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Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c

Rate the Dress: Blue Flowers & Big Skirts

Your opinion on last week’s dress very much depended on whether it was seen from the front of the back. This week I present another dress that is quite different depending on the angle you see it from. How will it fare in comparison to last week’s pick?

Last Week: a summer 1940 evening dress by Schiaparelli

The verdict on last week’s dress was pretty clear for most of you: fabulous back, boring front. A few people disagreed, and thought the dress would have been overdone with a more elaborate front, and was perfection as it was.

And a couple of you went looking and found the matching jacket that could be worn over the dress. I’d deliberately left it off, because the dress was clearly designed to be worn with or without the jacket, and I thought it would be interesting to see your reaction to Schiaparelli’s cutting, without the more obvious flourishes of the jacket.

The Total: 7.5 out of 10

A slight improvement on last week, but still rather disappointing.

This week: an early 1860s dress in blue floral silk

I’ve passed this dress by as a Rate the Dress option for months, because it looked too simple: very basic 1860s shape, with only interest coming from the double-floral overprinted fabric, in the extremely fashionable blue and black combination of the early 1860s.

But then I looked closer, and saw the trim on the sleeves:

Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c
Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c
Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c
Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c

And the back view:

Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c
Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c

The dress is a classic transition between the slightly smaller skirts and more restrained trim of the late 1850s, and the large ellipse hoops and bold trim of the mid 1860s.

Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c
Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c

It’s even possible that the sleeve and back trim, and the sash pieces, with their elaborate passementerie trim, now faded from black to dark brown, were added to the dress a few years after it was made, to update the style to the current trends.

Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c

The collection record shows the dress is in three parts, which may mean that the sash pieces are fully separate.

Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c

The bodice fit of the dress on the mannequin is, admittedly, not ideal, but an exhibition photo shows a better bodice fit (and a significantly inferior hoop fit, but you can’t have everything…):

Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c
Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c
Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c
Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c
Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c
Dress, ca. 1863, French, silk, Purchase, Judith and Ira Sommer Gift, 1999, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.123a–c

What do you think?

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!)

1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com

When borrowing your sister’s clothes gets fun

Costume College was wonderful, but the absolute highlight of my trip to the US was visiting my sister in Santa Barbara.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her, but she’s definitely my sister: we immediately had a gazillion things to talk about and show each other, and finding fun things to do together was effortless: I wish I’d had five times as much time to be there.

We walked along the boardwalk and beaches, and saw dolphins along the coast. We went to cool coffee (and tea) shops and tried amazing restaurants. She showed me her favourite secret gardens, where we ate grapes and figs and blackberries, and her favourite parks, where I got excited about squirrels (you’ll understand if you’re from NZ or Hawai’i) and butterflies and plants.

We identified flowers in her wildflower garden, and I made friends with her cats. We went op-shopping and vintage shopping (my bank account and luggage allowance are grateful I didn’t buy that 1940s silk damask, but my heart is still sad…). We discovered that we’re still as excited about the same clothes as we were when we were teenagers – although we’re much more amicable about borrowing from each other’s closet now!

Along the lines of closet borrowing, we played dress up. We’ve been doing it since we were kids: she’s the very first person who put me in a costume. This time we got to trade dress ups: she wore my 1790s red-spencer outfit, and I wore a vintage dress from her collection.

Since she has short purple hair, we needed to cover it with something a little more substantial than my Janeway tiara. So she made use of her fabric stash and the ostrich feather I wore for the Saturday Night Gala, and whipped up a turban.

We went up to the Santa Barbara Mission, and had an absolutely wonderful time, and took far too many gorgeous photos. Here are some of my favourites:

1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
Vintage dress ups at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
1790s costume at the Santa Barbara Missson, thedreamstress.com
Evening ensemble, Elsa Schiaparelli, summer 1940; silk, metal, wool; French. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009.300.3165a,b. (1)

Rate the Dress: Schiaparelli Stripes

Sorry for another run of Rate-the-Dresses in a row, with no posts between them. Unfortunately I’m down with a cold, so haven’t been up to much else.

Last Week: a late 1880s evening dress

A few of you liked last week’s Ludinart dress, but most of you weren’t enthused: you didn’t like the tacked on hem frill, or the abrupt difference between the front and the back. Opinions were divided on the bow sleeves: were they fabulous or terrible?

Daniel pointed out that it looked like a dress to get your portrait done in. I’ve been looking at a lot of Sargent this week, and I can definitely see one of his sitters wearing it. The portrait reviews would probably have been a lot better than the dress: Sargent makes everything look good.

The Total: 6.9 out of 10

Definitely not a Worth!

This week: 

This week I’m going from a relatively unknown dressmaker, to a couturier who was an absolute acknowledged master of her craft. Love her work or hate her work, there is no denying that Schiaparelli was brilliantly inventive.

But not every work a master makes is a masterpiece. What about this one?

Evening ensemble, Elsa Schiaparelli, summer 1940; silk, metal, wool; French. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009.300.3165a,b. 2

This evening dress is made from a shot silk (possibly blended with wool), which looks sky blue from some angles, and gold from others. Seen in person, the effect would have been of liquid movement: the sea at sunset, both aqua and ochre.

In a still photograph, however, the dress, unfortunately, just looks stained. It appears as if the glamorous woman who wore it had decided to roll around in the famous red dirt of Hawaii.

Evening ensemble, Elsa Schiaparelli, summer 1940; silk, metal, wool; French. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009.300.3165a,b. 2
Evening ensemble, Elsa Schiaparelli, summer 1940; silk, metal, wool; French. The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009.300.3165a,b. 2

Along with the play of light on the colours of the dress, the cut plays with stripes. Horizontals and verticals and bias intersect at different points, leading the eye to one spot, and then bouncing it away.

In order to get a straight line of stripes around the waist while still fitting the contours of a woman’s body, two long narrow tucks have been taken in at the front waist, releasing at the back.

Like many elements of the dress, it’s a clever trick. But is the dress more clever than beautiful or attractive?

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!)