20th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the dress: Lace and fur in 1910

Well, you have had two weeks now of vivid red Rate the Dresses.  You liked the rose-red of Charles I’s outfit better than the tomato red of the 1860s dress, but other than the colour Charles’ 1610s outfit didn’t fare too well.  You rated it a paltry 4.7 out of 10, and dubbed it a representation of the ugliest period in fashion ever, but I daresay it would have come off worse had it not been red.

Popular as it may be, I can’t show you red outfits for every Rate the Dress.  It would get monotonous, and I think it gives them an unfair advantage.  Personally, I’m a huge fan of neutrals, partly because I feel a neutral frock really has to work for approval: if it isn’t right, you notice, where a bright colour can hide shoddy design.

Shoddy design is, of course, a matter of taste and time.  It had never occurred to me that this was a fashion no-no, but in Flora Klickmann’s Flower Patch books, she complains about the “innappropriate, vulgar, inartistic fashion of trimming frail transparent dress material with fur.”


What about you, dear readers?  Do you also think that combining fur and fragile chiffon and lace is a fashion faux pas?  Let’s test it with a frock by noted Parisian designer, Jacques Doucet.  The frock is held in the    Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Evening dress, silk, fur & linen, Jacques Doucet, 1910, Met

Evening dress, Jacques Doucet, ca. 1910, Met

Evening dress, Jacques Doucet, ca. 1910, Met

Doucet’s dress combines lavish amounts of silk satin, lashings of draped lace, elaborately embroidered chiffon, and just a touch of fur on the cuffs, all over a linen underlay.

Too much? Too many fabrics?  Does the neutral colour scheme hold it all together, or just make it boring?  And what about those bits of fur?

 Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.


  1. I pretty much hate the whole thing. I don’t understand the square panels on the front and back. Maybe if they were some other shape? I don’t know. The lace is pretty – too bad you can’t really see it under everything else. The chiffon bib and fur on the sleeves makes me think of a lion. I almost feel sad that such beautiful materials were all put together in such a mish-mash of a dress. I think that separately there could have been three pretty dress ideas, but all of this stuff together is a mess. I suppose it reinforces the importance of editing your designs…. Basically this dress only gets points because the fabrics themselves are pretty, but no points for how they were used.


  2. Bias alert: I adore the early 1910’s, especially because of the combinations of fabrics. While I am very conscious of items matching in terms of season (I’ll never understand why people wear shorts and sweatshirts) there is so little fur that it’s clearly not meant to keep the wearer warm. However, I’m not a big fan of the lacey stuff on the neckline. 8/10

  3. Daniel says

    I think a lot of these 1910s dresses never look quite good out of context. When it’s just the dress all by itself, it’s hard to get a handle on it, but when you see the dress on a full figure, with a head, it all comes together. I do love this decade though (I think the later 1910s is really, really underrated). I think the dress looked really nice on the original wearer – streamlined and elegant and balanced out by the head and hairdo.

    BUT I do think there are some fundamental whoopsies going on here. Two scrappy bits of wristlet, like a pair of Wallis Simpson’s garters, and nothing else anywhere on the dress is not a good look – if you’re gonna have fur only in that one place on an otherwise neutral dress, it’s got to be great big whooshes of fox or something, something making a great big statement, and two streaks like a kitty hacked up a mouse on your wrists is not the statement you want.

    There’s also that horrid bit of chiffon just plonked on the neckline and hanging down over the front of the bodice. It doesn’t appear to actually serve any purpose design wise, when actually, some matching fur round the (non-flounced) neckline would have pulled the design together and made the cuffs more logical.

    But I like the rest of the dress and I think it’s got to be a 6/10 from me – would’ve been 8/10 but 1 point off for the arbitrary, noncontextual fur scraps and 1 off for the ectoplasm down the bust.

    • Hehe. Ectoplasm!

      And Wallis Simpson’s garters? I thought it was Jackie Kennedy who made jokes about wearing fur underwear!?!

  4. Anita says

    Dress looks somehow unfinished – because of those apron-like rectangles in front and back. They are large, and give strange empty feeling. Maybe the idea was to create something Oriental? Then put dragons on them! Or don’t put them (rectangles, not dragons) on dress at all. 🙂
    Fur is pure decoration, and is OK for me. 6/10.

    (This is my first comment on this LOVELY website. Hello all!)

  5. Totally with Daniel on this one, couldn’t have put it better. Love it, more tolerant of the kitten tail cuffs, but that droopy chiffon clown ruff neckline is to my eye all out of kilter with the rest. I love the changes in texture and the architectural sweeps of lace and satin interacting together, particularly because they are monochromatic and not also trying to compete with colours. Love the ecru colour too, so rich.
    Had this dress had a big kick ass fur shawl collar, I’d have been off to nick it!

  6. I had to make myself go to the site and look at some super close-ups of this dress before I said anything. First off, I LOVE the embroidered chiffon on the sides and on some portions of the sleeves. The picture of the side of the dress make me love it, but then I look at the front again…and hate it. It’s just so…frumpy…. That large satin panel on the front really breaks it (the back one too when you look at that picture!). If only they took the satin panels off, cut the sleeves up to the elbow, removed the bib and made more of a square neckline, then put the fabric from the bib at the frontmost part of the bodice (with the folds flowing over each other) , at the base of the new neckline with a decorative rosette or some embroidery around it, took the embroidered chiffon all around the skirt of the dress and made a deep “v” in the back with a waist tie of some sort meeting up with it (making an overall “x” shape with the lace upper half and the waist tie and chiffon lower half), it would be amazing! Thinking about that, I actually want to make it now–my version that is.

    Eight out of ten because I made it look better in my head. 🙂

  7. Elise says

    I don’t like the Midieval surcoat-thingy on the front, the fabric choice of it is jarring, and I don’t like the square with all the otherwise lovely angles. I also wish that he had stuck with just the lace. I don’t like the bib much, either though. I do, however, like the fur with the chiffon, so 5/10.

  8. What’s with the apron and the bib? Is Madame a particularly messy eater? And if so, shouldn’t they be made out of something a bit more laundry-friendly than satin and lace? 4/10

  9. Stella says

    The fur looks out of place to me. The rest of the dress is all different textures and layers in the same colour, then suddenly there are these two brown fur streaks. I like the back view, but not the front view, and I’m not convinced the fur cuffs are a good idea. 5/10.

  10. Oh, dear God. The fur trim around the wrists is the *least* of this dress’s failings. Where shall I begin? The U-shaped neckline exaggerated with a huge edging of pleated lace, the satin apron-thing, the weird tulle-like fake pannier drapes…AND a train! Ugh. 2 out of 10, and that’s because I like the silhouette–what one can see of it around the absurd,excessive styling details, that is.

  11. I’d say loose the square panels and that draping on the neckline and you’ve got a realy pretty dress. I like the way the different fabrics complement each other and make the dress more interesting. I also don’t mind the fur on the sleeves. It makes a statement, albeit a rather tiny one because there’s so little of it.
    I would love to see Zach’s version, by the way.
    I give it 8 out of 10.

  12. I like where its going with the fur – fall is here after all – but the rest of the dress is a little blah. Not the most amazing shade of beige… It looks like it would have been worn by an older woman, or at least someone rather matronly… From the back it’s not bad, but from the front I’d have to give it 1 4/10 for a young woman, or a more appropriate 6/10 for an older woman. I’m not thrilled but it’s not totally awful, and the interestingly cut lace does lend it a little credit.

  13. This dress is a trickster! I saw the front and thought “Frumptastic.” The chiffon bib, the schlumpy fold of the front skirt draping, the odd fur wristlets–yack. Then I saw the back–and everything the dress was trying to be came together. The blend of neutrals is lovely, and on the right lady would look like a creamy indulgence. And what I thought was unsalveageable becomes an easy fix–get rid of the chipmunks riding on the sleeves and rip off the awkward drooping neckline chiffon, and it would be a beautiful gown. Nudge the front satin panel a little so it looks less boxy, and better yet. So–a 6 (rather than the 3 I immediately thought of).

  14. ellipsisknits says

    It looks like a decent evening dress, which a satin apron over top, and Charles’ ruff from last week after someone sent it through the wash and forgot to starch it.
    No, the color doesn’t do it any favors either.
    It’s alarming that the fur cuffs barely even deserve mention compared to the other issues.

    I want to say I can’t think of any way it could be worse, but that’s probably a lack of imagination.

    2/10 I suppose it could have a bunch of black bows on it. That would be worse.

  15. Hmmm, I think this evening dress actually may be a sleeping beauty. It’s missing the accessories and the woman who gave it balance, and other parts have discolored, hiding the original intent in the color tones and the play of hide and seek. Let’s imagine it as it might have been worn ensemble, and see what happens.

    Large muffs or boas were high fashion at that moment, and fur could appear on the head too, so imagine the neckline with a drape of a boa around it, for example, with perhaps some fur in a headpiece or turban. The wrists seem less alone, perhaps?

    Now, take that very large collar plus the lace on the tunic portion of the skirt, and remove the ravages of time, and it may become more sheer, and less of an ecru, more of a creamy luxe counterpoint to the opacity of the skirt. Bye-bye frumpola.

    Now put on some little Louis heels to balance what seems to be a strange front height for the free-floating front and rear panels. I still would have made it 1.5 to 2 inches longer, but…

    Then dress the –preferably glossy brown — hair with some width, as was fashionable, to balance the neckline treatment. Finally, add a multiple-strand pearl choker at the neck to balance the collar and to play off the pearly satin.

    The dress begins to work.

    You have the juxtaposition of the sheer and the opaque, the shiny and the matte, the smooth and the furry. You have the reverence for the East, both Russia and Japan, in the fur and the obi-referencing panels. The resulting look is not for everybody, but on the right willowy woman gliding along the floor at the right evening event, smashing.

    N.B. Once again, I think museums sometimes do a disservice to their garments when they leave them positively dismembered, sans the accessories and milieu that they complemented and that complemented them. Some fine artworks suffer in this way too, that’s why they are often housed in galleries with appropriate architectural and cultural references.

    However, mounting a full ensemble is so time-consuming and expensive, and can literally cover up dress construction details, so I see why it’s done. Cross-linking to appropriate accessories, or to paintings, drawings, photos, or other museum holdings of the period would enrich the viewer’s experience. Again, more time and resources. So I won’t complain too loudly!

    I give the dress a daring 9 out of 10.

    Very best,


  16. I don’t like the front and back panels, especially the back; they kill the rest of the shapes in my opinion. The back is completely boring because of that long rectangular panel. If they were not so shiny, or were embroidered, it might be better, I don’t know. I guess the idea there was some kind of Orientalism, but it’s rather misplaced the way it is done here.
    But I rather like the bravery of that droopy lace collar. It’s borderline, but the back sorely needs something like that to break that expanse of shiny satin (or what fabric it is).
    The fur is nothing special, it adds a nice touch of a different colour, but I must agree with Flora Klickmann that the combination is vulgar, and with Daniel that more fur would be better than this little arbitrariness.
    4? Redesign the panels, fur, and the collar (because the offending panels are gone) and it’s a lovely, lovely dress. But not like this.

  17. I… just… no. It’s not the unique mix of fabrics that bugs me; I’d be fine with that if the dress was pretty. But the whole this is just… ick. The bib/apron/rectangular whatever-the-heck-it-is thing, the overly large ruffled lace collar thing, it’s all jarring, ugly and doesn’t go well. Too bad really; I generally like this period. 2/10

  18. J. Haven says

    Coming in very late to the game – I was only introduced to your website a few months ago, and have been going through the Rate the Dress archives.
    Could the designer have been going for an Egyptian look? From the side the aprony panels look like an extreme gates-of-hell, but from the front, the collar and apron against the backswept over skirt look very much like a modest version of the clothing in pharaonic-era paintings.
    Or maybe the wearer was going to a fancy-dress ball as a head nurse…

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