Rate the Dress: Velvet & Roses in the late 1880s

Usually I think it is silly to like or dislike a Rate the Dress based on how it would look on you, but I found I could only like last week’s very decollate 1810s frock if I imagined it worn by my early 19th century twin, both in body and temperament.  Even when I’m not very skinny I have a very wide, bony clavicle and chest, so that even the most daringly low cut neckline looks respectable until it begins to show my navel.  And I’m so innately prim and prudish and flat out innocent (usually) that I can make the tartiest dress look demure (in high school a classmate told me that if the whole class walked into a room and found me and a guy in our altogethers they would assume there was a perfectly innocent explanation for it – because it was me).  So on someone that it could not possibly look provocative on?  I love the dress!  On anyone else?  Oh dear…

The question of who it was worn by was uppermost in the rating conversation for all of you as well.  Was it someone very small busted, who could pull off the plunging neckline? (side note: it’s not just about how small your bust is, but how far apart it is and how little jiggle there is in the middle that makes a neckline look revealing or not)  Or perhaps it was the frock of a member of the demimonde? (though your discussions on this topic made me suspect that some of you have gotten far too much of your Regency history from romance novels!).  Someone pointed out that the embroider pattern on the body of the fabric might not just be kissing lips after all, which does put a whole new spin on the dress!  (I said “Oh, OH, OH”, and blushed on the other side of my computer screen).  It came in at 9 out of 10, not surprising as only two of the 35 ratings were below an 8/10.

This week, for the last day of the fairytale challenge, I’ve picked a frock that could fit in a fairytale.  It’s not the frock of the pretty young princess, or something for the wicked Queen, but rather a frock for the fairy herself: if she were a woman of a certain age and certain gravitas.  I could imagine costuming Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmother in this if the story were set in the late 1880s.

All of the details of the outfit are quite fantastical, from the lush florals to the beaded fan at the base of the jacket:

Even the matching bonnet is fairy worthy:

And look at the detail of the embroidery on the fabric!  Even if you think the dress is hideous, you must admit that the needlework is exquisite!

Despite the whimsical collar, the fantastical beading and the romantic embroidery, this frock was no fancy dress outfit.  It was worn by the wife of a senator to President Benjamin Harrison’s March 4th 1889 inauguration.  Seen in that light, the lush velvet and embroidery become symbols of prosperity, the florals spring and hope and new growth, and the whole look makes sense for a politicians wife.

Green-gold and pink seem to have been very much the fashion for the inauguration, because I’ve shown another dress worn to one of Harrison’s inauguration events in a similar colour scheme.  You were distinctly not keen on that dress, but perhaps this one will fare better?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

Rate the Dress: Revealing Regency

Last week’s Charles James Surrealist frock elicited some strong feelings from you raters.  Some of you adored it, some of you hated it, and some of you adored some bits and hated others.  The pleated front was particularly divisive: half of you were fans of the mastery of fabric manipulation, the other half of you thought it was a scary alien fabric explosion.  Whether you liked it or not, James’ green frock was memorable, but came it at a rather bland 7.6 out of 10, which is what happens if you balance a bunch of raving 10s with a few ‘eww’ 3s!

One of the things that many of you commented on with the green frock was how terrible the mannequin was, and how much that affected your perception of the dress.  With that in mind, I’ve picked a frock that may win the award for worst mannequin styling photo ever:

I’m pretty sure that comes straight out of a Dr Who episode…

Luckily, there are better images of the dress!  And oh boy, for an era which is known for being white and demure, is this dress ever va-va-voom!

Check out that neckline!

And it plunges in back too:

I’ll let you discuss whether you think it would have been worn with all that skin on display (and presumably without a support garment, because there is simply nowhere for one to go!), or with some sort of modesty under-dress or chemisette.

The daring silhouette is balanced by delicate details and elaborately embroidery.

Those metallic motifs do look suspiciously like lips though…

What do you think?  Previous white Regency frocks have been dismissed as overly sweet or frumpy, or just flat out boring.  This one is more likely to be criticised for being overly sexy and provocative, and maybe a little too exciting.

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

Rate the Dress: Maria Fyodorovna in blue

Once again I’m being bad and haven’t tallied up the ratings from last week (sorry, my life is eating me alive).  I’ll try to be good and get them up today though!

This week I present to you Maria Feodorovna, aka Dagmar of Denmark, sister of the famously beautiful Queen Alexandra of England, and mother of the last Tsar of Russia, in something extremely feminine and lacy and ruffly and corsage-y.  We were talking about New Zealand designer Trelise Cooper (well known for her frills and furbelows) in my class this evening, so I guess I had such embellishments on my mind (though if this were a Trelise dress it would be made of three different patterned fabrics in pink and orange and teal blue all at once)

Portrait of Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna (1847-1928) by Heinrich von Angeli (1840-1925), circa 1874, Collection of the Hermitage

Portrait of Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna (1847-1928) by Heinrich von Angeli (1840-1925), circa 1874, Collection of the Hermitage

What do you think of Dagmar in her version of 1870s regal grandeur?  I’m sure her lace would have cost a fortune, and I’m also sure it’s the reason the painting is reminding me of a toned-down Maria Christina.  In fact, with only her very fashionable velvet and pearl chocker, four small rings, a hint of sparkle in her hair, a bracelet peeping from beneath the lace and a tiny brooch on display, Maria F is practically a picture of royal austerity, 1870s style.  I once made fun of her for her obsession with pearls, but she also knew how to dress down and be quite relaxed and adorably approachable.

What do you think?  Does the restrained colour and lack of jewellery balance the frilly frock?  Has Dagmar balanced dressing up and dressing down with this particular ensemble? Does it manage to project both royal glamour and soft femininity, or is it simply too fussy, accomplishing neither?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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