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Rate the Dress: a 1920s mermaid

Since very patterned fabric and trim was divisive last week, this week I’ve gone for a very plain fabric, with no trim whatsoevery. But it’s definitely not boring a boring dress: whatever else it might be, all in one colour and trimless as it is, it’s distinctive.

Last Week: an 1850s chiné a la branche day dress

There was a decided fork in the ratings branch(e) when it came to judging last week’s chiné crinoline. Either you liked the fabric, or you didn’t. And either you were sure the trim must have been symmetrical, or couldn’t forgive that it wasn’t.

The Total: 7.1 out of 10

Well, it’s an improvement on the week before – more jam with pips than vegemite in the universally appealing scale!

This week: a 1920s day dress with ‘scale’ scallops

Since last week’s fabric was so divisive, and trim was so divisive, this week I present a dress that’s completely devoid of trim, and in a very simple, restful eu de nil silk chiffon.

Afternoon dress, 1926, silk, The Goldstein Museum of Design

The dresses main design feature is layered scallops, which create a fishscale effect running down the front of the dress, and around the hem. They emphasise the drop waist and vertical elements so characteristic of fashions of the era.

Afternoon dress, 1926, silk, The Goldstein Museum of Design
Afternoon dress, 1926, silk, The Goldstein Museum of Design

The high neckline and long sleeves are typical of day dresses of the 20s, but the sleeveless underdress, revealing arms and upper chest under sheer sleeves, add a hint of sass, and make this a more formal day dress. It would be suitable for wearing to the races, or to a wedding, paired, of course, with the perfect hat, rather than for a day of shopping.

Afternoon dress, 1926, silk, The Goldstein Museum of Design

It’s very Little Mermaid (quite appropriate this week), but in the straight lines of the 1920s.

What do you think? If you wanted to channel your inner Marina or Ariel in 1926, would this be your pick for oceanic elegance?

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!)

Ramsay to Renoir thedreamstress.com

Costume Re-Use: How many times can I wear that dress?

I’ve been so uplifted by the response to my post on the climate crisis. In addition to many comments and expressions of support, there has been immediate action. Sewstine has started a group: Costumers for Climate Action, with the goal to use our visibility and voice to help raise environmental awareness and to create change, both as costumers, and in the wider world.

We’re working on bigger plans, but to start off, every member has been encouraged to blog or post about the topic this week.

While costuming isn’t a huge contributor to climate change in the bigger picture, it could still be more eco friendly as a hobby. We’ve been talking about ways to make it more so, and one of the big things that has come up is re-use. As costumers we feel so much pressure to have a new outfit for every event, and to keep making new things.

But, both for the environment, and for all the work that goes into a thing, it’s sad to only wear it once. So here is a celebration of some of my costumes that have been worn, and worn, and worn again.

My goal is for every costume I make to get worn at least 12 times.

Let’s look at three of my earlier frocks and see how I’ve been doing:

The 1878 Jeanne Samary Dress

The Jeanne Samary Dress at the opening of Monet & the Impressionists at Te Papa

First worn to the opening of Monet and the Impressionists, back in March-ish 2007. (#1)

And to my ‘Capturing the Mode’ talk in conjunction with Monet & the Impressionists (#2)

Worn again to Gaskell’s Ball in Oakland, in June-ish 2007 (#3)

At Gaskell’s in Oakland, California

And by Theresa for a photoshoot in the Botanical Gardens (#4)

1880s Jeanne Samary dress thedreamstress.com

And by models at two more talks on the classical influence on fashion in 2010 (#5 & #6).

And again by a model at Ramsay to Renoir in Nelson (#7)

Ramsay to Renoir thedreamstress.com

The dress no longer fits me, so is due for a major refurbishment so I get wear it another 5 times and get it to 12 wears! (though my mind is insisting it’s been worn at least once more, but I can’t recall the occasion…)

The ca. 1800 Madame Recamier Regency Dress:

Made back in 2009, in one day.

First worn for a photoshoot the day I finished (#1)

Worn again to a Pride & Prejudice & Zombies ball (where I met SO MANY amazing people who have gone on to be lifelong friends – including Theresa) (#2).

Then the dress appeared at the event it was made for, on a model at Pompeii to Paris I (#3)

And Pompeii to Paris II (#4)

And at a talk for the NZ quilters at a big annual conference in 2010 (#5)

In was very helpful as a stand-in dress in 2011, when I was giving a Dr Sketchy event and developed a virus right before it, and couldn’t breathe in my planned corset (#6):

The timeless beauties get a rundown of the schedule

In 2015 Theresa and I did a Pride & Prejudice themed photoshoot, and I wore it #7:

ca. 1800 Recamier gown thedreamstress.com

After that I decided I needed to fix all the things I’d gotten wrong with it, and gave it a bit of a refurbishment:

ca. 1800 Recamier gown thedreamstress.com

Last winter it got worn at Ramsay to Renoir, b7 a model who is a perfect stand-in for the 1995 Jane Bennet! (#9)

Ramsay to Renoir thedreamstress.com

Last spring Priscilla borrowed it to wear for our Sew & Eat Historical Retreat (#10):

And just a few weeks ago Zara borrowed it as part of her Neelix costume for the Time Travellers Ball. (#11)

I’m almost certain it’s been worn a couple of other times, but I’m also sure it will be worn a dozen more times, so it’s doing well on my costume re-wear goals!

1660s Ninon

Made in 2010-2011, because I love yellow and mid 17th century fashion.

First worn for Grandeur & Frivolity, a talk on Baroque & Rococo music & fashion. (#1)


And then in 2011 for a photoshoot for Radio New Zealand on a similar topic (photo here is an outtake) (#2):

It next appeared at a charity talk at Premier House on the history of afternoon tea (#3)

Chiara in Ninon & Brit in the Pet waiting their cue to enter

And then I finally got to wear it for a photoshoot with Theresa at the old Dominion Museum. #4

1660s Ninon gown thedreamstress.com

And then again in 2012 for another charity talk, this one at Wellington Museum (#5)

Ninon's Dress thedreamstress.com

After which I gave the dress a little refurbishment, and added trim to it, and wore it to a Bastille Day ball in 2015 (#6)

And then it went with me to my first CoCo for the Friday Night Gala (#7)

Costume College Friday thedreamstress.com

And finally, it was worn by a model to Ramsay to Renoir last winter (#8)

Ramsay to Renoir thedreamstress.com

Four more wears (and hopefully lots more after that) to go!

I’ve loved all ways these dresses have looked, how they change depending on how they are styled, and how different women look in them. It’s a satisfying result after all the work that goes into them. <3

Rate the Dress: Chiné Crinoline

Thank you to everyone who comment on my post on climate change and mental health. I really appreciate your support, suggestions, and empathy. I’m still working through them, and allowing myself to do just a little bit every day to cope, and even though I haven’t managed to respond yet, I really appreciate that you took the time to comment.

One thing that does generally help me is having a schedule, so, although it’s a day late, here’s Rate the Dress.

Last Week: an 1890s evening dress by Mrs Cuttle

Here in NZ things that people either really like, or really don’t like, are sometimes described as ‘the vegemite option’ (or, ‘the marmite option’, because using either immediately triggers a vehement argument about which is the better/true extremely weird tasting yeast spread).

Vegemite is either something you like, or…isn’t (unless you’re me, and you think it’s revolting as you eat it, and then immediately want another piece of vegemite toast)

Last week’s dress was vegemite. And, carrying on the analogy, only a few of you are from the few countries that like the stuff, because most of you DID NOT like the dress. But some loved it!

The Total: 6.4 out of 10

And Veronica was right on the money with her rating! (there is no award for that, because then everyone would start doing middle of the road ratings, and that would be terribly boring 😉 )

This week: an 1850s afternoon dress in chiné a la branch silk

This 1850s afternoon dress is made from a floral warp printed silk: chiné a la branche silk, or, as it might have been called in the 1850s, pompadour silk.

Afternoon dress, 1852, American, silk, Gift of Henri Bendel II, 1955, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.55.1.8a, b

The characteristic blurred effect of the weave softens the harsh contrast that the bright tones and dark ground of the fabric might have otherwise had, while the floral print keeps the dress from severity or sombreness.

Afternoon dress, 1852, American, silk, Gift of Henri Bendel II, 1955, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.55.1.8a, b

The dress would have originally been worn with a white collar, and white engageantes (undersleeves) which would have further brightened it.

Afternoon dress, 1852, American, silk, Gift of Henri Bendel II, 1955, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.55.1.8a, b

The blurred lines and irregular patterning of the print are matched and balanced by lines of trim which are both angularly geometric, and softened with gathers, adding to the overall aesthetic tension between crisp contrasts and muted borders.

Afternoon dress, 1852, American, silk, Gift of Henri Bendel II, 1955, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.55.1.8a, b

Like last week’s dress, it’s suffering slightly from presentation. Sloping shoulders may have been the 1850s beauty ideal, but the lines around the neck and collapsed fabric at the side of the bust and around the armhole make it clear this was meant to be worn by someone shaped a little less like a wine-bottle.

Afternoon dress, 1852, American, silk, Gift of Henri Bendel II, 1955, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.55.1.8a, b
Afternoon dress, 1852, American, silk, Gift of Henri Bendel II, 1955, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.55.1.8a, b

Imagine in the right accessories and body, and what do you make of it? Does the pairing of fabric and cut work for you? Is this chiné crinoline a win?

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!)