20th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the dress: Lanvin does green and gold

Last week I presented a 1860s dress that Daniel dubbed “daft as a bucketful of monkeys.”  It was pretty excessive:  all those ruffles and frills and poofs!

The rating divided you into two groups: those of you who like “almost stupidly romantic and frilly” (as Libby described it) and those of you who thought that it looked like it was hiding a roll of toilet paper.  The lovers of feminine froth outweighed the naysayers just enough to bring it in at a passable 6.3 out of 10.

This weeks ‘Rate the Dress’ takes us from almost saccharine sweetness to avant garde sophistication.  The MFABoston holds this Lavin designed green harem-panted evening ensemble with gold Celtic knot inspired gilded-leather trim, clearly designed for the fashionista who wasn’t afraid to take risks.

Woman's evening ensemble in two parts, Winter 1935—36, Lanvin, MFA

The outfit teeters between frumpy and sultry: the lack of sleeves would show off fashionably toned and tanned arms, but the details of the deep armscythes might draw attention to your armpits, which aren’t usually the most attractive bit of our anatomy.  The light, flowing fabric is designed to cling alluringly to curves, but is there just too much gather and blouson effect to allow that?  And are harem pants ever a good idea, even when designed by Lanvin?

Only you can say!  Rate the dress on a scale of 1 to 10


  1. I don’t like it. I tried to like it, but I don’t. The celtic goldwork on green just feels cliche to me……but that’s not the worst part. It’s the whole harem pantsuit thing. I’m one fashionista who is afraid to take THAT risk!

    I give it a 2

  2. Mercy says

    Love the colour and the motif, really dislike the whole style, esp the harem pants and the flappy arm-pit revealing bit. 5/10 for colour and motif.

  3. Jenny Wren says

    Eesh. This is baggy in all the wrong places. And apart from that, the only thing I think when I see someone wearing a jumpsuit is, “How long does it take them to go to the loo?”

    It gets 2 points for pretty draping.

  4. Zach says

    When I first saw it, the only word that came to mind was yuck, but then it grew on me a little. Unfortunately, it was only a little. I like the colors–green is my favorite color, and adding gold just makes me like the combination more–I do not, however, care for the pants. At. All. It it were slices and sewn into a skirt, it would look better. The top is okay–it is different, but it isn’t spectacular. I guess I’m just trying to say that it’s is okay.

    Six out of ten.

  5. I’ll say something nice first. I love the color, I love the gold accents. I like how the neckline drapes across the bust. That’s all I have on nice, unfortunately–the armscyes are awkwardly boxy, and couldn’t look nice on anyone. The waist looks like a drawstring potato sack. And the harem pants are a no-go. I’d like to see a revision of the color, drape, and gilded trim into a sensuous evening gown–maybe with straps criss-crossing the back instead of the awkward sleeveless linebacker look.

    A sad 3 for the 3 elements I liked 🙂

  6. I’m sure at the time it was a sensation but this is not a look that has aged well. Harem pants are just awful no matter how many times the fashion industry tries to resurrect them. I do like the colour though and even though I agree the gold is a cliche it does tone in well. The draping should be pretty but the styling is all wrong.


  7. I actually really, really love this – even though it’s colours I don’t usually like. I think it’s beautiful, but I certainly couldn’t wear it – it would only look good on a tall, willowy, runway-model-sized person. I think I’d give it 8 out of 10, with points deducted for its being unwearable by the general public!

  8. At first (quick) glance, I LOVED this. Then I realized it had huge armscythes and harem pants… ew. I liked it a lot more before I actually looked at it. But I do like the color and the draping. I feel like with a few changes (like a skirt!) it could be much nicer.

    6 out of 10 from me.

  9. Daniel says

    That is stunning, actually. I hadn’t seen this one- absolutely amazing. It looks like it could have been designed in the 1980s or even 21st century – it’s just so fashion forward and I’m absolutely blown away by that. Mind you, the bifurcated woman is a special area of interest for me…!

    I would give this 10/10 actually, because I really admire it for being so ahead of its time, so original, the fabric is soft and flowing, and I am always amazed when I see a dress or garment of whatever date that still looks wearable, effortless and beautiful so long after its conception. So I think it’s brilliant.

    • Elise says

      You know, Daniel, your opinion was my third thought when I looked at it. My first thought when I saw the first half of my dress was “ooooooooh”. Then, when I saw the pants, I went ‘…oh.’ But then, I started thinking about the woman who would (hopefully) wear it. And just like the previous dress (when I pictured an Anne of Green Gables-type), I pictured the sort of Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton sort of woman who could put this on today, and look “effortless and beautiful”. I also like the colors.

      6/10 (Because I’m not in love with it myself)

  10. ellipsisknits says

    Ew. I was initially trying to think open minded thoughts about it. Then I scrolled down and just said ‘ew, but it’s a pantsuit’.

    I don’t like it. The waist looks bunchy instead of flowy, and I don’t like the droopy but stiff underarms, or, particularly, the color of green.

    My third impression is that I think the pose and the manequin hurt it a lot. If I try to picture this in an art-noveau illustration, on a figure who is moving, with her legs uncrossed, and who has a defined waist of some sort, it gets a lot better. Even the colors get better.

    But I still can’t bring myself to rate it more than a 4. The underarms are just too weird. Why would you want to make your torso look broader AND show off some side-boob?

  11. Well… the fabric and color are beautiful. Usually hate the harem pants, but these aren’t so bad. The whole thing is just sort of meh for me. Fabric prettiness saves it from being super low score. My sister walked by and said “Oooh, pretty!” so I guess it gets a bonus point for that.


  12. Gack! They resurrected this in the 1970s and 1980s and most of us ran away screaming. Relatively few women have ever been able to pull it off without creating a giant bum for themselves in the rear view; you have to be rail-thin and very tall. I think there’s a reason that the pakistani kameez are worn with a tunic on top. :}


  13. I love the color scheme. But the cut would only work on a woman who was very tall (over 5′ 9″, perhaps) and very thin, but on her, properly sized, it would be very elegant. Since it wouldn’t work on anyone else (especially *not* me), I feel impelled to downgrade it. 8 out of 10.

  14. I like it. Even though it’s green. Its blatantly Indian inspired parts (that sort of referencing -has- to be blatant for me to get it) – the scarf and the sari-edge trim mean that the always potentially dodgy harem pants actually make sense.
    It would look terrible on me, and the mannequin doesn’t do it any favors either, but I think that on an actual moving human being with a little differentiation between waist and hip it would flow nicely and be lovely and relaxed to wear.


  15. Oh this is just SO 1982!!! Love the colours, love the idea, hate the resulting lovechild. 3/10

  16. Courtney F. says

    Love the trim…but on a different outfit. It’s too wide and too bulky, and it detracts from the sleekness of the rest of the outfit.

    I do agree with the folks above who say that it takes a certain type of figure to pull that look off. It brings Jean Harlow forcefully to mind as an ideal model. But with the dissonance between the supple fabric and the boxy trim, even she couldn’t net this frock more than a 5/10.

  17. Melissa says

    I loved the thumbnail of this, thinking it was a very interestingly-draped dress. But alas, harem pants and frumpy armscythes knock off a lot of points. 5/10 because it is daring and has a lot of good details, the color, draping, and fabric. I would probably give it a 10 if it didn’t have the gold paneling, and if made with a skirt, not harem pants.

  18. Hayley says

    I LOVE IT!

    It’s so cutting edge 30s, crazy, elegant, spectacular, simple and looks very comfortable. 9/10 – it loses a mark simply because it’d look hideous on short and curvy me, but on a tall person it’d be fabulous.

  19. I love it. Although one would need to be awfully tall and slender to wear it, with probably no hips or shoulder width to speak of. The colour is gorgeous.

  20. Oh, I was so enthusiastic I forgot to actually rate it. 8/10 because I could never wear it myself (far too short and REALLY not my colour).

  21. OK. The mannequin is not offering the correct form for this garment. This piece would be dazzling when worn correctly. I love the green, but I am not sold on the gold and I am not overly ecstatic with the overall cut of the garment, but there is something that is just divine about a harem pants cut right, and these are. The draping I love. I agree that this is missing something. It either needed a different cut on the arms, or it needed a different look to the waistline. Not sure, but it is good inspiration and I actually needed a draped pants suit to inspire me for show I am working on and this did it! Thanks for the post!

  22. Libby Gohn says

    I really want to like this. I’m a fan of the colors and the draping, but I just can’t get into harem pants. So 5/10, I guess.

  23. It’s terrible. Sometimes I like harem pants on other people, but I would never wear them. And certainly not in this outfit. The color is strange, the sleeves are too big. It looks like someone just thew a bunch of fabric around them, then stitched in random places. Ugh.

    1/10 (the 1 is for the shoes 😉

  24. Yuck….Don’t like the color, the style, nothing. Harem pants aren’t bad when work with the tunic as in Pakistan, Nepal, and India. But without a tunic? Doesn’t show any curves, and makes a person look extremely large on the bottom half. I honestly can’t think of anything positive about it! but I’ll give it a 1 just to be charitable because some people might like that color scheme.

  25. Yuck! It looks like an anemic green plastic trash bag with a cape and some bananas.


  26. Stella says

    Harem pants can look cool. Who knew?!? 9/10. I want it.

  27. Joie de Vivre says

    I would not wear it, but on the right statuesque beauty on a red carpet, beautiful. She’d need to be porcelain skinned, enviously tall and willowy, and with perfect colouring to go with it. But I love the colours and the soft flowing fabric. This surprises me – I have a fundamental loathing of harem pants with a hair-trigger. But the crotch doesn’t come to her knees (at least not when the mannequin has its legs demurely crossed like that) and somehow the overall look does convey someone fashion forward and glamorous. The armscyes are an ‘ettle beet off as you suggest, but on said tall goddess beauty would be acceptable if still frown inducing. 6/10.

  28. I could totally see this on the catwalks nowadays (or maybe few years earlier; I’m not big at following fashion closely). And it’s one of those fashions of nowadays I could easily live without (and do live without).
    The colour is nice, and the fabric drapes nicely, but that’s about it for me: those characteristics could be used much better on a different garment. OK, so I like the shawl, too.
    It’s a unique garment, it’s very fashion forward, it’s sophisticated, and I still don’t like it. (Speaking of which, “fashion forward” never did it for me – there’s a reason why I’m reading a historical costumer’s blog. 😉 )
    I’m with Lauren on this one: 2.

    Those shoes, though… that’s a whole different story.

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