20th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Sculpture and Swoops by Charles James

Oh boy was last week’s Rate the Dress ever exciting!  For a bit I thought that Mariana Victoria might actually be able to join Amelie Auguste as a 10/10, but then some people didn’t love it quite so much, and then we got into the whole issue of historical children’s clothes and all academia broke loose on my blog.  It was awesome.

By the time it was over, it hardly seemed important that Mariana Victoria’s dress, while not as awesome as Amelie’s, was also awesome, and rated a 9.5 out of 10.

This week’s ‘Rate the Dress’ selection is inspired by last week’s debate, but I can’t tell you why, because that would 1) sway your vote and 2) ruin the fun.

Charles James has appeared on Rate the Dress previously.  He is noted for his challenging sculptural garments that reference Victorian silhouettes while retaining a distinctly fashion-forward silhouette.  This ball gown is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ball Gown, Charles James, 1948, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art

What do you think?  Too challenging and fashion forward?  Or only pretending to be interesting and innovative?  And what does it have to do with last week’s posts?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10



  1. 3 of 10.
    Not a big fan of this dress standing alone. I can tell it’s beautifully constructed, but it looks like two different in one.
    Of course, depending on how it was styled, I could actually really like it. With big 40s hair, feather fascinators, and a gaudy necklace, with the model sitting on a rococo couch… could be as high as an 8 😉

  2. I like the cut and construction, the underskirt is really interesting, but that yellow color….ewww. If it was burgundy, or olive green, or pale blue, then it would be great. but the yellow ruins it for me. 7/10

  3. Zeila says

    I’ll give it a 9, because of the innovative use of color (gold and peach, who would have thought…) and the lovely structure. I’m knocking off a point though, because there is an obvious anatomical reference in the skirt front draping. It’s subtle, but those who catch onto it will find it difficult to ignore.

      • I don’t like it. As soon as I saw it, I knew what you were talking about. It is too hard to ignore, like Zeila said. Besides, I just the colors are ugly together. And I don’t like strapless.

        I give it a 1/10

    • I caught onto it, and it’s disturbing me, and makes this dress a 6, although otherwise I like many of its elements a lot. I even like the colours (and I think this has a lot to do with our monitors’ settings, because we have no idea what it actually looks like in reality, do we?) but – oh, no. It just ruins the whole thing to me.

  4. Elise says

    I wonder what the lady wore on her head? Would it have balanced the marigold?

    You know, it reminds me of an upside down pale tulip with many many golden stamens. Not that I like the color combination. But maybe I would like it all better if it had a hat…


  5. For some reason I really like this, even with the colors being a little odd. 9.5/10

  6. Stella says

    Mustard and beige? Really? The skirt is interesting but the bodice is boring and that colour scheme is just a festival of yuck.

  7. As others have said, I really dislike the color combination. But other than that, I love this dress! I could easily see this on the red carpet today, if made up in modern fabrics and colors. I’ll give it an 8, with two points deducted for the awful color.

  8. Tracy says

    I really love the lines, especially of the skirt, but find the marigold yellow way too bright. How about an 8.

  9. I like the two colors together, it’s just a little different. The construction and engineering would be spectacular (read: it gets more points for being Charles James), and I like the combination of simple lines/complex draping.

    You know what? A 10.

    Uhmm… Could it be the gown was made for a 14-year-old heiress or something?

  10. I have odd feelings about this one.

    I like the bodice and overskirt. And the underskirt doesn’t bother me, though it looks kind of …lumpy.

    But the color scheme is so off. Pale peach and bright harvest gold are both lovely colors, but together…. Together they don’t work. And they really don’t work for the kind of hourglass-shaped, bold woman who might otherwise love the dress.

    So I have to say…7, again. I’m kind of annoyed by that. I’d really like this dress if the underdress were paler, or the overdress were more vibrant, or if the two colors were more closely related (pale peach and dark peach, say, or pale lemon with the gold).

  11. Jay says

    Umm I have an Idea but forget the term… let me look it up.

    Love the colours, Like flesh colour on right skin tone would almost look naked. I’ll give it a 10 just because I love how out there it is.
    and how brave you to wear it out in public.
    Can’t find right word for it but it’s like the Garrison cap… 😛

  12. Beth D. says

    … surprisingly, I like it. weird colours, labial folds and all. 9.5 out of 10 (I took off 0.5 only because I don’t like strapless dresses).

  13. MD Smith says

    The Met did this dress, Charles James and students of fashion a grave disservice with the shoddy photography of this dress. Please refer to the installation shot from the 1982 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, curated by Elizabeth Ann Coleman, to see how the dress was meant to be worn.

    • Thanks for the tip. It looks like the Met has just updated their online catalogue, and the image for this dress now makes it look quite different. I’ve updated the post so that clicking on the image links to the Met’s site, and their new image. Is that the one you mention?

      The write-up on the dress also makes a good read. It’s the bit that clued me in to the ‘hidden symbolism’ in the dress 😉

  14. Jay says

    I can’t help but think of this dress being worn with a fox fur collar/ shoulder shrug and muff.

  15. Minerve says

    I happen to think it’s really gorgeous. My only problem is with the colour of the underskirt.

    I think that this soft pink bodice/overskirt paired with a green underskirt would look really nice. What can I say; I like pink-and-green combinations.

    I give it a 9.
    Thanks for showing up such a variety of outfits each week, btw!

  16. I just looked at the Met’s shot, and THERE it looks right! Pale peach and dark peach, just like I suggested. Wow. I wonder which is closer to its appearance in person, in a ballroom setting.

  17. Wow, what a crazy difference between the first photo and the updated one. The updated one makes the dress so delicious, “labial folds” and all, as stated in the comments above.

    In the updated photo you also get a better view of the interesting seamlines on the bodice. Oh Charles James, how do I love thee!

    I give the view of the dress in the updated photo an enthusiastic 10/10!

  18. Colours – hm, interesting, but I don’t like them very much. The “labiae” put me off, though – not subtle enough, and yes – once you’ve noticed you cannot help BUT notice. Wouldn’t want to be stared at in that department at any social event …
    Imagine wearing this to the Oscar’s 😉 I dare you.

    I’ll give it a 3/10.

    Brilliant website, by the way – stumbled across it today.
    Had loads of fun reading your old entries, as well!

  19. Frecklehead says

    Love it. Would totally wear it. 9/10 and only 9 because strapless is so… so…. dull.

  20. I LOVE the other photo, the colours work together perfectly. I was a bit put off initially by the imagery, but then I thought of it more like a flower, which puts it sexuality out there so beautifully, and somehow that makes it work for me. Like an orchid or an iris.
    I give it a 10. I love it so much, I think it is one of the finest examples of new look, with the perfectly sculpted waistline and gorgeous neckline, and I love the references to the 18th C also.
    Go CJ!!!

    • Ah Mrs C, always a maximalist! You like Worth, you like James, you like Vionnet. Is there anyone you don’t like?

  21. Michelle says

    First time here but . . . I really like it. 9/10. Maybe it’s just because I’m a newbie!!! LOL

    • Welcome! There are plenty of old timers and everyone in between who also like it, and no matter what, all opinions are appreciated.

  22. Ich! I couldn’t stand walking around in something where everyone was ogling my crotch and thinking dirty thoughts.

    • LOL! It might have been too subtle for most people, and of course, we have no idea what random strangers reactions to our clothes today are.

  23. I saw the “labial folds” immediately when I saw it, and after that I couldn’t unsee it. Still I really like the dress, and the colours. It might be hard finding a person with a skintone that would look really well in it though, I’m thinking a darker complexion might be the best.

    It’s a 10/10 from me.

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