Latest Posts

Rate the Dress: Doucet does lashings of lace

This week’s rate the dress is a little delayed because I read the comments on last week’s Rate the Dress and thought ‘uh oh…’

I owe you guys an apology for last week’s post.  I was in a hurry when I wrote it, and while I thought I indicated that Fannie’s outfit, while rarely seen in paintings or photographs, was a common, and totally proper and unexceptionably, outfit, I obviously didn’t make it clear enough.    So Fanny copped a lot of criticism which assumed that what she was wearing was scandalous, or intentionally rebellious, because the sheer blouse showed her corset cover.  From a modern perspective, this makes sense – we’re not that far off from an era when a peep of petticoat was naughty or slovenly, and even today exposed bra straps are forbidden in many school dress codes.

However, Fanny’s corset cover would not have been considered an undergarment in the same way a bra is.  It’s much more like a camisole under a sheer shirt: totally appropriate under any circumstances that matched the formality of the rest of the outfit.  Fanny and her portraitist weren’t trying to deliberately flaunt authority – they were merely showing an upper class young lady in an outfit that was perfectly acceptable for her social class and age.

The perception that undergarments in and of themselves are ‘naughty’, or even the way in which we classify undergarments, is quite modern.  Throughout the 18th c there were situations in which women of all social classes could show parts or all of items that we think of as undergarments (chemises, stays, etc).  There were also garments, such as petticoats/skirt, which could be layered as undergarments on cold days, or appear as outerwear on warmer.  More recently, there are numerous decades and fashions in the 19th and early 20th century when showing certain undergarments was totally acceptable.  Among them is the use of beautifully decorated corset covers under sheer blouses and swiss waists, as we see on Fannie.

Because of the confusion I am not going to count the rating for Frances Adeline, as I don’t feel she got a fair and accurate viewing.  We’re always going to judge with a modern eye, but I try to provide context so we can at least have an idea of how an outfit was perceived at the time, and this time I didn’t.  I do apologise for that: it’s entirely my fault for not presenting the painting with enough background or social history about the outfit, and it’s something I’ll try to avoid in the future.  Rate the Dress is meant to educate as well as entertain!

This week I’m presenting another outfit with a bit of misinformation – this one coming from the museum itself.  This lace confection by Doucet is labelled a ball gown, but it’s clearly an afternoon reception dress.  If it were a ball gown, it would have a low, exposed neckline, and would be significantly less likely to have a train (they aren’t that easy to dance in, after all).

The date on the gown is also off by at least 5 years – by 1910 the puffed sleeves, very high Alexandra neckline, and full pigeon breast had disappeared, and the fuller trumpet skirt had become a slimmer column.

So, as a early 1900s afternoon reception dress, how do you like this confection in elarborate, and expensive tape lace?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

Canistel (eggfruit) tree, Hawaii, 2016, thedreamstress.com

Fruits on the farm: what are canistel (eggfruit or yellow sapote)

My parents have an organic permaculture farm on Moloka’i, with vegetables and ducks, and LOTS of varieties of tropical fruit. There are common ones like bananas (at least five varieties), papaya and lilikoi (passionfruit); Pacific specific ones like ohia ‘ai (mountain apple) and breadfruit; slightly exotic ones like cacao (chocolate), lychee and carambola (starfruit); and really exotic ones like rambutan, jaboticaba, and canistel (eggfruit).

I mentioned the last one on facebook, and a number of people asked what a canistel (which I actually misspelled as canistelle) is.

This is a slightly green canistel (Pouteria campechiana) on the tree:

Canistel (eggfruit), Hawaii, 2016, thedreamstress.com

And a ripe one:

Canistel (eggfruit), Hawaii, 2016, thedreamstress.com

It’s also known as eggfruit, because the flesh is the deep yellow of an egg yolk, and, rather than being juicy like most fruit, is dry and flaky in the same way that a hard-boiled egg is dry and flaky.

Canistel (eggfruit), Hawaii, 2016, thedreamstress.com

It’s really hard to describe the flavour of canistel, but the closest comparison is that it is like a really, really good pumpkin pie.*  It’s rich, and dry and flaky, and very sweet, with a bit of a hint of spice like cinnamon and cloves.

Canistels are native to Mexico & Central America, but my parents have been growing them for almost 30 years.  This is their original tree:

Canistel (eggfruit) tree, Hawaii, 2016, thedreamstress.com

Canistels form mid-sized trees (about 6-8 meters tall), and bear fruit in the spring and summer, within three years of being planted.

They are delicious eaten fresh, but I also make canistel bread, using a recipe very similar to one for a banana bread, and I’ve known people to make canistel pies by simply mixing the flesh to a smooth pulp and pressing it into a cooked nut crust.  Yum!

* My apologies to the non-North American readers who are thinking “Well, that’s not really very helpful!” I can’t think of another description.

Rate the Dress: Frances Adeline in mauve

Last week I showed you an 1880s Worth gown in red, with elements borrowed from a number of 18th c decades.  Many of you loved the dress, but weren’t quite sure about the skirt trim (in most amusing ways), bringing the dress down to an 8.8 out of 10 – very good, but not the best Worth has done by far.

This week I present Frances Adeline ‘Fanny’ Seward in an early 1860s ensemble that consists of a what appears to be a skirt and swiss waist in mauve silk satin, and a sheer blouse with puffed mamaluke sleeves.  The sheer blouse gives us an interesting, and fairly unusual, contemporary depiction of a visible corset cover or chemise.

Frances Adeline 'Fanny' Seward by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

Frances Adeline ‘Fanny’ Seward by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, early 1860s

Fanny was the youngest child of United States Secretary of State William H. Seward.  She is most famous for her detailed diary documenting her life during the Civil War.  She’s also known for helping to save the life of her father, brother, and three other men when one of John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators attempted to assassinate him by stabbing him.  After the attack Fanny, who had been in the room with her ill father when the would-be-assassin crippled her brother with a blow to the head and burst in with a knife, bandaged the badly injured men while the only other un-injured person in the house went for a doctor.  Sadly, Fanny herself died of tuberculosis only a little over a year after the attack.

While Fanny was undoubtedly a fascinating, intelligent, and strong woman, today we are most concerned with her taste in clothes.  What do you think of the outfit she picked for her only painted portrait?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

(and Daniel, I swear I picked this out and had it written and scheduled before you dubbed last week’s dress the Fanny dress!)