17. This gown immediately brought to mind a dress my mother made me, when I was a teen, of the same gorgeous golden brown velvet. I LOVE the color combinations here and the Elizabethan/Medieval look! If the wearer was trying to one-up or outdo her guests I’m convinced she did it. To me it is gorgeous and I’d like one just like it. 10/10

  18. This is breathtaking.

    My immediate take on it…the perfect costume for the Evil Queen in the production. There’s just something slightly…ominous, perhaps even poisonous…in the undertones. So much better than just putting the villainess in black. So beautiful, so dangerous…

    It begs to have a story written for it!

    10/10. Not entirely sure if it’s perfect for its intended function but it is definitely perfect for something. LOL.

  19. It’s like something out of science fiction, especially around the waist. Love the sleeves, the collar and especially the colour. Wow!

    10/10

  20. I admire it but I don’t love it.

    It’s a bit like great works of literature that you know you should revere but honestly don’t like.

    So 5, plus 1 for amazing execution and 1 for guilt!

    7/10

  21. Ow, my eyes…

    Initially, I wasn’t going to comment, mainly because I believe if you can’t say anything at all nice, then say nothing at all.

    But I agree with Lisa Laree, it really is the perfect dress for a villian – the main dress colour makes me think of venom and any self-respecting villianess needs a stand-up collar.

    7/10 from me, only if I can think of it in an evil-stepmother-kind of way.

  22. E Zenker says

    This is a dress with lots of beautiful pieces that do not belong together. I can’t be sure from photos but I suspect more than one garment was involved in this creation. My impulse is to rip it down to something more tasteful and reuse the beautiful leftover parts. I’ll give the georgous components a 9/10 but the dress a 4/10.

  23. Hmm! I love the main fabric, it is so interesting and wonderfully late 19th century in terms of unusual color (new dyes to show off, of course!). The standing collar is pretty fabulous. The sleeves, the corset shaped belt piece, and the tabard trim down the front… not so much.

    I give 7/10 for being really interesting with neat details, but for being too much overall.

    Best,
    Quinn

  24. Charlotte Tilley says

    I often read “rate that dress” am so indecisive I don’t comment. However this dress blew me away on IG. How I love it. It’s an easy….

    10/10

  25. Bridget says

    Hoo boy. I am not generally a fan of the 1890s, and this dress has a lot of the elements I dislike about the period. For one thing, the heavy, much too heavy embroidery. Too much ornamentation altogether. Also, the embroidery motif on the sleeves doesn’t seem to match the embroidery on the table runner/corselet thingy, which in turn doesn’t seem to match the embroidery motif on the ugly flounce on the hem. Though I’m sure it’s high quality, I don’t even really like any of the embroidery in isolation from the rest of the dress. And the silhouette. I find the leg o’ mutton sleeve to be clunky and graceless. I just don’t care for the wide shouldered look it gives. Between the silhouette and ornamentation, this dress would likely wear its… occupant? Victim?

    The shade of yellow/mustard/gold is not pleasing to my eye, and paired with the brown, even less so. The corselet belt and hem flounce break up the design horizontally, making sure it has no elegance or flow. In short, a monstrosity. I’ve never given a 1/10 before, but I cannot think of anything nice whatsoever to say about this dress. Maybe with a vastly different design and accents, that lurid shade of mustard could look nice. Maybe.
    1/10

  26. Bridget says

    Wow I’m honestly surprised I’m nearly the only one who didn’t like it. Like a few other commenters, I did think of a villainess wearing it. But I stand by my opinion. It’s awful.

  27. Susan Robinson says

    I won’t vote either.

    The dress is really ugly but a lot of wonderful work went into it.

    The comments have been the best thing about it and I hooted through
    the wormhole story and the Steampunk/Wicked Queen ideas. They
    almost make me agree this is a fabulous dress. But in reality some
    hostess walked into a room, which then fell into stunned and horrified
    silence. There is a reason why the dress shows so little signs of wear!

  28. Catherine says

    I think it’s amazingly glamorous and striking – except for the front neckline, which looks a little confused. The darting is so obvious it looks like a mistake, and there appears to be no real attempt to integrate the front ends of the collar into the design.
    Still, with that caveat, I’d wear this thing as-is if it fit.
    9/10

  29. april pressley says

    I just love this. It has ombre, it has embellishment, it is like an offering to the sun gods, and I bet someone wore this one easter. I wish so much that we knew the occasion this was created for.
    10-10

  30. This is a statement dress if ever there was one.
    While I personally wouldn’t wear this dress, I can picture a spurned woman wearing this to her first public event after the event and thinking, “Look at me, I’m gorgeous, and I deserve to be the center of attention.”

    It would be a show stopper, and I quite agree it doesn’t look like it should work, but it somehow does.

    10/10

  31. It’s kind of a mismatch of several eras and styles all put together in an extremely eye-catching colour. It shouldn’t work but somehow it does. My goodness but I find it ugly though!

    5/10

  32. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    This would be for a very fashion-forward woman.

    It’s theatrical, but cohesive. I’ll forgive a color that makes me look like late-stage hepatitis because it’s so wonderfully gaudy.

    9.0

  33. WENDY says

    someone described a super-hero outfit to Pingat and this is what he made.
    No rating, cos it’s stunning but I don’t like it. The fabrics are beautiful.

  34. Jessica says

    There is certainly something very theatrical about this dress.
    I would suggest an alternative inspiration for the hall runner up the front and center, there seems to be a hint of Egyptian influence to me both in the width and patterning of the element. Pingat was more known for including cultural rather than architectural references.
    On the other hand the mustard/charcoal ombre patterning on skirt and bodice is just a color combo I could never pull off. I am thinking that the only one who could would be perhaps a natural redhead or one of the Hungarian types with the super pale skin and black hair. Anything else would be overwhelmed and lost in the colors of the dress.
    I would propose it was made for an actress or opera singer who was known for exotic roles and wearing such elements on stage, or perhaps for one of the demimond whose whole livelihood depended on being noticed, whatever that took. Though it might have just been made simply for someone with all money and no taste.
    On the other hand the detail of the skirt hem is drool-worthy, I love the waist cincher construction and the back silhouette is stunning (in any other color for me please!)
    Numbers:
    +10 for couture construction, yay!
    – 8 for the hideous color combo (Charcoal and mustard skunk stripes? Really?)
    +7 for the standout cultural design elements, go bold or go home!
    – 5 for the fact that it overwhelms the eye and the designer didn’t succeed in getting these disparate elements to integrate visually.
    +3 for the showstopping wow factor that would have made the lady who originally owned it the talk of the town for the week after she wore this (for hopefully the first and only time) while all the ladies figured out if THEY loved or hated it, all the while admitting that she certainly had chutzpah!
    Hmmm. That adds up to a 7, I think.

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