Rate the dress
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Rate the Dress: painted pick-ups, 18th century style

Robe à la Polonaise, ca. 1780, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976.146a, b

Apologies for the delay in a Rate the Dress post.  It has just been a significantly busier week than I anticipated.  Better late than never, Rate the Dress is back on track with an 18th century confection featuring hand painted silk and a bustled skirt.  How will it fare…

Last week: a 1910s number in embroidered pink chiffon

I watched the comments come in for last week’s Rate the Dress.  When I thought back to them this week, I thought the final total must be pretty dismal: I had such a strong memory of dislike.  But when I looked back over them, and tallied the total, I realised that most people actually liked-to-loved the dress.  There were just a couple of people who really did not like it, and their reaction was so strong that it really coloured my memory of the comments.

The Total: 8.8 out of 10

Like I said, mostly like-to-love!

This week:

Because it’s been such a busy week, my Rate the Dress pick isn’t particularly inventive.  Just a classic 18th century Robe à la Anglaise in a floral fabric in a range of pretty pastel shades (or not pretty – you get to be the judge of that!).

An Anglaise is an 18th century dress style with a fitted back bodice, with the central upper back pieces cut in one with the centre back skirt, with no waist seam.

This Anglaise features picked-up or bustled skirts, which used to be referred to as Polonaise in the historical costuming world, and still is in many museums, including the Met.  Historical costume researchers have since determined that ‘Polonaise’ referred to a specific cut of bodice – not the bustling of the skirt.  So this is not really a Robe a la Polonaise, but I’ve left the Met’s title as-is.

This makes total sense: almost any dress could have its overskirts picked up and bustled: why change the entire name of a gown when you do this?

The fabric of the dress appears to be a hand-painted silk, probably from China.  The mis-matching on the seams indicated that the fabric was pre-painted, and not intended for this specific dress style.  It’s also possibly that the dress was re-made from a gown of a few decades earlier.

Depending on how you look at it, this 18th century pick is either Rate the Dress in its purest (a dress only, almost totally devoid of styling and accessories, and thus completely without distraction), or least pure (a dress only, almost totally devoid of styling and accessories, and thus furthest removed from how it would have been worn in period) form.

What do you think of it?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating – feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste.

(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!)

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40 Comments

  1. Gillian Stapleton says

    Everything I like in one dress – standout fabric, beautiful colour scheme of summery flowers and a clean 18th century silhouette!
    10/10

    • Elise says

      My thoughts exactly: 10/10

      Interesting comments about the cut of the bodice, and not the shape of the skirt.

  2. Truly lovely. The colors and shapes of the flowers strike me as the epitome of this period, and even though I find the concept of a bustle impractical in the extreme, the draping of it is almost like a beautiful sculpture.

    The only niggle is the odd placement of the two almost rectangular floral motifs just above the waistline at the back.

    9.5 of 10

  3. Elaine says

    The fabric is beautiful. While I don’t normally like bustles, I agree with Cyranetta that this one looks like a very artistic sculpture. 9/10

  4. Heather M. says

    There isn’t one thing I don’t like. I love the flowers and the pickups and the shape. If I could get this fabric now, I’d love it in a nice summery dress. I can’t stop looking at it, 10/10!

  5. Diana says

    10/10 i love this dress sooooo very much. I would wear it in a hot minute.

  6. Debbie Farthing says

    It’s nice to see a dress without all the embellishments so that the textile really stands out. Any number of accessories could be added, but I think the strength of this dress resides in its simplicity. It’s a breath of fresh air.
    9.5/10

  7. Is there an 11 over ten? If not, I will give it a 10 for Fabric, use of fabric, style of dress.

  8. Jennifer says

    So beautiful. Really captures the delicacy of the style and the colors are superb. I would love to wear it.
    10/10

  9. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    So many things I love. Beautifully coloured flowing painterly designs over a solid ground. Light, airy textiles with minimal fuss and floof. Draped goodness. I love the essential simplicity and tastefulness of this dress and for once the absence of accessories isn’t a problem here because this dress is all about itself and even with a fichu and engageantes and shoes and a bergere hat and a hairdo and a parasol, it would still be a beautiful dress shining on its own merits.

    I honestly can’t give this any less than a perfect 10/10

  10. Anna says

    10/10…everything I want my future wardrobe to be. Right there. In one gown. Such a delicate pastel confection, not to mention true wearable art since it’s hand-painted. I really don’t see how it could get any better <3

  11. Nicole B. says

    How charming can a dress be? Right here, folks!
    My only quibble is that I wish the floral pattern was placed a little differently on the front panels of the bodice, so that we didn’t get an asymmetrical repeat.
    9/10

  12. OH MY GOODNESS!!! The fabric!!! It looks brand new. Have you ever seen anything made from the dressmaker shop at Colonial Williamsberg? This lovely dress looks like one they recently did a podcast on. I love it! It is hard to believe it is as old as it is! Fantastic dress this week. 10/10

  13. Rachel says

    This is a gorgeous teacup of a dress. I don’t find it particularly exciting, but it’s lovely.

    The fact that it’s so delicately hand-painted sent me down a mental rabbit hole about the intersection of clothing and paper. Yesterday I saw a blog post about an exhibition of historical dresses and costumes, scrupulously recreated as paper sculptures. Definitely way more complex than the paper dress fad in the 60s. People put writing on their shirts all the time, sometimes to make a statement/joke, but also just as an element of design, not even meant to be read or understood. And then I thought about how so many modern clothes start life as paper patterns. Cyranetta pointed out that this dress is sculptural, and to me it almost looks like origami. Wearing a dress of hand-painted fabric blurs the line even more. She’s technically wearing a painting.

    Maybe with the greater availability of paper goods like wallpaper, artistic prints, and books, it makes sense for dresses to take a shift in that direction? And having paper to make patterns from might have allowed seamstresses to be more experimental.

    It was an interesting rabbit hole to be in; I enjoyed my time there!

    But back to the dress. It’s artificial and buoyant, but it avoids looking comical. The flowers also help it look more organic and natural, despite the stylized lines of the dress. But it doesn’t scream “I’m wearing an illustrated botany manual” either. I’m not sure if I prefer its simplicity and straightforwardness to something more unusual, or if I feel it’s a little insipid. The asymmetry doesn’t really bother me.

    Whether it’s forgettable or insipid or anything like that, it’s still straight-up lovely.

    8.5

  14. TracyRagland says

    I love this beautiful dress! The only reason I’m taking off points at all is that the center front and center back grape (?) motifs aren’t symmetrical. I realize that’s picky, but…

    9.5

  15. Stafford Belinda says

    I love this dress. So feminine, so classical, modest in its hoops, charmingly painted. I wish it were mine!
    10.0

  16. Madeleine says

    Everybody has already said everything about this glorious dress. There isn’t a single thing I don’t like about it. The painted silk is luscious beyond description!

    A solid 10

  17. Clare says

    For me this dress has a wonderful delicate freshness. It is so simple but so charming and the hand painted pattern on the fabric is exquisitely pretty. And yet I feel that there are some areas that could use just a small amount of embellishment, perhaps around the neckline or the sleeves. They somehow feel unfinished, as if they were expecting something else. It would be a careful and delicate detail and wouldn’t detract from overall uncontrived unity. I am charmed but not completely wowed. For that I think an 8/10.

  18. Lynne McDonald says

    Very, very pleasing! The fabric is beautiful and the form of the dress is exquisite. I do wish the two mauve bits on the front of the bodice were symmetrical, but that is my only quibble.

    9.5 out of 10.

  19. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Wow …. For it not being painted after sewing, or not painted specifically for the dress, they did an excellent job balancing the major motifs on the front bodice and sleeves.

    I love the fabric. It has a good blend of colors and distribution of motifs, but isn’t overwhelming the shape of the dress.

    I can easily imagine it with blue satin heels, lace sleeve ruffles and a heavily ruffled neck filler. And a cute little headpiece with silk or real flowers.

    10

  20. I love this dress! The color scheme looked a bit wallpaper-y at first glance, but I adjusted the tilt of my laptop screen and saw the real colors. 🙂 There is nothing I dislike about the colors, the fabric, the cut, or the overall style–it’s refreshing to see something not so elaborately trimmed once in a while! The ONE AND ONLY THING I am not 100% in love with is that the flowers appear far too big for the way the bodice is cut. Mismatched printing in seams is acceptable, but the large size and erratic placement (because of the seams) of the bodice flowers looks awkward. However, the floral’s size is perfect everywhere else on the dress, so I can’t really complain…or even take half a point off!
    10/10

  21. I love it!
    The painted flowers are so joyous, and I’m glad it has no trim because it doesn’t need any. I can picture it with some dark purple accessories. Purple mitts and a hat with purple ribbons would look quite lovely with it, but it’s stunning on its own too.
    The flower placement in the front would be better if it was completely symmetrical of completely asymmetrical, but the fact that they aren’t doesn’t bother me.

    10/10

  22. Claire Payne says

    I fell for the fabric. I love it. For the fabric alone I give it…

    …10 out of 10!

  23. Nanny Norfolk says

    This is lovely and although I don’t like bustles it’s such an elegant dress.
    The material did however remind me of Laura Ashley curtain material!
    Still a 10/10

  24. Heather says

    The longer I look at this dress the more I like it! At first glance, it’s a bit simple but the simplicity allows the beautiful fabric to be the star of the show.

    10/10

  25. Chloe says

    The fabric and construction of this dress is absolutely exquisite! I have a personal problem with pick-ups though; I don’t know why but they just really grind my gears.

    7/10

  26. 8.5/10.
    I absolutely love everything about it, the color palette is so modern and lovely and delicate if compared to other things from that time, the simple cut and the lack of frills enhances the clean line and the exquisite construction.
    But that asymmetrical front is driving me nuts.

  27. Such a sweet dress, it reminds me of the Dresden China figurines that everyone owned when I was young. Nothing to dislike!
    10

  28. Susan says

    Absolutely lovely, a perfect representation of my imagination of that kind of a dress. I can picture myself wearing it 30 years ago. It is a young woman’s dress in my eyes.

    The fabric is joyous and the pastel colors are sweet and adorable but I am not thrilled with the seaming, it could be better done.

    I love it!

    9.5 out of 10

  29. Carol Ortery says

    I absolutely love this dress! The view from behind looks like a meringue confection, light enough to float away, but sculptural at the same time. I can just see the wearer with a huge powered wig puffed and curled, adorned with flowers to echo the ones in the dress. I would love to wear it. Normally the pattern mismatch on the front bodice would make me twitch but it doesn’t with this dress, maybe because the pattern is large enough to seem random even though it almost matches.
    10/10

  30. helen mclean says

    I find this dress pretty but insipid and the fabric looks a little home dec to me.

    7/10

  31. I love it! The choice of colors by the artist who painted this fabric is marvelously delicate and the proportions of the floral design turn out to be beautiful despite the pattern mismatch in the center front. It would shine with appropriate accessories, but even alone it’s a perfect 10.

  32. I quite like this dress. I’m a fan of Anglaise’s in general, and the fabric is very pretty. You don’t see too many painted silk dresses, and this is a very nice example. Only downside would be that it’s relatively plain, but then again, that does allow the fabric to shine.
    8.5

  33. Nynke says

    It’s pretty and lovely, but not breathtaking for me. And I can’t *not* look at the mismatched pattern at the front, though I know that pattern matching was not as important then as it is today (to me…)

    so, 7/10

  34. Beautiful. I love this dress. I am especially impressed with the hand painting. It completely changes what could have been a boring dress. The delicate quality of the flowers and fruit give the dress personality. The manner in which the back is draped is pleasingly architectural. When all parts are considered it is art. 10!

  35. I love this dress and normally don’t like that style. Fabric is gorgeous! I wonder about the mismatch aspect – perhaps it was done by a less experienced sewer short on fabric…? But, the mismatch makes is more everyday as opposed to museum-y. 9/10

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