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Rate the Dress: a Worth tea gown for the wealthiest woman

Tea Gown, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), ca. 1910, French, silk, rhinestones, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.3277

I gave you an extra few days for Rate the Dress, because last week’s was so late. And I’m still feeling very rushed and busy, so have picked a Rate the Dress that’s all about relaxing, albeit in the poshest way possible.

Last Week: an 1860s fancy dress

Last week’s Rate the dress was fancy in a different way to this weeks: fancy dress, rather than fancy, fancy. But what we could see of the trim and construction was also quite fancy: indicating a very well made, high quality item, for a client with money to spend on a one-off costume.

But that didn’t translate to likes: the ratings were all over the place, from 2 to 10. The final result?

The Total: 6.4 out of 10

Personally, I have a sneaking suspicion it would have rated much higher if we could have seen how it was worn: fully accessorised and styled.

This week: a tea gown by the House of Worth

Tea gowns were always status symbols: the Victorian & Edwardian versions of designer jeans and T-shirts. Too fancy to do any work in, but far too informal to wear anywhere but indoors amongst your closest friends. But this tea gown is the fanciest of the fanciest: made by the House of Worth, worn by the wife of one of the richest men in the world.

Tea Gown, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), ca. 1910, French, silk, rhinestones, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.3277
Tea Gown, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), ca. 1910, French, silk, rhinestones, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.3277

Socialite Jane Norton Grew (1868–1925) married J.P. Morgan Jr in 1890. Raised in privilege, a Boston ‘Brahmin’ and the daughter of a banker, Grew would have been used to the ultimate in fashion and high society. By marrying in to the banking Morgan family she could expect to continue a life of luxury.

However, wealth and luxury didn’t necessarily translate into obvious ostentation. Like her husband and father in law, Jane preferred to keep out of the public eye. Even within her own social circle, the blond beauty did not aspire to be the leading light. She was reserved and formal (her husband referred to her as ‘cold roast Boston’), and the little public records of her life show no attempts to be noteworthy.

It’s no surprise then that Jane’s preferred design house was the House of Worth. By the early 20th century Maison Worth had ceased to be the clothier of the trendsetter and innovator, and was instead the lead couturier to the impeccable conservative.

Tea Gown, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), ca. 1910, French, silk, rhinestones, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.3277
Tea Gown, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), ca. 1910, French, silk, rhinestones, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.3277

However, the few surviving Worth garments belonging to Jane are among the bolder and more interesting for their years. Did Jane have a secret flair, or did she only keep the more outré of her purchases, which she rarely had occasion to wear?

Tea Gown, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), ca. 1910, French, silk, rhinestones, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.3277
Tea Gown, House of Worth (French, 1858–1956), ca. 1910, French, silk, rhinestones, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.3277

What do you think of this dress, with its medley of soft blues, combinations of different design influences, and use of a bold silk, typical of the House of Worth’s long association with the French silk industry.

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!)

39 Comments

  1. Pal Koenig says

    It’s Worth. It’s beautiful. The attention to detail is breathtaking.
    I particularly like the sheer over the details.
    Side note: I would LOVE to see the inner details and construction that makes these dresses present so well…

    10

  2. The chiffon draping is exquisite, and the overall lines of the garment are striking, but the large scale of the motifs on the body silk are distracting.

    8 of 10

  3. Olivia Sanders says

    I love this dress. The sheer floaty sections on the sleeves are exquisite, and the train makes it look like a fairy princess costume. Though I can’t imagine only wearing this inside, I see the cultural context. The detailing on the side panels is beautifully delicate.

    10/10

  4. Melissa says

    I love everything about this. The colors, the details, the lush fabrics. 10/10

  5. Danae says

    I love it! Gorgeous! I cannot imagine wearing such a gorgeous gown only among close friends! It looks like a red carpet gown!

    10/10

  6. Barbara Wellman says

    Beautiful tea dress, lovely lines and pattern. The soft silk colors would have been lovely in the early 20th century lights I think. I really like the draping of this dress. The gauzy lightness makes the sleeves and overdress look very spring/summer I think. The trimming/finishing takes it to another level of course Worth. Beautiful in my eye 9

  7. Lyn Swan says

    I echo the sentiment of Pal, I would love to be able to see how this dress was constructed. There is something magical about a worth gown, and this one is gorgeous. 10/10

  8. Exquisite. Wonderful historical references without being a costume. Beautiful balance between pattern, line, texture, and subtlety of color. 10

  9. The dress is simply stunning. Although, oddly, I feel like the “belt” makes the waist look wider. And I think the chiffon would be prettier is it were either more blue or more pearly. The jeweling hiding under the chiffon in the front is perfect.
    9/10

  10. Claire Payne says

    Swoon! Oh yes, I’d partake of tea wearing this. I live it all, colours, line, texture and the wonderful embellishments. What a pity the bodice detail is hidden beneath the chiffon. That is my only gripe.

    9.5 from me thank you.

  11. JessieRoo says

    This exactly the thing for a fairly queen to wear to her coronation! I was trying to pick out something to critique on this gown, but all I thought of was that were it made up in a dark color it would have a rather heavy feel and that if the contrast between the ground color of the brocade and the motifs were in high contrast it would be gaudy.
    10/10

  12. I *love* the rear view of this dress. It’s refined, elegant, well-proportioned, and interesting. The front tries hard to equal it, but doesn’t quite make it; the odd pearly belt-like thing beneath the cross-over gray chiffon section doesn’t quite fit with the elegance of the rest of the dress.

    Taking off 2 points for the somewhat awkward front view, I say

    8 out of 10.

  13. Christine says

    Perfection. A Dream dress for me, one I would happily lounge in, drinking tea. I love the sheer over the beading, gives it a dreamy look.

    10/10

  14. I agree with all the criticisms (except the late 1960s one – I see it, but don’t have such a problem with the aesthetic 😀 ). But I still like it a lot. The knowledge that the owner was blonde helps me, too – it’s just the right amount of subdued not to overwhelm her, and just the right amount of striking not to be bland.
    But I do agree with all the criticisms, especially the fact the front view is a bit awkward compared to the back, so it’s not a perfect score.
    9/10

  15. I loved it when I saw the detail photo. When the whole garment was revealed it was a bit meh. Usually I love the plethora of different elements and details but for some reason in this there is just too much The belt beading is breathtaking and I adore the chiffon pleating over the decoration but on the other hand the velvet prints on the skirts and bodice are not matching the delicate feel of the dress and angled decorated lines on skirt are disturbing the sleekness. Also I don’t think the dress really needs the sheer silk chiffon sleeve-thingies. I’d rather have either 3/4 silksatin sleeves or fitted 3/4 chiffon sleeves. This dress needs some oopmf!

    6/10

    • Naomi says

      I agree with Rhea. The closeup was intriguing but the full view was a letdown.
      7/10

      • I agree as well. When I saw the close-up I thought that I was going to love it but the whole dress is too much for me. I really dislike the gauze sleeves and I think the big patterns on the over-dress overwhelms the under-dress.

        4/10

  16. Christina Kinsey says

    It’s beautiful, the combination of colours, patterns and textures is perfect. And l do like the front, with the ornament that makes me think of a belt, emphasising the waist without being contricting
    A definately 10

  17. Sophie says

    Très élégante en ce qui concerne les coloris. L’arrière de le robe est structuré et magnifique. Je trouve que l’avant est moins réussi en ce qui concerne la jupe mais le haut avec le croisé du voile est superbe

  18. This dress is beautiful, but I feel like there’s to much happening for me. 7/10

  19. Nannynorfolk says

    The colours are lovely especially on a blonde woman and the chiffon over the embroidery looks good. I don’t however like the sleeves, a bit bulky and would have looked better if they had been slimmer more fitted.
    So because of the sleeves 8/10

  20. Stunning! Although I agree that the front I clumsy in comparison with the back. The belt would perhaps be better wrapped right round the body, cinching in the waist? No need for sleeves, but colour and detailing really elegant.

    8.5/10!

  21. The elements do not all work together. The belt seems odd. I enjoy the back more than the front. But in some way, it seems to be the poster child for “self care”. We put on brave faces as we make our way in the world. But when we return home, and put our feet up, we should indulge, and wear something flowing and a little bit kooky.

    7/10

  22. Helene says

    I love it. I’ve so far never seen a Worth I don’t like. I would love to walk around in this dress, from the dressing room to wherever I want my afternoon tea, just relaxing. maybe read a book or having a conversation with my closest friend.
    It is a lovely dress and must have looked perfect when worn.
    I give it a 10/10

  23. Kathy Hanyok says

    I think the work is wonderful. But I also think the wearer was vertically challenged, like me, and the lines would be more graceful on a taller person. Blue is not my favorite color but I do see it looking well on a blonde. I agree about the floaty arm covers being superfluous. Maybe I’d like them better if they were tight to the wrist but still sheer. 8/10

  24. Elaine says

    I think this is lovely – light, elegant and graceful. I agree that the front isn’t quite as appealing as the back. I googled the Sargent portrait of her. She is shown wearing a dress in a similar blue/gray color, which does look good with her blond coloring (at least I think so). 9/10

  25. Celeste says

    Wow! What a stunning dress! I read many comments and returned to feast my eyes on it again, slower & closer for details. My only comment or question is about the flowing silk (chiffon)’s color. Is it supposed to be grey or is it a faded blue due to age? Either way, still stunning!
    9

  26. Add me to the list that wants to see how this is constructed.

    The front almost make it look like the blue is an overdress that’s removable, and I’d love to know how they did it. It’s seriously gorgeous.

    10/10

  27. Leslie Lynch says

    I’m torn. Part of me says its Worth. W hat is there not too like. And the other part of me feels that there is too
    much going on and that its a bit “fussy”. I, too,. would like to see how this dress is constructed. 8/10

  28. Katherine Sands says

    love the subtle colors and how tea gowns echo the aesthetic movement style 9/10

  29. Disien says

    I absolutely love the colours, the gauzy fabric, the draping and the design, including the train, But I don’t like the material used for the rest of the dress, it looks like upholstery fabric. And I don’t like the little belt thing at the front. So points off for both those things from me – 8/10

  30. crumpled rag says

    I don’t like the tassels on the belt at the front (it needs rosettes instead), however the rest of the dress is stunning. I like the contrast between the gauze and the other fabrics and all the little details, that you see more of each time you look at the dress.
    9/10

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