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Rate the Dress: Hope personified by Lucile, c. 1918-20

Evening dress, Lucile Ltd, Paris, France, c.1918-1920, Silk, gold-embroidered net, satin binding, silk flowers, National Museums of Scotland

Last week’s Rate the Dress looked towards autumn, so this week I’m balancing the globe and showing a dress that evokes springtime.  Last week’s dress also beat the rating of the dress of the week before.  Can this one do even better?

Last week: a pleated polonaise gown in rust brown

I hadn’t realised how much people loved this dress until I started tallying the ratings, where it quickly became evident that almost all of you thought it was wonderful.  It was just such a flattering, elegant, universal dress, that it received almost universal acclaim.  I’m sure I can’t be the only person who is now on the lookout for rust coloured silk…

The Total: 9.6 out of 10

Even better than the 18th century not-a-polonaise!  AND it got 10 scores of 10/10 in a row!

This week: a late 1910s Lucile dress

This time of year is usually the darkest, grimmest bit of a New Zealand winter (although it’s been eerily non-dark and grim this year), and, from what I hear, it’s the hottest, driest part of a what has been an eerily and horribly hot and dry summer in most of the Northern Hemisphere.  I thought all of us could use a Rate the Dress that spoke of cool woods, and bubbling brooks, and spring flowers.

So here is a Lucile frock in shot green taffeta, overlaid with gold-embroidered net, like sunlight filtering through a leaf canopy, and trimmed with bright yellow binding, with dangling strings of delicate flowers, like the first buds of spring.

According to the National Museums of Scotland, the green shade of this dress is a deliberate choice on the part of Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, to evoke hope and wisdom:

The colour choice was particularly symbolic in France, and particularly relevant in the aftermath of World War One, which people hoped would be ‘the war to end all wars’.

Symbolism aside, what do you think of this vibrant take on late 1910s fashion, in all its quirky glory?

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!)

34 Comments

  1. Do not like, except for the shade of green.

    The general impression is messy, and the individual elements random.

    5 o 10

    • I have mixed feeling about this one. Parts of it I really like-the color, the shape, the fabric. Other parts no so much-I would like to see the flowers done a different way. Not a fan of the gold lace treatment going vertical on the center front. It looks like it was a fun party or special occasion dress that was quickly made for a young lady to enjoy. I really want to like it more…8/10

  2. Chloe says

    I audibly gasped when I saw this dress! It’s absolutely darling. I think the embellishments are jut enough to make it interesting and sophisticated. The green fabric with brown sheen is made even more ‘nature-y’ with the blue and yellow silk flowers. I do wish the front bow has a little more something.
    9/10

  3. A springtime dress in the middle of a hot summer-or a grim winter is a pleasant thing. So I really wanted to like this dress. But I don’t, quite.

    Pluses: The color (a very pleasant light leaf green), the silk flowers.
    Minuses: The gilt netting, layered over the bodice as though it were an afterthought, the odd gilt netting “apron” thing in center front, the lonely little yellow bow at the center back of the waist.

    To me, this looks like the work of someone with better ideas than the design skills to execute them appealingly.

    6.5 out of 10. Sorry.

  4. Nicole B. says

    Well, rats. I like a number of the elements; the colors and textures are very pleasant together, and the shape of the green base layer of the dress is quite satisfactory on its own.
    Unfortunately, the collar is frumpy (IMO) and the massing of almost all of the decoration at the front leaves the overall dress feeling unfinished.
    Altogether, I don’t feel like this is one of Lucy’s best.
    5/10

  5. Kit Eltringham says

    I’m usually a fan of Lucile’s work and your description paints a lovely picture of what sounds like an absolutely delightful dress. The green shot taffeta is gorgeous, choosing to overlay it with the dull gold lace is a very nice idea, and the silk flowers are colourful and prettily made. But all those elements seem to have been put together by someone who had a random collection of elements to hand and did their best to turn them into a frock. They also decided to use up some yellow binding and had just enough of a chartreuse coloured fabric to add a couple of random small bows. The end result looks weird to me – chaotic and untidy.
    5

  6. Cara says

    I like the green tafetta, and that’s about it.. I might like the overlay if it stopped at the bodice or covered the full dress, but as it is it looks like a horrible and useless apron. I really dislike the trim down the center and I couldn’t even tell the flowers were flowers until the close up. Plus, it comes off as a disorganized hot mess. And the bunching at the waist looks more like an inability to attach the bodice to the skirt neatly than a design element. I guess that’s what I keep coming back to, what I suspect are supposed to be design elements just look like a mess of poor construction to me.

    1/10

  7. Laura G. says

    I love it. So very pre-war. I can easily picture Mary Pickford flouncing about, wearing this. (I can picture myself, flouncing about in this, for that matter.) Such an arbiter of taste and style, and IIRC, a Titanic survivor. It’s everything I could want from a frock of this period. I can picture wearing it to the garden party, my papa, the Earl, would throw during my debutante season. 9 out of 10. (Knock a point off for the wonky way the back hangs… clumsy alterations or damage, perhaps?)

  8. Well, um, erm, the silk is pretty. 2 points for pretty silk. My first impression was pretty much the same as most of the previous ratings. Is there some historical context for this random assortment of things all put together that I’m missing…? Some significance to it, sort of like some ancient comic-con outfit that was perfect for the character but a mystery to anyone who wasn’t familiar with the game/show/ legend/etc.?

    2/10. Because the silk is pretty.

  9. Anonymous says

    It took real talent to start out with such lovely materials and end up with such a tawdry, unflattering result.

    3/10

  10. Susan says

    I want to like this a lot more than I do. That’s just about my favorite color, so as others have noted, big points for that choice. And I love the symbolism – who wouldn’t like a salute to newfound hope and wisdom, in early spring, as a terrible war finally ends?

    But alas, some of the interpretation of the various symbolism is heavy-handed (could this have been intended for a costume party, perhaps??), and has not aged well.

    Perhaps the gold lace was brighter in its day – it looks tarnished now. Ditto the crumpled and faded artificial flowers, which might still be improved by steaming and finger-pressing them into approximations of their original shapes. Using one color only – white, perhaps, like snowdrops, or yellow like early buttercups – would have looked fresher and worked better.

    The silhouette of the dress is attractive – but seen closer up, the various details look, well, various and uncoordinated, and the decorative elements are too busy. I’d eliminate the fussy little yellow bow at the neck, and I’m not sure I’d keep the yellow sash/bow at the back.

    So, sadly, in view of what might have been – and perhaps in view of what once was – I’d rank this as a 5.00. And that’s on the generous side.

    Some of these criticisms are the result of the dress’s having aged rather poorly – brand new, it would have looked joyful, I suspect. Now – it’s rather sad, with its references to spring times long past…

  11. A pretty little dress. I quite like it. The shot silk is beautiful and I think the gold embroidered net works well with it. The flowers I could have or lose. The passementrie gives an oriental vibe. However I would have liked to see it displayed on a manequin. As is I think it looks plasticky in the shoulder area, but that’s due to the display and reflections so will not deduct points for it.

    8 out of 10

  12. Debs says

    Well it looks nice from the back. Otherwise even imagining it brand new and fresh the front is overdone and crowded. 5 points for the lovely silk.

    5/10

  13. Alice says

    I like the idea of it, with the kimono sleeves extending into the front panel, but the color, strange texture of the sleeve/overlay material and the greenish tint of the trim are really unappealing to me. If this had been done in shades of pale blue with pink flowers I’d probably love it. As it is, I’d rate it a 3.

  14. Jamie LaMoreaux says

    it’s an odd little dress. the gold net apron looks awkward and would be better if it was completely covering the skirt instead of a strip down the front. the flowers are nice just oddly placed, perhaps as an edging to the collar, or around the waist rather than dropping from the collar points. it just looks silly even if it was for a 16 year old girl. I’m not a fan of the yellow bias binding. i do like the green color and the netting is lovely. 4.5 out of 10

  15. Rachel says

    While it’s true that the dress feels a little too complicated and the overlay messes with the new-growth freshness of the green, I think there’s still a lot to love here. Though it’s probably the effect of age more than design, I rather like the antiqued quality of the overdress – it would be such a soft, pleasing contract against the wearer’s otherwise bare shoulders, and the delicate floral effect would add interest and motion to the front of an otherwise basic skirt.

    Could the lace originally have been more silver? That would have been very striking and fitting with the nature theme – like gossamer on leaves.

    But … while I like the effect of the flowers, the overdress is awkward. It’s like half a tabard, and I dislike the unevenness of the hems. The back of the gown is dull. The front bow adds little. The center decoration down the front probably has not aged well, but if I imagine it balanced with something down the back, then it’s better.

    But the colors and shape of the bodice are pleasing. I like the skirt well enough, though I wonder if it would have been seen as a bit dowdy and old fashioned? For all the springlikeness of the dress, it doesn’t feel like a necessarily youthful gown – but then it’s not like you have to be young to enjoy spring.

    7

  16. Elaine says

    Like many others, I want to like this dress. I really do like the various elements, but somehow it just doesn’t come together for me. 6/10

  17. It occurs to me that the odd thing about the dress is that it has no ornamentation on the back, except for the lonely yellow waist bow. It’s almost as though the designer didn’t think anyone would see the dress from the back. Very strange.

  18. Madeleine says

    Well, your description is pure poetry, but the images of the dress seem to me to be an entirely different garment. I can usually find SOMETHING to like about a dress; it’s very difficult with this one. Honestly, other than wanting to salvage the metallic gold lace, I can’t find much to like here. I somewhat appreciate the sheer gold over the shoulders, and the kimono sleeve shape. It looks comfortable.

    2 of 10

  19. Marie says

    I love the colors, the delicacy, the whimsy. I wish I knew more about who wore it, and where. It evokes India, somehow. Because the back is plain … I give it a 9.5.

  20. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    The overall effect is delightful. The colours are beautiful, the materials lovely, and the general sense of the dress is very appealing. But the more you look at it, the more you see things that are wrong with it, that don’t quite work, that seem just a touch uncertain. The back does look unbalanced compared to the detailed front, and not in a way that looks intentional. I’m gonna say 6.5 out of 10.

  21. Suzanne says

    How can you not love the whimsy of this beautiful creation? 10/10

  22. Tracy Ragland says

    I have mixed feelings. I love the green and gold color. I like the bolero-like jacket over the green dress. Very pretty lines. I’m not a fan of the narrow apron of gold over the skirt. It looks skimpy and I might like it better it it overlaid the entire skirt. I really don’t like the floating stings of ribbon flowers! They seem haphazard and detract from the lovely green and gold.

    6/10

  23. Emma says

    I like the green but otherwise it just seems like a mishmash of stuff put together.

    1/10

  24. Kate says

    Hmm.

    The green is absolutely lovely, and green plus gold is one of my favorite color combinations. I like the idea of the floral trim, and the symbolism of the colors.

    However. One of my pet peeves in modern clothing is when the front of a garment is nicely decorated, but the decorations just stop at the side seams. That is unfortunately true of this dress. I agree with some commenters above about the oddly wrinkled/puckered fabric around the waist looking clumsy. All together, I’m going to say…

    6.5/10

  25. Lynne McDonald says

    Oh, dear. Well, some people loved it, but I’m afraid I’m with those who feel it doesn’t hang together. I agree with the person who said it looked good from the back! Love the green silk. Your description is a delight. So, 3 for the silk, 2 for the nice back, and a bonus for your description…

    6 out of 10.

  26. Amie says

    I usually like dresses from this time period but this one is not doing it for me. The combo of green and gold colors do not appeal to me, and the ribbon flowers look wrong, in a amateurish way.
    I like how the netting and lace look, but not enough to get excited.
    6/10

  27. Marie (The Drunken Tailor) says

    Oh gosh – I found your place a few days ago while looking up bits for my current projects, and I have been eagerly awaiting my very first Rate the Dress (in the meantime, I’ve been reading the older posts, scribbling lots of mental notes for things I also want to make now – I really need to start doing historic stuff again, and rating things in my head!), but now I feel a wee bit guilty because my first rating isn’t going to be all that favourable.

    I like the colour. I can take the net overlay and even the binding, but the trim just kills it for me. It seems tacked on and unfinished, and I keep seeing those long-petalled white things as withered, curled-up starfish instead of flowers! I can’t quite tell what’s going on with the fabric at the waist, either – it’s so rumpled, but I don’t know if that’s a result of how it’s displayed (and feel bad for taking points off if it is), or if it’s intended to be that way.

    It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and if I got caught in an unexpected rainstorm on the way to tea, ended up thoroughly soaked, and was offered this by the hostess until my own clothes dried, I wouldn’t turn it away, but secretly I’d be hoping maybe she had something else around.

    As it’s shown, without knowing if the rumples are purposeful or incidental and so taking them as part of the design,

    6/10.

  28. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Lucile usually did FAR better than this. But she wasn’t trying to design symbols, which must be hard.

    The sophisticated gold net and braid conflicts with the youthful satin binding, bow and flowers. And what’s with the apron? Did she run out of netting? It’s as if she used the remnants of trims, trying to make something out of too little.

    Using self binding, not yellow, leaving the dangling flowers off, with a full overskirt of net this would have been a youngish sophisticates celebration of the green and gold of early spring.

    If she had gone youthful, left off the gold and used yellow tulle for an overskirt and shoulders and used more flowers instead of a few dangling ones this would have been charming.

    6.5

  29. Mary Ann Hadley says

    What happened, Lucille? You are a wonderful designer. This frock, however, looks like the dressmaker was hungover. I agree I love the green taffeta, and maybe the lace looked less tawdry 100 years ago. I think the delicate little flowers look like they are drippimg out of the bodice, to put it delicately. I am distracted by the angular placement of the lace running down the center and across the hem.
    If Lucille asked my advice, I would arrange an overskirt of lace, completely surrounding the hem front and back. Leave off the distracting lace inserts. The dainty flowers would look less sparse if gathered in a bunch to the right of the waistline.
    3/10

  30. I am not really a fan of the flower bunches hanging from the nipples, but besides that it is a lovely dress. The colour is really calming and spring-like, with the delicate gold embroidery and sheer fabric layering beautifully. It somehow reminds me of a sari.

    7 / 10

  31. redbarngirl says

    This dress really reminds me of when my sister and I used to play dress up when we were little. We even had some old silk dresses of my mother’s that we would put on. They were always too big, so we would tie ribbons around the waist, and don whatever “pretty” extras we could find–like old lace curtains and flowers–and we ended up with something similar to this dress. For a tea party of 6-year-old girls, that would be quite appropriate. However, being as it is meant for a “grown-up”, I’m a little confused by it. The colors are lovely, however.
    6/10

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