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Rate the Spencer & Skirt

Spencer jacket & petticoat, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b

I’ve had a very busy week, with teaching and patternmaking and talking, which is why there have been no posts between last week’s Rate the Dress and today’s post. Luckily I had this week’s garment for rating all picked out! I hope you enjoy studying it as much as last week’s wedding dress.

P. S. Welcome to new raters! PLEASE read the note at the bottom of this post.

Last Week: an all-lace Edwardian wedding dress

Last week’s frock should probably get a bonus point for breaking the 50 comment mark! If nothing else, you certainly found it interesting.

There were three distinct comment groups: 9s, 7s, & 4s. And only one person rated it a 10! With so many unimpressed raters, the total came in at…

The Total: 6.4 out of 10

Not a popular choice with many!

This week: an Empire era spencer & petticoat 

This week’s Rate the Dress continues last week’s white and lacy theme for the bottom half, with a petticoat trimmed with linen net and appliqued lace, and goes dark on the upper half with a military and historically inspired spencer jacket.

Spencer jacket & skirt, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b
Spencer jacket & petticoat, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b

LACMA and I are calling this a petticoat, but frothy and lacy as it is that doesn’t mean it’s an undergarment: petticoat was the term for any skirt (whether it was worn as the outer layer, or an under-layer) in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th century. It’s because what you wear on the lower part of your body is a petti (small or lower) coat (garment).

Spencer jacket & skirt, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b
Spencer jacket & petticoat, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b

This particular petticoat is trimmed with rows of insertion and ruffles made of appliquéing floral and leaf motifs on net to form a type of lace. The net is probably a machine bobbin-net, which was a new innovation which made net based lace affordable and wildly fashionable, but may have been a handmade (and wildly expensive and time consuming) net.

Spencer jacket & skirt, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b
Spencer jacket & petticoat, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b

The petticoat is paired with a spencer jacket: the short jackets which ended at the high waist fashionable in the first quarter of the 18th century. The jacket features both military influence, in the buttoned front which imitates uniform jackets, and a nod to Renaissance fashions in the puffed over-sleeves. Both elements were common, and it’s not unusual to see them combined in one garment, as they are here.

Spencer jacket & skirt, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b
Spencer jacket & petticoat, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b

While the net base of the skirt lace was probably machine made, the sewing machine was still half a century away, and every other element of this outfit would have been sewn by hand.

Spencer jacket & petticoat, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b
Spencer jacket & petticoat, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has even been kind enough to include an image of how the petticoat and spencer attach: with little holes worked in the waistband of the petticoat, and hooks on the jacket which slip through them.

Spencer jacket & skirt, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b
Spencer jacket & petticoat, France, circa 1815, Jacket- cotton plain weave; skirt- cotton plain weave with linen net and cotton plain-weave appliqués, LACMA M.2007.211.15a-b

How does this sit with you? Do you enjoy the mix of light froth, and more severe tailoring? Do you appreciate the way the outfit mixes a whole variety of elements: florals and new technologies, historicism and patriotism? Or would it have been better to stick with one theme.

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

28 Comments

  1. I find the petticoat glorious and the spencer a lovely pairing with it. Somehow the balance of simplicity and ornamentation seems just right.
    10 of 10

  2. I love the color and styling of the spencer, a lot. And the work on the petticoat is beautiful. But I don’t think the two go well together (I don’t usually care for fabric mismatches in texture, color, etc. in modern clothing either). Moreover, the fact that the petticoat is white and lacy gives me, at least, the impression that she forgot to put her outerwear skirt on.

    So I don’t know how to rate this. As separates, or as an outfit?

    I’ll do both.

    Spencer: 8 out of 10 (the fit seems a bit off, making it look a tad bulky).
    Petticoat: 8 out of 10 (the work is gorgeous, but the result is a bit plain for outerwear since it is all in white and hard to appreciate).

    The Outfit as a whole: 6.5 out of 10

  3. Rebecca says

    The Spencer’s sleeves are divine, and I like the color combination. The buttons on the left don’t seem evenly spaced, but it looks like it’s mainly because the fourth button just needs to be snugged up a bit. So it isn’t anything to hold against the design. The frothy collar fights for attention with the busy hemline. I’d like to see a more subdued collar, and let the carefully trimmed petticoat take the spotlight. I like the feminine, sweet skirt mixed with the heavy, tailored coat. It’s both formal, but free. It does not feel totally cohesive, but that is where a smart bonnet comes in, to tie it all together, along with other accessories.

    8.5/10

  4. Jess says

    Yep. I see two completely lovely pieces, however I really, really want to see them separately.

    The spencer looks like it just came off a fashion plate, and ochre is a personal favorite color. The poof on the sleeve seems a little out of place, but I do love historicism (yes/no? it looks like Renaissance slashing to me.) Actually, now that I’ve noticed the historicism of the sleeve I don’t know if I like the military style buttons as much- maybe in keeping with the larger ensemble the spencer is actually two great ideas. I also really, really appreciate the inside shot of the fastenings- outfits like this are of course pretty from the outside, but the guts of the ensemble are a marvel of engineering that you just don’t see in modern clothing.

    7/10.

  5. Christine says

    I like it. I like the design of the jacket and feel like I shouldn’t like the color of it but I do. I like the layers of lace on the skirt.

    8/10

  6. nofixedstars says

    hmmmm…i agree with other comments indicating that the pieces are very pretty individually, but perhaps as a pair they are not so successful. i’d like to see the spencer paired with something bolder, maybe a rich dark blue or scarlet skirt. the delicacy and ruffles of the petticoat here seem a mismatch with the military detail-inspired tailoring of the spencer. perhaps it could appear more well-matched if shown with shoes that matched the jacket and a patterned shawl?

    rating: 6/10

    • Julia says

      Exactly! It’s like the tomboy and the girly girl switched tops and kept their own skirts!

    • I really like this idea. A wool skirt, in a dark color (dark blue or black or maybe even a dark brown) trimmed at the bottom with a number of rows of gold military-style braid.

  7. Elaine says

    I’m with others in thinking the two piece look mismatched. As a whole, it’s not doing it for me at all. 5/10.

  8. Connie says

    I like both separately except the color of the jacket. They just don’t seem to go together. The petticoat looks too plain compared to the jacket. I will do a complete outfit rating.
    Rating 7/10

  9. Oh the details! Someone put A LOT of hard work into this dress. The only thing I would change is the mustard yellow jacket, only because I do not look good in this color. 10/10

  10. Kathy Hanyok says

    I totally appreciate the work that went into the spencer and the petticoat, but I, too, feel they do not pair well together. A more streamlined skirt would not fight with the details of the jacket and a less elaborate spencer would highlight the lovely froth of lace on the skirt’s hem. But Regency is my love so, 9/10.

  11. Pal K says

    I loved the choice. It is so interesting to see what are essentially separates instead of a dress.
    I am so glad that the museum included a glimpse of the inside…The hook attachment is interesting but the precision of those darts!
    After reading the other comments, I started questioning but then I imagines my fashionista daughter wearing the jacket updated with a pair of high waisted white linen pants in lieu of petticoat and decided on
    9.5/10

  12. MrsC (Maryanne) says

    This is so clever. It looks like a spencer over a dress but would be a lot cooler than all those layers, so a great summer weather solution to being appropriately dressed. Especially as it is unlined! Absolutely it seems odd to my modern eye, given the two are not really a cohesive outfit but whose overjacket really matches their unders?
    The lace is so beautiful. I love the spencer, it has a vibe of the pelisse in Pattern of Fashion X? (can’t recall which one!) and also one in the Museum of London that I sat and sketched into a notebook in the dimness of the display. SO pretty.
    I give it a 9.

  13. Nicole Lee says

    I love that “leather and lace’ look of the combination. I am especially impressed with the detail on the sleeves, especially since they are hand stitched. The colour is beautiful and I like the plain military front to contrast with the other detail. I am facinated by the luxurious lace. How gorgeous. I just love this unconventional pairing. 9/10 for me.

  14. Claire Irvine says

    I love the lace petticoat, and I love the spencer. However, I feel like the outfit as a whole doesn’t work well together. Perhaps if the spencer was in a lighter colour, or if it was a long coat rather than just a spencer. I also think that the mix of military and historicism is a bit off, I would prefer either one or the other

    8.5/10

  15. Julia says

    I like regency style but this does not do much for me. The lace is pretty. Everything looks well made and I appreciate the work that went into it.
    The colour is not my favourite. It’s one of those blah colours that looks good on the right person but together with the plain skirt it just looks boring.
    And there’s something about where the waist falls and the shape of the spencer that makes me think whoever was wearing this would have looked oddly proportioned. Maybe it’s a style thing but I don’t usually get that from regency dresses.
    Is the ruffle part of the spencer? Or just an add on. Personally I find it ugly.
    I typically like regency but I just can’t like this one. 4/10

  16. India says

    I really like this and feel it’s actually very typical of its time. I don’t mind the colour of the pelisse at all. Many contemporary fashion plates also show a strong colour contrast between the top and lower halves of similar outfits. I’m not normally particularly fond of lace as so often it is overly fussy but I love this – it’s pretty and light. Mind you, I can never stop thinking how chilly a girl’s bottom half must have felt compared to the top half when wearing these styles.
    9/10

  17. Gee, I am not sure what I think about this pairing.

    Am with Mrs. C. that the unlined spencer would be a great deal cooler to wear without a dress underneath it, although would the wearer have protected the spencer fabric with a stays cover, surely? It’s worth asking.

    Still, the spencer front bothers me. The way the fronts wing off to right and left, but are laying over a rounded neckline, is awkward.

    The mishmash of styles is playful — if it was meant to be — or maybe it’s just a mishmash.

    Anyhow, 5 of 10 for the design issue plus mishmashyness

  18. dropping stitches says

    Too many mixed up elements. Love the lightweight lace skirt. It looks suitable for warm weather. I don’t care for the mustard colored jacket (military buttons are a nice style) and the boa fluff at the neck confuses me. I don’t get this look. Seems like the skirt would get filthy, but the top makes me think this is day wear for going-about-town. When/where would a lady wear this?

    5/10

  19. I want this! Not in ochre though, because that color is NOT my favorite.
    I love the sleeves and that fun detail, it’s a detail I’ve wanted to do for ages on something, and the buttons and how it closes.
    Then the girliness and lightness of the skirt. It’s awesome. I very much appreciate them showing how the two were attached, that was interesting to see.

    9.5/10

  20. Disien says

    Oh I just love the contrasts in this outfit. The jacket is glorious, love the ruffles at the neck.

    10/10

  21. My rating is the thirding above. But I must also say I love this outfit entirely out of the context of aesthetic appreciation for the fact the museum shared that inside / construction photo, and because it’s interesting to see that kind of elaborate spencer in cotton plainweave, giving lots of hope to costumers who love the look but can’t do silk. 😉

  22. vivien dwyer says

    Love this one…would wear it too if I had any figure left 🙂
    10/10

  23. ElOmbu says

    Love it. It’s interesting, there’s a photo on IG from 7 January of theDreamstress in yellow and her companion in a jacket that looks very similar to this color worn with a big white skirt. The dresses are 1780s so not the same silhouette–anyway, just saying I don’t mind the combination, I can totally see them together, and I really like the whole outfit.
    9

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