Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Elizabeth of Bohemia pre-bohemia

Last week there was no Rate the Dress, as I rated the Oscars instead.  I hope you enjoyed that, and thank you for your patience.

The week before last I presented a very deco 1920s frock, and quite a few of you were vocally NOT IN FAVOUR of it.  The poor thing got compared to a kindergarten uniform, a girl scout uniform, maternity dress, Nancy Drew (and you didn’t think that was a good thing), air hostess on a 1970s children’s show, or just the airplane the air hostess would be in.  Maybe overwhelmed by the dislike, many of you quietly gave it rather high ratings, but it wasn’t enough to keep the much-maligned frock from a sad 4.8 out of 10.

This week, let’s go back a few centuries, and look at an always contentious ‘child in an adult frock’ Rate the Dress.

For a 17th century royal, Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Anne of Denmark and James I of Scotland and England, had a lucky life.  She had a idyllic childhood.  She wasn’t married until she was 16 (hey, that was late for the 17th century!) despite numerous suitors vying for the political advantage of her hand.  By most accounts her marriage to Frederick V, Elecor Palatine, (over her mothers objections) was very happy despite the numerous setbacks and tragedies they suffered as rulers and parents.

Her early life  wasn’t all fun and games though, unless you count dress ups.  I’m pretty sure not a lot of frolicking went on in this sumptuous frock.  It may reveal something of Elizabeth’s personality though.  She seems to have had an affinity for plants and gardens: her gown is embroidered or brocaded with elaborate botanical examples, and she famously created the Garden of Palatinate, the ‘8th Wonder’ of the late Renaissance world,  at her new home of Heidelberg.

Elizabeth Stuart, later Queen of Bohemia, 1606, Robert Peale the Elder, Metropolitan Museum of Art

So what do you think?  Does your cynical side remind you that Peale’s portrait was basically an advertisement for the eligibility of the then 10 year old princess, and ruin any aesthetic appreciation of the dress?  Or does the glimpse into the princesses’ personality make an adult frock acceptable on a child?  Or is it just so fabulously beautiful that it doesn’t matter?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. ellipsisknits says

    I am always stumble a bit on these earlier portraits and their lack of realism. I love the gauzy detail of the lace – but how much of that is the fabric and how much is just the painting?
    Anyway, this isn’t my favorite era, but the styling of the dress isn’t doing anything that would be egregious at the time, so I guess that’s a wash too.
    But I ADORE the fabric. It looks like pages from an herbal, or botanical illustrations. I just love the contrast of the subtle, natural patterns and colors against the exaggerated silhouette of the time.


  2. This is my first time voting and I love this dress so I have to give it a 10 out of 10. I especially love the print, but I also love the cuffs and the hair dressing.

  3. It is fabulous enough that it does not matter. I’m not a big fan of this era’s fashion either (although I’m a fan of its representation in 1950s films… but that’s an off topic I may write something about later this month) – but this, in spite of being everything I don’t like about the era, manages to look very good. Don’t make me rate her hairstyle, though… eugh.
    8/10. Still don’t like the era, and that dark golden “sash” does not go so well with the rest of the outfit.

    ellipsisknits: I think lace is the one thing these old painters actually got right. You can look up old lace from the era on V&A, for example – from what I’ve seen, it was close.

  4. Elise says

    Like others, I don’t care for the period, but the fabric is just too beautiful. (I have a real love of medieval and renaissance depictions of plants and flowers.) 8/10

  5. Zach says

    I LOVE that! The only think I don’t like is the hair–so I’m just going to pretend like I didn’t see that monstrosity. By the way, did anyone notice the girl’s weird tiny baby feet? It looks like she’s hiding children under her giant (but lovely) skirt. I just noticed her pimp chain too–that’s what it reminds me of anyway. I wonder what she’s reading (so much hidden in this picture!!!).

    Ten out of ten for impeccable taste in fabric.

  6. Well, her hair looks like Bride of Frankenstein, and that slight but noticeable “come hither” look in her eyes is a bit eeeugh for a portrait of a 10-year-old, but the dress itself is amazing. There is something just a bit off about it for me (perhaps my personal dislike of peplums on dresses, or the shape of the sleeves, or something), but overall I quite like it.


  7. Seamstrix says

    The floral designs on the fabric are probably either embroidered on or brocaded into the silk and probably did come from an herbal or other book of nature pictures. Janet Arnold , in ‘Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe UnLock’d’, found a number of the original published resources which show up as embroidered designs on dresses in portraits.

    As for the overall style, for the period, it’s positively restrained and tasteful. I really like the overall design and the colors- the hair is a bit much but that was the style. I’ll give this a 9/10 just because I want to reserve 10 for something that completely blows me away and I only ‘really like’ this.

  8. So pretty! I love the embroidery! And the lace collar, ridiculous as it is is actually really beautiful due to the daintiness of it.


  9. Stella says

    Not my favourite era, but I do like this one. The embroidery is gorgeous and I love the waistband detail. 9/10

  10. The kids in grown-up wear thing never really bothered me–it’s a cultural difference, certainly, but mightn’t they be just as bothered by us slapping our children into cheaply made, juvenile outfits with cartoon characters slathered all over them?

    It’s not my favorite era–the wide-load skirts always put me in mind of a platter holding a torso. But as far as they go, this one is beautifully embroidered and tasteful. I love the colors–the champagne backdrop and autumn garden hues.

    I love the creamy pearls, but can we agree that decorating your head like a Christmas tree is probably a bad move? I mean, if you’re *hanging ornaments* from your hair…something went wrong.

    Overall, 7/10 for a lovely example of an era I find it hard to find lovely.

    • Elise says

      Hahahahaha! Platter holding a torso! That’s perfect! Do ruffs make you think of platters holding heads?

  11. I love this period of dress, even if it doesn’t look so good in real life. I adore this gown. The colors are so lovely. I even like her hair, but of course, it’s BIG AND POUFY, and her lovely little shoes.

  12. I wrote a detailed response but my connection burped, and I could post it.

    The long and the short of it is that the accessories are ugly and silhouette is very staid (though better than the usual ugly 17th century one), but the fabric and embroidery are lovely. Overall, I’m inclined to leniency; 7.5 out of 10.

  13. Lynne says

    Love it, love the period. 9.5 out of 10.

    Children wore ‘adult’ clothes, and the straight, flat-busted Elizabethan bodice suits little girls. I think the dress itself is beautiful. The embroidery is stunning, and the lines of the embroidery used as edging and on the bodice and sleeves is interesting and enhances the lines of the dress. I’d love to see the motif close-up.

    One reservation is about her hair. This does look odd. It is a standard adult hair-do on a tiny person, and it is out of proportion and overly sophisticated. Possibly the intention was to say, ‘She’s ready for marriage NOW.’ Urk. And she’s rich and pious – see prayerbook. Don’t start me. Anyway, bad hair. The chain that she is wearing angle-wise across her chest looks wrong. Like some sort of general’s sash. It is an adult’s chain, and is obviously just intended to enrich the look. Bad idea. A little less would have been more.
    The picadil doesn’t please me, either. I don’t like the way it finishes at the front with the straight edge, and the points sticking out so far. Must have made turning or moving the arms very difficult (without bending the darned thing). And her pearls are too big! Fancy being able to say that!

    But the dress is wonderful!

  14. Well, I like that it’s not as extreme as it could be, for the period. The period itself – kind of like the early 1830s, I don’t like it aesthetically but have to say “shine on, you crazy diamond” to it because, hey, you go to the extreme! Her jewelry is fairly subdued and I’m impressed by however the hair stuff is staying in.

    I give it an 8 out of 10 for the shoulder wings, I’m not fond of them.

  15. I love it, probably because I find it a bit hideous… But I tyhink of teh standards of then and give it a 10.

    I’m sure the flowers have a meaning- probably indicating important stuff like religiousity and future fertility. When Gustaf II Adolf of sweden was betrothed the various flowers embroodered of his suit (whish is gorgeous) all had to do with virility and fertility. 🙂

  16. Jamie Stuart Russell says

    I love this gown. The dark sash looks metal and jeweled. That is cool. But, the coolest part is this is an ancestor of mine. My daughter will be so excited to see this picture. She has been reading about the women of our ancestory. Thank you for posting it.

  17. I love it! It suits the era wonderfully. This was her fancy clothes…I’m sure they didn’t let her play in this! I actually like the gold sash because of the message it clearly states. “I am royal and I am rich” If I sewed for this era I would make one exactly like this for me. And if I had a little girl I’d make one for her! If I were 10 and my mom gave me this as a costume I’d be in permanently. It would go in the washing machine with me wearing it! 10

    • Rose says

      I agree, Sadly they didn’t have washing machines back then. Think of all the special care they probably took to launder a garment such as this.

  18. I’m trying to imagine what this dress would have been like in real life. In the painting, the overall effect is too ridiculous. The painting gives the feel that the designer was like “let’s take brocade, and add a ton of beading/embroidery all over the bodice, so much that you can’t tell what the original fabric was supposed to the look like, and then and a lace collar and cuffs!” And the bodice looks too heavy, almost as if it was made of chain mail. But I think that in real life, the dress would look better. The brocade would look lovely. It needs less embellishment, as the brocade itself is fancy enough. Get rid of the gigantic collar, and the horrendous ruffle around the waist, and it would be pretty decent. Giving it a 6/10. Not hideous, but could be much improved on.

  19. Okay, I’m going to preface this with the statement that I’m not a fan of farthingales of any kind…
    It’s really quite cute! I love the floral motif and the colours are wonderful! As for the “children in adult clothing” issue, I think Rowenna said it the best. It’s just like us dressing up our little girls in fancy dresses and such all the time.



  20. I would think a little girl would love wearing a ‘princess dress’. 😉

    As for my opinion of the dress I like the embroidered flowers etc. and its not too gaudy and gold.

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