20th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1950s does Japonisme

Oh dear, oh dear.  We were having such a good run with Rate the Dress, and then last week the grey & peach 1860s dress disappointed so many of you.  There were some that still loved it, to be fair, but not enough to raise the rating above a 5.9 out of 10 (and if I had accepted Sineuve’s ‘-8’ rating it would have been even lower!)

Let’s see if this week’s dress can bring back the wins?

My selection brings together all the things I have been blogging about in the last few days: early 50s, mid-50s, summertime, & Japan, all in one perky party frock. Caroline Schnurer’s ‘Rice Bowl Dress‘ uses Japanese paper tie-dye designs on cotton, a backwards kimono-collar, and a very innovative parasol-inspired pleated skirt supported by vertical bones.

"The Rice Bowl Dress", Carolyn Schnurer , Textile manufacturer- ABC Fabrics, 1952, American, cotton, Metropolitan Museum of Art

What do you think?  Is all that green fresh and summer-y?  Does the pairing of classic style with some very innovative construction work, or is the whole boned-skirt thing just a bit too odd?  And what would you think of the dress if you didn’t know how it was constructed?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. This dress looks perfect for a summer event. I can find no fault and want to make a reproduction. To nitpick, the mismatched patterns at the waistline bother me, so -.5 to that, giving it a final score of 9.5.

    As for construction, the vertical boning throws me a bit, simply because I can’t picture what that would be like to wear (comfort-wise) or how to properly execute it. It seems like it could be a lot lighter and cooler than wearing crinolines (which would be required for that shape otherwise), however, it seems like it would also be less yielding, which I think would be uncomfortable. Doesn’t affect my rating though.

    (Being first seems so intimidating)

    • I’m glad you braved up and were willing to be first!

      I think the waist pattern is actually totally intentional – if you look at it closely, it perfectly reverses the stripes from the skirt, forming a chevron pattern at the waist and highlighting the change from bodice to skirt. It’s very intellectual and Japanese – exactly the sort of quirky thing you might see on a really well made kimono (though obviously not at the waist!).

      • Ahh, I think that intentional mismatch might be more obvious in person, and I would like it. I think it just looks ‘off’ on the small scale photo.

  2. Green is my favorite color. I usually love most green things, as long as they aren’t neon. I love the 1950s. Full skirts and perfect–well, everything–make me happy. I also love asian influences in clothing, which probably stems from my love affair with the orient a few years ago. Hilariously posed mannequins ( it looks like it’s doing a funny 60s dance) and the minimalistic yet outstandingly lovely design just further my love for this funny little dress.

    Ten out of ten!

  3. Oh my goodness. I’m not a fan of the print itself, but I love that dress. It’s so pretty, and perky, and summery! The boned skirt looks wonderful, but it might feel a bit odd sitting in it. I don’t know…. I’m going to give it a 9.

  4. Love it! I think the fabric is great and I love the style of the skirt, though it probably wouldn’t be the most comfortable thing to wear.


  5. So the skirt is boned. I wondered how it managed those stiff, perfect pleats.

    Here’s where I come out: Color scheme: fresh and spring-y/summer-y. Shape: great (though I wonder what the boned skirt looks like when the wearer sits down). Print: kind of odd. Notwithstanding the”rice bowl” theme it doesn’t look Japanese to me. The dress also needs a nice medium width to wide belt in a neutral color (no hope, I’d say, that one could match that green). Overall rating: 8.5

  6. I like the way it’s made. A boned skirt is clever; not that much different than wearing a hoop in the 1860’s. And I generally like the 50’s shape. But the fabric is terrible. looks like an alien or something.
    so 7/10

  7. Love! If it had sleeves, I’d be planning a museum heist. 9!

    And another admirer of the cheeky mannequin here.

  8. Stella says

    It’s nice, but it doesn’t really have the wow factor either. And I have to say I just don’t see the Japanese influence. The skirt is clever and looks effective, but knowing it has vertical boning puts me off. I can’t imagine how that would be comfortable to wear (or dignified – imagine sitting down in it), so I’m docking a couple of points for that. 4/10 from me.

  9. I think it is gorgeous. I wouldn’t know it as Japonisme at first, until you pointed it out. Love it even more.



  10. ellipsisknits says

    Hmm, I’m having a hard time with this one. Completely leaving aside the issue of skirt construction (clever or impractical? Who knows) I think it’s cute, but there isn’t enough to it (stella’s ‘wow factor’) to really pull in an excellent rating. I’m a fan of the mannequin, and trying not to let the presentation influence my rating too much. And then, while I like the colors, it’s really not my favorite print. So, hmm, altogether? I dunno. It IS cute.

  11. mouse says

    I love it. It’s so dreary here in the Pacific NW right now that the green is popping right off my screen and reminding me that spring will be here soon. I could see wearing this to a garden party, where it would just be unusual enough to have a wow! factor amongst the other a-line dresses. (Although with that boning I might have to wander around with my cocktail rather than sit down.)

    I’d detract points for questionable comfort, but I’d have to add them back in for the clever way the pattern matches the positive and negative shapes at the waist.


  12. So pretty! I had never really thought about how that neckline is like the back of a kimono – but I now see – very creative. Big pleats are always a win, although I don’t think that color would look good on me… still 9/10.

  13. I need that dress, its so gorgeous, although I am curious what it would be like to sit in it, so just because of the sitting factor its going to get a 9.5/10

  14. Ten! I love the silhouette, the color, the print, the pleats, and the collar. The unseen support structure only makes it more interesting.

  15. Adore it. Looking at the waist detailing I think it’s amazing – the way the pleating forms a new pattern that perfectly matches the bodice is technically far fiddlier than it looks to achieve.
    I love this shade of green and I think the print is perfectly in keeping with the era. I love the skirt and am fascinated by this gem of intel about its construction. Knowing that it would retain its shape when worn not just styled for an untouched mannequin is smileworthy.
    I give it a 10.

  16. Lynne says

    Ten. Beautiful. I agree with MrsC. I love the waist detailing – really like the way the pattern reverses there, so that attention is drawn to the waist without cutting the dress in half and destroying the flow. I also like the way the side pieces come in on the angle – makes it much curvier – adds interest to a lovely geometric print. I would really like to see photos of the side and back.

    Pretty, flattering neckline. Perfect length. Having its own boning is so clever – I never met that at the time – just masses of prickly stiff petticoats!

  17. OH! I just had the BEST idea for the next time I want to over-engineer a dress– bone the skirt…

    I love it. The overdone engineering, the color, the pattern, the shape, everything. I’d wear that in a hot minute. 10 of 10.

  18. Gail Williams says

    Hmmm…the green is vivid and quite nice. I like how the fabric was matched and the idea of the skirt supported by boning is pretty cool. I would like to see the poufy petticoats under it if it’s period correct.


    • The point of the boning is that it does the work of petticoats, so the dress shouldn’t be worn with them. Schunerer was known for making minimal-undergarment dresses.

  19. Cornelia Moore says

    as a big fan of the simple shirt dress, I can do without the boning, though it makes for great form. I think a softer, tulip skirt is nicer. yes, this skirt would be uncomfortable. with sallow skin, and mouse-brown hair, green doesn’t usually work on me-deep forest now and then, but not much else. still waiting for my mother’s auburn hair! anyway, the green and the pattern (though I, too, love Japanese) does nothing for me, but the cut is simply divine. I would wear it in a floral or solid, without the boning, and often! well, not with that waist, I can’t fit into a tailored waist-my hips and ribs are too close together for that. that’s one of my biggest body regrets, I adore a tailored waist, but not even hell freezing over will get me to fit into one. t00 short waisted. maybe slightly enlarge the armholes, as well, those tend to rub when they’re that tight.
    anyway, I still give it a 9/10. the cut definitely improves most of the negatives.

  20. It’s so hard to do architectural and still have it come out feminine. This nails it. Beautiful–the soft drape at the neckline contrasts with the structured bodice and skirt pleats, the strict shape contrasts with the kicky print to keep it light and fresh–it’s a gorgeous design. Who cares how it’s put together (well, I care, but in a different way than I care about the aesthetics)–it could be held up by Shetland ponies under there and I’d still love it. 9/10.

  21. That’s very pretty. Does the neckline continue the reversed-kimono theme at the back I wonder?
    9/10, because of dubiousness about the wearability of a boned skirt.

  22. Laurel Parker says

    Devine – an all around WINNER! Love the silhouette, love the color and adore the way the pattern of the fabric subtly plays off the pleats and darts. If only this designer could time travel back and teach the designer of the theater dress (that unfortunate peach and white number with daisies that looked like stagelights) about balance and harmony…

    I give it a 10+ beause I’d wear it my daughter woudl wear it and even our cat Lulu might consent to try it on. Because it’s the cat’s meow.

  23. I love this! It’s so summer-ish and delightful. Boned skirts.. that’s genius! I am curious as to whether the collar continues to the back of the dress though.



      • It is really weird that the Met didn’t include any other images of the dress…. They’re usually really good about including a back view in the costume achives. 🙁


  24. I quite like it! 9/10! My only drawback is the design. I can’t quite put my finger on WHY, exactly, I don’t like it, but it doesn’t really do it for me. I must say, though, that it doesn’t speak Japanese to me. I saw the inspiration when you pointed them out, but it still doesn’t feel asian. An adorable dress anyway with a flattering shape and I think the reverse-kimono collar looks really neat.

  25. I’m giving it 9/10 – I love the designs of the 50s, and this one is in classic party dress style. I’m deducting 1 off the full score because there’s something in the pattern that doesn’t grab me: maybe it’s the colour, or maybe it’s the size of the repeats.

  26. Suzy Peters says

    It’s a genuis design as this strong print could have been totally overpowering but the way the side panels have the design line on the diagonal, really breaks up the monotony of line. Would love to know if that continues right round to the back. If it does that would create a chevron down the back seam which would be STUNNING, Especially if the collar came down deep into it!!! WOW! Must try replicating that!

  27. Daniel says

    I really like this. I think it’s lovely. The fabric is so fresh and summery and vibrant, and the shape is just gorgeous. The only thing I’m not sold on is that the neckline looks a little floopy but that may be how it falls on the mannequin, otherwise there’s very little to fault with this. The skirt sounds very intriguing and I do wonder how it worked in wear (how did you sit down?) but I imagine it has/had an amazing swing and sway to it.

    It’s 9/10 from me because the neckline isn’t perfect – and I have to say, I peeked at the link and their “Sitting Duck” dress is AMAZING – I actually loved it despite the dreaded orange!!

  28. Very cute. I’d wear it except I have matronly arms and sleeveless is not a good look for me. But, if I were young and thin…YES 9/10

  29. fidelio says

    9/10–that same wearbility issue with the boning in the skirt. I suspect it sits better than I fear it does, although I’m betting you could get some odd patterns on the backs of the thighs, especially if you sat for very long on a hard bench. So I guess I’m deducting for my own lack of imagination, there, unless it really is a bear to sit in after all.

    This could have ened up being just another 50s-era dress with a Great Big Skirt, except for all the small details–the pattern, and the way it’s deployed in the bodice, and at the waistline; the color contrast; the neckline and overall cut of the bodice; the way the boning is used–it’s all just different enough, without being obviously radically different frmo the prevailing styles of its time. To quote General Galliene, very much out of context: “Eh bien, voilà au moins qui n’est pas banal!”

  30. My goodness, I love this! I wish I knew what the back looks like, and I wonder how comfortable the boned skirt is to sit down in? But overall it’s gorgeous. 10/10 🙂

  31. Elizabeth says

    Really delicious; if only I had a waist that would fit it.


  32. Tenshi says

    I can’t bring myself to care for the print and color, but I do think this is exceptionally well executed, and I like the intentional pattern msimatching at the waist as well as the collar, which is perfect. So, … 7.5/10.

  33. Chris says

    A lovely dress! very interesting… A very perky and/or confident person could pull off the pattern, I think. Can see the same style in a different pattern (or no pattern). wonder how far the boning actually extends? the pleats stick out a bit from the top, and then seem to fall in to a more natural way… maybe sitting wouldn’t be such a problem?


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