19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the dress: Fretwork evening gown, 1893

Last week’s very red mid-18th century Rate the Dress was awash with confusion.  Was Mr Howard really that round and pink?  Or did Batoni have it in for his unfortunate sitter?  Or was Batoni really quite kind in his painting, indicating that Mr Howard was even rounder and pinker in real life?  I am surprised that no one brought up that roundness and pinkness were actually rather admired attributes in the mid 18th century!  Perhaps Batoni made him rounder and pinker than usual,  and  flattered him.  But that still left the mystery of why his suit was so very, overwhelmingly, red.  Was it supposed to evoke a military uniform?  The biggest mystery of all: what was that thing across his crotch?  Despite this, red and 18th century most always win out, bringing in a reasonable 6.8 out of 10.

Last week I picked red to contrast with the dull colours of the week before.  Why this week’s Rate the Dress?

Well, I’m in Melbourne, and all the houses in Melbourne are decorated with this amazing metal fretwork.  I spent all of yesterday walking around, taking pictures of it, and saying “Oooooooh.”  I couldn’t decide what to do for ‘Rate the Dress’, and asked friends and readers.   One suggested Autumn, another a movie costume, and a third something Japanese to go with the Japanese patterns I posted yesterday, but Theresa (my hostess) suggested I do one inspired by the fretwork.


So I’ll get to the autumn and movie themes in the coming weeks, but for now, a Melbourne-fretwork inspired Rate the Dress in the form of an 1890s evening gown by Worth from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

Evening dress, French, About 1893, Charles Frederick Worth, MFA Boston

Worth evening gown, bodice detail

Worth evening gown, skirt detail

What do you think of the pale pink brocade with its latticework patterns, and the way the design is highlighted with beading and applique on the skirt front?  Does the asymmetrical fall of beads across the bodice add interest to the dress, or unbalance the whole aesthetic?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Frank says

    I love anything Worth related, so I’m biased. I’m not fond of how many beaded swags there are, I think less would be more appealing. I love the applique on the skirt front!


  2. Full disclosure: I have a grudge against 1890’s/1900’s dresses. They are so pretty, but they’d make me look like I’m about 40 years old, so I’m not allowing myself to make one. I’ll try to leave this complex relationship out of it when I rate this dress.

    Hooray for pink and black! I think these colors need to be combined more often. But I’m not such a fan of all the bodice details. If I were making it, I would have stopped at the sash and left off the dead jellyfish and the shoulder bow. 7/10

    • Elise says

      Agree agree agree. Even agree on the score: 7/10

  3. Aside from the multitude of beads over the right tata, I really like it. The colors are lovely and the latticework is gorgeous.

  4. Zach says

    Underneath all the…uh…creative additions, the dress is beautiful. The pattern reminds me of a pretty quilt (in a good way, though). As far as all the beading goes, I like the panel at the bottom. I like a little contrast from time to time. I don’t mind the bow or the sash (almost reminiscent of the royals, if it were continued a little way, isn’t it?), but the beaded swags are another story all together. The part that is right on the sleeve looks wonderful, but the rest looks like it was meant to go across the top of the bodice to the other sleeve (which would look amazing), but a very naughty gentleman pulled the beads too hard while trying to rip off her bodice.

    A nine out of ten for a great deal of potential.

  5. Love the skirt, but the asymmetrical bodice is just odd. The beading is fabulous, but looks way too heavy for just one side of the dress. At first glance it looks like it should be a side view, but then you just wonder why the top looks so strange. 5/10.

  6. Natalie says

    Like the dress and the colors but hate the beads. YUCK. 6/10

  7. I think it’s ghastly. The asymmetrical bodice detail has the effect of making the torso look even wider than it is, as well giving an unbalanced look to the entire dress. The clever fretwork pattern on the bottom half of the skirt ends up looking kind of random as a result. 2 of 10, only because I can think of ways in which it could have been worse.

  8. Well, I love the fabric, love the fretwork, love the beading. Do not love them all together. The dress is lovely, and I get the idea of having some black on the bodice to balance out the black on the skirt, but I think the way the beads are draped looks so haphazard when compared with the repeating pattern on the skirt. Also, that black sash really kills it for me. Without the sash the beads might have looked pretty good. Although, honestly, I think the black bow was enough. I think I would have really loved the black draping beads on a different dress, but the skirt is perfect.


  9. ellipsisknits says

    eh, I like the concept, but it could have benefitted from a little ‘less is more’ philosphy. The HUGE swag, the stark geometrics in high contrast on an otherwise romantic dress: it’s a bit loud for me.

  10. I like almost everything about this dress EXCEPT that odd draped beading on the one side of the bodice and the color. Perhaps it has faded a bit, but such a light washed-out pink makes the dress look rather bland. I like the bow on the shoulder, and the sash, but that drapey beaded stuff is horrid and ruins the overall effect. I think that just a little more color (not too much) would really make the dress really stand out. I’m going to put it as a 6.

  11. Stella says

    I like the skirt panel, but I don’t like the bodice with the bead draping and that odd half-a-zone-front effect. It looks unbalanced to me, so I’m scoring it 5/10.

  12. That small furry animal is loose in the Worth workroom again, isn’t it? This time it’s dunked its tail in the inkwell and swished it randomly across the sketch.

    I think my problem with the swags is the way they veil the line of the waist on that one side, while it is higlighted by the sash on the other. Maybe it works better when the dress is moving, but on the dummy it just looks lopsided and lumpy.

    also, iz pink. http://cheezburger.com/3396671488

    4/10, because I don’t object to the bottom half, except for the colour.

  13. I like most of the dress; it has good bones but that fall of beads on the bodice looks like there was originally knitting there that came unravelled. I’d give it a 6/10

  14. Lynne says

    Love the colours and the skirt, but the swagged beading is just too much. And silly. If you wore a ring or bracelet on that hand, you’d be forever getting caught. Dear Mr Worth, I do like your shapes, even if they are often mumsy, but sometimes a little restraint would improve the result.


    • Lynne says

      And, dear Mr Worth, you use some great fabrics!

  15. the concept with the skirt is interesting, but the matching tone-on-tone in the overskirt starts to make it looks like upholstery. Plus the bodice… I have no words for the bodice. 4/10, and those points are only for all the work that went into making this.

  16. This dress is amazing. I love the use of beadwork to create line and designs on the dress. When I first saw the dress, the bodice looks kind of twisted to the right even though it is standing forward.

  17. justine balcar says

    i love anything by worth, so i am a bit biased! love the skirt detailing – a bit too much happening on the bodice…gorgeous colour combo!!!

  18. Loving the fretwork (I have to — I’m the one who suggested you find a dress in an homage to Melbourne), but the beading? Not thanks! I’m not an asymmetrical gal and never will be.

    6/10 for me!

  19. Tenshi says

    It’s a Worth dress! I love all things Worth, so I am biased.
    Considering this is a Worth dress, this leaves me oddly cold, though, which means that in terms of mere humans, it is still a pretty fantastic dress.
    A few less of those beaded strings on the (wearer’s) right side would have been better in my opinion.
    All in all, I think this is worth an 8/10.

  20. Sineuve says

    How did all that black stuff land on this beautiful dress?

    The pink was all nice and fresh, the shape was pretty…
    Not that I didn’t approve of the contrast, but the beads are hideous and so is the bow/sash combination and I cannot even bring myself to like the patterned part of the skirt, it looks like a pinafore hanging too low.

    So. Like all the pink, dislike all the black. Give 1/10.

  21. Pamlin says

    OK, I admit that when I first saw it, I thought the beadwork side of the bodice was just heavily damaged and shredded ribbon that was supposed to match the other side. I would love this so much more if they just kept the ribbon side symmetrical (and I love the bow/sleeve design, and the fretwork)
    However, I have to admit that this may be one of the first Worth gowns that I’m not really a fan of. Except for the sleeve detail and the fretwork front (which I think would have been better represented on a different tone of pink or perhaps another color) I find it very blah and only passable.


  22. Maire Smith says

    1 out of 10.

    What on earth were they thinking? The shape is ungainly, and the black mess over the front of the bodice is awful.

    The Polynesian-esque pattern on the front of the skirt is nice, but it’s not a good size, or used well.

  23. Daniel says

    Well, it’s certainly interesting. Fascinating bodice construction, I like the assymetry and creativity and find it quite modern and far sighted, but overall, I’m not so sure. When an assymetrical booby drape fails, it always reminds me of a limerick which I won’t quote here, but the last line is “But the other one won several prizes.”

    It’s like Worth was designing a pretty sugar-pink dress with a band of Elizabethan ring patterning around the hem, and then in the workroom, someone tripped with an inkwell – SPLOTCH – great big ink blots on the shoulder, spillage diagonally across the bodice, and a desperate attempt to blot it up ended up smearing the ink across the other side of the bodice. The black details on the bodice actually make the figure look a tad thick-waisted. It’s a mess of a bodice – cleverly constructed and cut, but the black is too harsh against the delicate pink in this instance (although it works well on the skirt.

    But there’s much to love here too. The silk itself is exquisite, and I love how the pattern is picked up in the hem of the “petticoat” – that is brilliantly done and really very subtle. I do love how the bodice is cut and constructed, even to the point of almost being deconstructed in a very modern, Belgian-designery, 2000-ish way, so on that level it’s quite exciting. I suspect with a differently designed and constructed skirt, and maybe in other colours, the bodice would be a wow.

    Rating? Oh dear. Intellectually, it’s a 8/10, then I go back and look at it, and personally it’s a 3/10. So I’ll split the difference and say 5.5 out of 10.

  24. You know…if the swag of beads matched the sash in width and placement I would give this dress a 10 but as is….an 8/10. Mostly because if someone gave it to me, I’d be over the moon that I owned a Worth.

  25. fidelio says

    THe skirt-front appliques are so clever, and while I agree the beaded swag is not practical, what is there, in Worth’s history, that leads anyone to expect ‘practical’ from that workshop? However, the black sash bit is too much–the tule ir netting the applique is on is si light, and so is the effect of the beading on the bodice, that the solid black just hits an off note there.

    8/10, and that’s because of the carryover from the skirt fabric to the applique.

  26. An almost-but-not-quite for me. I love pink and black, but this pink is a bit wan for my taste–something just a touch–barely–brighter or warmer would have made this pop (I could assume fading, but I shan’t for the sake of argument). I love the pattern at the bottom, but the cascade of beads over the bodice has an awkward drape and doesn’t add anything special. More could have been done with the black ribbon detailing to balance the black at the bottom, but both the ribbon and the beads look like they’re stuffed into the mannequin’s bosom, which just seems ungainly. I do give props for the clever use of fabric, though–the laticework on the brocade matching what’s done with the black detailing. 7/10.

  27. I like the front of the skirt…but not a fan of the bead swags…they look out of place and make the dress feel lopsided.
    Its like someone has seen perfectly good pink dress and then rifled through their stash and just added it randomly.
    5/10 …lost 5 points for the monstrosity on the bodice.

  28. Laurel Parker says

    I’m familiar enough with the House of Worth to surprise myself by being unable to give this dress high marks. The word “impeccable” might as well have been coined to describe everything I’ve ever seen come out of it. But this? It makes me wonder how much they allowed the customer to influence the design.

    I’ve always loved black with pastels. However, in this case, had that THING – that someone so aptly called a dead jellyfish, been the same color as the dres ( thinking of Worth’s ivory gowns) then maybe the fact that it’s lines scream “Droopy boob! might go unnoticed.

    I’m never a fan of bodices with lines that send that message 😉 Nor the one my dd has encountered on several dresses when shopping for prom dresses with her friends this Spring – a gathering around the stomach that suggests not just a round belly ( which is fine on the right body type) but a flabby one, which is never attractive. These are usually put as a focal point on an otherwise sleek gown, suggesting the goal of the prom is to either become pregnant or to drink until one’s liver gives out. How do these things make it into fashion?

    I’m also not overly fond of the way the lovely, only-Worth-would-do-this-much-handwork cutwork lace at the bottom cuts the skirt in half. It isn’t a terrible gaffe, but it does feel contrary to the lines of the dress, and adds to the disjointed end result of the whole.

    Having seen a couple of Worth gowns in person, I’m willing to bet that this one, while disappointing on the right side, would make us all gasp in reverence if we got a glimpse of the inside.

  29. Laurel Parker says

    Wanted to add that I love assymetry in a dress. Imbalance is another thing altogether. I’d have taken that black silk sash and continued it up over the right shoulder – something Worth did on some of his gowns, and if I used the beads at all, it would be anyway but this. perhaps I’d drape them across the back, fastening them at each shoulder.

  30. Seamstrix says

    Normally I worship at the Altar of Worth (who has many acolytes here I see) and I like the soft pink. I don’t generally mind black accents with the right pastels and I like the general style……but dear heavens, Mr. Worth, whatever were you thinking???!! The overall effect is a strenuous battle between utterly bland and hideously over-done. The bead drape is awful (and I love drapey beads) and looks like it fell on this dress from some other design entirely. I cannot in good concience give this dress anything more than 3/10 and that’s mostly due to the designer and the lovely pink fabric.

  31. Black Tulip says

    That beading – eugh! It looks as though someone has draped a heavily laddered stocking over the bodice. A few strands might have been fine, but that’s just too much.

    Not sure what’s going on with the black sash at the left side seam, either. I assume that it’s something very elegant and clever that is obvious when you see the whole dress, but from this angle the jagged effect just looks like the pieces don’t meet properly.

    Like the skirt though, but not enough to lift the whole thing above 6 / 10

  32. The assymetry of the bodice kills it for me… It looks almost Art Deco, or something (I’m thinking Josef Hoffmann), and the bodice looks like from another world. A less appealing world. 10/10 for the skirt, maybe 3/10 for the bodice. 7,5 for the whole? Nope. 5. It does not divide up evenly. Sorry, dress.

  33. 7/10. I’m not fond of the swag (like everyone else), and I don’t like the colonial-revival touch of the open overskirt. But I do love the sleeves!

  34. Hayley says

    Assymmetry only works when it’s flattering! This looks like one of her breasts is lovely and perky, and the other belongs to a 90 year old hag. Bleurgh!

    Also I think the geometric skirt details (looks very Samoan) looks very out of place, isn’t reflected in the drapey beaded assymetrical bust and looks generally odd. They way it ends halfway up the skirt, on the horizontal is also not nice.

    IF it had only the perky-boob side of the bodice, and the Samoan pattern was only on the, say, bottom 1/5th of the skirt, I’d love it.

    It’s a 4/10

    • I love how all the NZ readers are looking at this dress and seeing a Pacific pattern. It’s also a very classic quilting pattern, and a motif that you see in a lot of Moroccan and Renaissance design – so very universal, but how we perceive it is so influenced by our own experience.

  35. Cornelia Moore says

    dunno how I missed this, but add me to the list of “don’t like the swag”. no fan of the black pleated panels, either. this dress is one of those pieces of art that the artist didn’t know when to stop. just the pink, thank you, that’ll be enough. and it, alone, would have been very lovely. the black is sort of a “I want to party but I should wear some black because I’m mourning” look. 4/10 for me.

Comments are closed.