18th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Infanta Mariana Victoria in blue

I have been remiss.  Last week I did you out of a Rate the Dress altogether (though I must say, no one seemed to mind!).  To add to that, when I showed you a Chanel ensemble two weeks ago, I forgot to tell you what Maria Josepha rated the week before that.

So, catchup time.  Maria Josepha, despite her sourpuss expression, and despite Rowenna describing her as “a pig stuffed in a dress,” rated an 8.9 out of 10.  Regency fashion, even if not an exceptional example of the era, seems to be very popular with you!

Chanel’s sequined trouser suit received divided ratings: some loved the minimalism with an opulent touch, others thought the lace fussy and the sequins icky.  It rated a 7.5 out of 10

This week I’m trying to correct mistakes by including a little minimalism, a little opulence, a little sequins, a little lace, a bit of extreme femininity and a bit of masculine styling all topped up with a much sweeter expression than Maria Josepha had.

Of course, all of this is worn by a Spanish princess (fashion goes to Spain to die), and a young Spanish princess.  Spain and children’s fashion don’t usually go over well with you!  Will this one be different?

Mariana Victoria, who I would say is probably not 3 years old in her portrait, is shown in a skirt and jacket of rich cerulean blue.  The skirt is trimmed with a scalloped fringe of silver bobbles, and is lifted up to show a pink, ruffle trimmed petticoat.  Her jacket has lace cuffs and silver trimmed pockets, and is opened over a rich silver bodice with some pretty elaborate bust clips.

Portrait of Mariana Victoria of Spain (1718-1781) by Alexis-Simon Belle circa 1721 (or, circa 1725 according to me!)

What do you think?  Do all the elements balance, or has my attempt to pick something that included all the elements you seem to favour resulted in a mishmash of trim and style?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10


  1. I would wear that dress. Although it would not fit me. 🙁

    I give it a 10/10. She is so adorable, and the color and style fits her nicely. I love that dress.

  2. Elizabeth says

    She looks so sweet and adorable! That dress is absolutely beautiful and I’m going to give it a 10 out of 10! And I agree, she looks more like a 7 year old than a 3 year old.

  3. I think she is a little doll. The blue and silver goes together nicely.

  4. 10!! I love everything about this! (except the child, haha). I especially love the way the bodice turns back into revers, and also the skirts, and the the trims, it’s lovely <3 <3 <3

  5. Me too, love it. Love everything about it, ignoring the whole child dressed as adult ick factor. Colour, trim, shapes, the lot. 10.

  6. It’s just so adorable she doesn’t seem so stuffy, like many other poor kids in adult fashions!

  7. Madame Ornata says

    Well it has all been said already and I agree wholeheartedly too. Cute kid (looks older) and wow dress 10/10. I would love an adult version. those colours together are sublime, it’s pretty, balanced……the flower wreath ….sigh

  8. Paul Miller says

    She IS cute and the dress is lovely, but I wish it were just a little bit shorter, so that it a] didn’t look so grown up and b] showed a cute pair of little girl shoes. I do love the long braid and the coronet she is holding. Is it just me, or is the scale off a little bit? Her arms seem too long for her legs. 8/10

  9. 9/10! It’s so pretty, well balanced, and the colors look lovely together. I do feel a little bad that she was so tightly laced in those stays, even though it was common back then.

  10. Judi says

    Not a ten, but I’d give it an 8.5. I love the lace trim at the hem of the skirt, and the pink petticoat. The bust clips are a little heavy handed, even for an adult, but for a child they just really bring out the “child dressed as an adult” ick factor. I wonder if the relatively clean lines and simplicity of design was because of her status or because of her age?

  11. It’s lovely (though I have a hard time imagining an under-3-year-old tolerating a corset tight enough to produce that kind of waist–I assume the artist is indulging in a bit of stylization here, to say the least). However, I *love* the dress in and of itself (I would enjoy owning and wearing one just like it). The blue is lovely, the pink underskirt gentle enough not to clash. The tassels and lace are a *bit* excessive (I’d remove a row of each, I think).

    I give it a 9.5 out of 10. So there!

  12. Mlle. Sophie says

    Oh it’s lovelly! I love the colors! I want to make that in my size. (-:

    9/10 (I think!)

    • Mlle. Sophie says

      I hadn’t noticed the petticoat! 10/10 !!!

  13. Adorable! I love the whole outfit, but the peek of pink petticoat put me over the top. And do I see a touch of pink as jacket lining, too, or is that a pink cloud in the background? Her hair is so sweet with the braid and flowers–the perfect foil to the elaborate silver decoration on her clothing. 9 out of 10.

  14. I think this is lovely and adorable. I, like others here, would really love a version for myself! I give it 10/10 (personally).

    I am a little curious about the whole “ick factor” people mention in regard to children dresses as adults. Have you ever done a post on why that was? I know why, and so simply view it as a cultural manifestation of the time, it doesn’t bother me one way or the other. Do other people here know and are still bothered by it? Hmm, I wonder if it might have anything to do with being a modern mother? (I have no children, yet).

    I was just wondering.

    • I’m curious too about the ‘ick’ factor, especially, when you consider what we dress our children in…they’re dressed like mini-adults as well. So, why is it ok with our culture, but not ok with past cultures?

      PS (10 out of 10. Plus, it looks like in the far back of the gown it’s lined in the same pink as the under petticoat…if that’s the truth…love.it!)

      • Mlle. Sophie says

        I agree! Anyway the adult fashions that historical children wore were much prettier than the ones being worn by a lot of kids these days! That is what I think is really ichy.

      • Well, kids dressed as mini adults these days are icky and not OK to me!

        I’ll try to do a post on the children dressed as adults issue. It’s not one I have studied in depth, but I do know a bit.

        • Madame Ornata says

          I don’t get the whole ick thing either. I have no problem with it as long as there is no ‘harm’ it’s just clothes, kids had a lot worse issues to deal with back then – v high mortality rates being just one. But it is obviously a reasonably widely held feeling given the comments so intriguing. It is likely that these paintings to some degree used artistic licence as it is often a factor in adult paintings so why not in kids too e.g. that exaggerated waist may not be so defined in real life, the historical version of photo shop.

  15. Frecklehead says

    Love it, want it, would wear it anytime. 🙂 It is of course a very grown up dress… But it’s for a portrait! You wear your best for a portrait. 🙂 The color is gorgeous, and the trim is rather marvelous as well, without going overboard.

  16. Paul Miller says

    I think the ick factor is obvious: The combination of stays, a low decolletage and flaring skirts creates a nubile, sexual shape on a woman. Seeing a little girl’s figure manipulated by a frock to emulate a sexually developed woman is off-putting. I don’t know why that is mystifying.

    • I don’t think I’d use the term mystifying. Rather it seems to be an example of the common tendency to apply modern standards/social mores to the past. As a dress historian specializing in pre- and early modern dress (well, a PhD student in the field anyway) one of the first lessons I learned was that this is a pretty absurd thing to do.

      Since I take a social history perspective to dress I also learn about the socio-cultural environment surrounding it. Regarding childhood I have learned (though I am by no means an expert!) that our perception of it is not intrinsic, it is actually a cultural construction that developed over the 19th century. At the time of this painting such a thing as childhood as we know it did not exist. This was a time when members of the labouring classes started to work for money as early as 3-5 years of age. To put it in simplistic terms (I’m sure it’s much more nuanced than this) you were an infant up to 2 or 3 yrs old, and then you had to start being productive in some way and start learning to be an adult. And there was no such thing as children’s clothes.

      We may view all this as barbaric today, but life and the social environment were different then. In contrast, we could be viewed as over-infantalizing our children. There is also a somewhat sinister side to the cultural creation of the concept of childhood as we recognize it during the nineteenth century: it was part of the same movement that increasingly attempted to exclude women from skilled occupations, ideally relegating them to the home and keeping them out of public view in order to consolidate a male hegemony within the working world. Of course, this did coincide with increased education/literacy amongst young people, which I don’t think anyone today would view negatively.

      This painting is certainly a highly stylized and manipulated image. Trying to get a small person to pose for the lengths of time required to do a portrait would be impossible (as they were for most adults!). There were probably sketches of the head/face made and the dress was probably set up on some sort of mannequin, then the rest just made up. This is likely part of a certain trope of portraiture at time, especially as it is a formal example of a member of royalty (or upper aristocracy? I don’t know who she is specifically).

      You read this painting as sexualized, it is unlikely to have been read so at the time of execution (and for some time thereafter). We live in a world where the sexualization of children and pedophilia are hot topics for the media. This was not the case at the time of this portrait. While it is perfectly valid for people to personally perceive this image as “icky” based on their modern socio-cultural environment, but that doesn’t make it objectively so.

      I’ll get off my soapbox now.

      • You know what’s interesting…as a historical reenactor where we do dress our children in eighteenth century clothes, and though they may not wear stays (at least until they’re a bit older–ten or twelve is not uncommon for us reenactor children to have gotten our first pair of jumps) do often wear gowns with stiffened bodices lending a shape not terribly unlike Maria’s here…I don’t see it as sexualized at all. It’s a shape of clothing that’s neither adult nor infantile…just a shape. Like slim pants and a loose-fitting top today, which both children and grown women wear. On the grown woman, it can look sexual if she wears it a certain way…on the child, it must be exploited significantly to yeild sexualized results. I also don’t see it as odd, or abusive, that an eighteenth-century child would wear stays. They likely didn’t tight-lace their children, they’re not uncomfortable (I swear on my life, properly laced stays are not uncomfortable or terribly restrictive), and parents were doing what they thought was healthful and respectable for their children–what’s twisted or abusive about that? Sorry if my addition to the soapbox dialogues was uninvited or unmerited 🙂

        • All additions are invited, and all(most all) additions have merit. I blithely toss those that don’t, and I would never do that to you!

          It’s really interesting to hear about children today in reenactment situations. I think, for me, the difference is that modern children probably see it as playing dress up, and for historical children, it was a way of life. That doesn’t make either more right!

          And I do housework in stays, so I have no problem conceding that they aren’t uncomfortable.

      • Paul Miller says

        I almost added to my comment a disclaimer to point out I was aware that among a certain niche group of scholars there may be historical facts that countered my contemporary view of this, but decided that because we weren’t writing our dissertations here, but merely speaking on a more human level, it was unnecessary. I once read a very compelling opinion article from a female doctor of African origin who defended quite articulately the practice of female circumcision culturally. I comprehended her every point, but learned to be at peace with certain more instinctive responses.

  17. If I ever had a reason to wear an 18th century dress of a certain amount of opulence, I’d pick this one! It looks a lot like “my” dress…

    That said, I’d pick this one now.
    There is that adult-dressed-as-child ick factor, as others put it. In this case, it lies in the fact that she looks weirdly adult on the portrait.

    9, then. The dress is too fantastic in my eyes to give it a lower rating.

  18. Jay says

    Love. 9 out of 10.
    I do love blue on Girls. Mother done up in matching one would be show stopping.
    Call me a prude but a little more covering on bodice would have made it a 10 for me. The shape feels bottom heavy.

  19. Aaron says

    I love the treatment at the bottom of the dress, but neutral on the detail work on the peplum. Typically I am drawn to detail, but not all of it works. Still, it is extremely opulent. 9.5/10

Comments are closed.