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Rate the Dress: All that Glitters, 1908

Last week’s Rate the Dress was so dark and heavy that I really wanted a light coloured, light feeling frock to balance it out. I couldn’t find something that was as light and frothy as I’d hoped – but this beaded and be-spangled ca. 1908 evening gown is certainly a contrast to last week.

Last week: a very short-waisted ca. 1855 afternoon dress

No consensus on whether the dress might have been a maternity gown, but lots of discussion of the non-mirrored front (as expected – not a point winning feature). The general feeling was the fabric was so lovely, and the dress was overall rather elegant.

The Total: 8.4

(I’m mildly amused that this weeks rating is 8.4 – both numbers that always look like they are pregnant to me!)

This week: a ca. 1908 evening dress covered in metallic embroidery & beading

Augusta Auctions describes this strikingly beaded frock, with its streamlined silhouette, as a ball gown. With that elaborate train, it’s not exactly practical for dancing, but it definitely would have been worn to a very formal evening event.

Gold beaded ball gown, c. 1908, Lot- 307 Nov 13, 2013 - NYC, embroidery & beading w: ribbon, bronze thread, gold beads, silver bugle beads, rhinestones, pearls & silk ribbon, Augusta Auctions
Gold beaded ball gown, c. 1908, Lot- 307 Nov 13, 2013 – NYC, embroidery & beading w: ribbon, bronze thread, gold beads, silver bugle beads, rhinestones, pearls & silk ribbon, Augusta Auctions

The gown is an excellent illustration of the rather body-conscious silhouette of the last few years of the first decade of the 20th century.

Gold beaded ball gown, c. 1908, Lot- 307 Nov 13, 2013 - NYC, embroidery & beading w: ribbon, bronze thread, gold beads, silver bugle beads, rhinestones, pearls & silk ribbon, Augusta Auctions
Gold beaded ball gown, c. 1908, Lot- 307 Nov 13, 2013 – NYC, embroidery & beading w: ribbon, bronze thread, gold beads, silver bugle beads, rhinestones, pearls & silk ribbon, Augusta Auctions

The elaborate beading and embroidery almost anticipate the colour blocking and pattern shaping of early 2010s body con dresses – a la the Stella McCartney ‘Octavia’ number Kate Winslet wore to the 2011 Venice Film festival.

Gold beaded ball gown, c. 1908, Lot- 307 Nov 13, 2013 - NYC, embroidery & beading w: ribbon, bronze thread, gold beads, silver bugle beads, rhinestones, pearls & silk ribbon, Augusta Auctions
Gold beaded ball gown, c. 1908, Lot- 307 Nov 13, 2013 – NYC, embroidery & beading w: ribbon, bronze thread, gold beads, silver bugle beads, rhinestones, pearls & silk ribbon, Augusta Auctions

In addition to anticipating trends from a century later, this dress also looks back a century, with a clear neoclassical influence in its shape and decorations.

Gold beaded ball gown, c. 1908, Lot- 307 Nov 13, 2013 – NYC, embroidery & beading w: ribbon, bronze thread, gold beads, silver bugle beads, rhinestones, pearls & silk ribbon, Augusta Auctions

So how is this dress, and its combination of historicism and avant-garde-ness, sitting with you?

It would definitely have been worn with a more fitting under-dress, but I think we can still see the gist of what this frock was, and would have looked like on a person.

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.  Phrase criticism as your opinion, rather than a flat fact. 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!  And 0 is not on a scale of 1 to 10.  Thanks in advance!)

35 Comments

  1. Elisa Jenkins says

    I’m curious if anyone else sees the medieval silhouette in this? The way the beading is done looks to me like a surcoat with very wide open sides, over a cotehardie. Am I imagining this? To me it seems very obvious. Just curious if anyone else sees it.

    Lovely gown. I would rate it at least a 9.

    • Christina Kinsey says

      Yes it does have the windows of hell as the wide openings were called.Beautiful embroidery, it would look amazing on the right person with those graceful lines
      I give it a 10

  2. This actually struck me as looking quite contemporary, given the recent penchant for translucent fabrications and body-con silhouettes.

    I like the sophisticated color scheme and the idea of the embroidery, but I don’t care for the execution of the embroidery, which I find, for want a better term, “lumpy”. Perhaps it’s the oval elements which seem to me more scatological then botanical, or perhaps it’s the scale of the beads (I can practically feel the weight of the garment).

    7.5 of 10

  3. Rebecca says

    I love everything about this, except the neckline. Is part of the gown missing around the neckline, as I maybe see some wisps hanging out in the bust region? The hem in the side view is especially delightful.

    9.5

    • Kathy Hanyok says

      I’m too short and dumpy for such a style so I’ll sit back and just admire. I ,too, see a Medieval influence but also it makes me think of Barbra Streisand in Hello Dolly. Bring on the feathers! Would love to see the original undergown, the stripes conflict too much. 9/10

  4. Sue says

    What a gorgeous dress, so beautifully balanced; the delicate tracery at the sides is a perfect foil for the rich scrollwork panels. The train is elegantly proportioned, and I love the small swoops of bead fringe at the side hems, like tiny crystal waterfalls – what a delightful little swish they would have made as the wearer moved!

    The beader in me is in awe of the workmanship. 10.

  5. And, of course, all that beading was the precursor to the nowadays more famous 1920s beading.
    I was at an exhibition of a famous Czech salon of the first half of the 20th century this weekend – they started a bit later than this, but the owner did start sewing earlier and this sort of meticulousness in embelishments was present there and, seeing this, definitely rooted in this era…
    I’m rambling a bit, but it boils down to my also liking it a lot but also being a bit concerned with the overall weight of the beads literally dragging it down.
    9/10

  6. Oh, this is another lovely one! And I’d like to join the club that also sees…maybe not truly historical medieval elements, but definitely the medieval of someone’s fantastical princessy dreams. I also wonder if the beading would have made it weigh just shy of a ton, but I feel like this is the dress version of a pair of boots I used to have – they weren’t for walking in so much as sitting around looking fabulous in.

    9/10!

  7. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Wow … definitely not a gown for dancing, but if you wanted to glide into an ultra-formal dinner this dress would do it.
    Staging could be better – the original under-dress and a better mannequin would make the sides look less awkward.

    As an example of it’s era:
    10

  8. Pal says

    I really wanted to love this dress-I love the ethereal sparkle and the curvolinear lines
    BUT (a big but)
    Those 4 lines of feather stitching in the side ovals from the hip down just destroy it for me

    7.5

  9. LJ Meyers says

    I really like this dress though it’s a bit low over the bust for me. I can actually see someone from today wearing this and everyone thinking it’s totally new. I rate it at 9.5.

    • Rebecca above mentions there may be an original neckline filling missing, and I think she’s right – there would have been something lightweight, sheer-ish, lace-ish worn to fill in the neckline, and it would not have been quite so abrupt a low-cut.

    • Plus I think it’s sitting a bit loosely on top on the manequin, and of course there are no arms in the sleeves, and I think the original wearer probably filled it better in the sides so it would not have looked quite so “about to slip off” on her (just enough to make it an evening gown, heh).

    • … and the bustline was lower in that era, as is, than it is today and than the manequin probably has. So in proportion to the fashionable figure of the time, I think this is less extreme.

      Sorry for the slew of comments, I keep actively remembering relevant bits that are low-key in the background of my understanding of this dress only after I hit the Post button…

  10. LJ says

    I really like this dress though it’s a bit low over the bust for me. I can actually see someone from today wearing this and everyone thinking it’s totally new. I rate it at 9.5.

  11. LJ says

    I really like this dress though it’s a bit low over the bust for me. I can actually see someone from today wearing this and everyone thinking it’s totally new. I rate it at 9.5.

  12. LJ says

    I really like this dress though it’s a bit low over the bust for me. I can actually see someone from today wearing this and everyone thinking it’s totally new. I rate it at 9.5.

  13. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    This reminds me of the evening gown Eliza Doolittle/Audrey Hepburn wears in My Fair Lady! I read/heard that that gown was apparently an original piece rather than a costume like most of the other pieces were, but had been pretty skeptical until I saw this dress. It’s gorgeous and looks astoundingly ahead of its time. This look could be worn today as it is, too. Really lovely. I was hesitating about 9.5,but then thought, oh, it’s that good, why cavil? 10/10

  14. R says

    It’s over the top, but there’s not much I want to criticize here – I enjoy the overall impression enough that I don’t want to break it down and look for its faults. But there’s some strangeness going on, like the uneven hem fringe in the profile shot, and all the dizzy, dense designs could make a viewer feel a little queasy. It’s certainly very busy and I’d guess quite heavy. It probably rattles when you move.

    But I don’t care. I love the elaborate Mackie-style ornamentation, I love the contradictory reference to simple white Regency gowns, I love that (to me) it actually feels more like a later decade’s take on the 1900s rather than an authentic period gown. I could see Audrey Hepburn wearing it in the 1960’s My Fair Lady or Jane Seymour in the 1980’s Somewhere in Time. It has an air of “Hey, it’s the good old 1900s, but BETTER!”

    I wonder if, in its own era, it would’ve been seen as vulgar? Doesn’t matter. I like it.

    9.5

    • Rachel says

      (Points upward) I neglected to completely fill in the “name” field. This is Rachel.

  15. Nicole B. says

    10+, if possible. Drop dead gorgeous. Looks like a surefire hit for the opera.

  16. Oh dear, I must be out of step with most folks. The cut is interesting — now as much as then, although outre. Yet the beading designs feel too chunky for me, too much like a theater scrim, or a mosaic floor of the period– they weigh down the dress visually and what might have been sinuous has become encrusted– and certainly the beadwork must indeed weigh a lot in pounds. What a strain on the fabric. My apologies, but a 5 from here.

  17. dropping stitches says

    So elegant. I love the gold beading and the train. Wonderful for making a grand entrance. But it looks so heavy. Wearing it would count as weight-bearing exercise!

    9/10

  18. I really love the use of color; the mix of browns give it that extraordinarily rich texture and depth. If it had been a “louder” mix of colors, it would have been too much.
    The cut of the train is AMAZING.

    10/10. I don’t think I’ve ever given anything 10/10.

  19. Jules says

    It always mystifies me that they don’t bother to improve the fit of the mannequin, and the undergarmenture, though I suppose there’s only so much time and money you can invest in stuff like that… Anyway, I circled ‘round and around on this one, I can’t quite decide whether it’s impossibly tacky, or impossibly beautiful. I’m pleased by the mental image of the tinkling beads as she swanned by, but the embroidery is so very large and clunky, and it looks like it ways a tonne. And then there’s the sheer side panels, which have me endlessly curious to see it with the original underlayers. Interesting that this would fit so very well on the modern red carpet (though doubtless without any undergarments in that case).

    8 for me.

    • I’m actually always very impressed by how well the auction sites do in staging these dresses. It’s incredibly hard to fit and style historical clothes on a mannequin – it can take multiple people hours to do one garment for a museum. And of course, for an auction house it’s all about money, and they can’t afford that many dressforms.

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