Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Sigismund III Vasa in leopard fur

Last week most of you loved the 1870s dress with its fabulous pleating and embroidered garland.  You loved it so much that I kept getting lost in counting the 10s and having to go back to the last number that wasn’t a 10 to see if that was 5 10s in a row, or 6!  Despite all the love, the amount of voters means it is getting harder and harder to get a perfect 10 – Vignon’s frock came in at an excellent  9 out of 10.  Close!

I’m feeling history deprived.  I’ve been doing too much hands-on stuff and not enough research.  So today’s Rate the Dress is all about me wanting to look stuff up.

Sigismund III Vasa, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, and briefly King of Sweden, was one of Poland’s most controversial rulers.  On the one hand, his reign coincided with an period of wealth, power, and cultural influence for Poland and Lithuania, and on the other he has been accused of setting in motion a downward spiral in the region as he focused on trying to regain the throne of Sweden to the detriment of his Eastern European thrones.

Sigismund’s wardrobe may prove to be equally divisive.  He is wearing an outfit both outrageous and refined, mixing sever black, elaborate but subtle detailing, snow-leopard lining and a stiff lace ruff.  His outfit also a mix of cultures: a tall fez-like hat, a European ruff, a scimitar, and a doublet patterned in designs that look intriguingly like Chinese calligraphy.

Sigismund III Vasa by Martin Kober, circa 1590 via Wikimedia Commons

Does Sigismund’s outfit manage to balance all of its elements successfully, or, like the king himself, is it unable to maintain an  equilibrium between the east and the west, between the last elements of the Medieval and the first elements of modernity?

Rate the dress on a scale of 1 to 10 (and be sure to comment on the post itself, not on the image if you click through for a larger view, because I won’t remember to see and count your votes if they aren’t linked directly to the post)


  1. Is it bad to giggle maniacally when you look at a painting? Somehow the combination of the neck ruff, snow leopard, and sword placement left me trying to contain myself.

    I have decided I do like the doublet and (for some odd reason) the hat as well. So I guess he gets some points for that. And maybe a bonus point for making me laugh.


  2. Stella says

    I had to laugh as well. Head-on-a-plate ruffs always look silly to me, but I guess that’s just personal taste. I like the cape and the doublet, especially with the subtle pattern, so points for that. I’m not sold on that hat though. Overall, I’m giving him 7/10.

  3. Jenny Wren says

    Goshdarn, he looks badass. Outrageous and flamboyant without looking insubstantial and fey, as often happened in this period. 9/10.

    • I just love it when people use the word ‘badass’! It’s not something I ever use, but it makes me happy!

    • Daniel says

      This comment also made me like the portrait a lot more – so thanks t0 Jenny, I’m gonna go for a 8/10 rather than quite a bit lower. He DOES look badass!

  4. Laura says

    I can’t really see what he’s wearing very well. I stuck the painting image with more brightness and contrast, after which I can say I rather like the patterns on the fabric. What is he wearing on bottom? A second longer waistcoat with tiny shorts (though I believe those only came in later), or the bottom of your standard tunic-length garment? I just can’t tell.

    The top waistcoat is lovely. I love the hat. He looks good in the ruff. I just don’t like fur linings, but this one is alright so far as these go. I like what’s going on with the bottom garment, that I can see, whatever it is. Overall, he’s pretty dashing. With a few points off for the fur, 8/10. I would look twice any day.

  5. I liked the whole combination except the leopard fur. It was too far over the top for me, though the contrast with the black was nice. 8 of 10.

  6. Lynne says

    Jenny’s right – you wouldn’t mess with this guy. Cold, determined eyes, and rather thin-lipped.

    I’m normally a fan of ruffs, but I think this one looks a bit like a summer tutu on a winter suit. The cloak is beautiful. Snow leopard fur is so lovely. I’d really like to know if there is a kind of hoodie attached to it – look at the way the fur shows behind the neck. The doublet is also a total winner – I, too, would like to know what the lower deck was wearing. I fear it may be the long pluderhosen, which always make me giggle. 8 out of 10. I can live with the hat – the ruff is the problem for me.

    • fidelio says

      It may be a deep collar instead of a hood; the short capes/cloaks in Janet Arnold’s book have substantial collars in some cases.

  7. Pamlin says

    I don’t think that’s snow leopard, but leopard belly -note the darker tan edges. It would be the warmest/plushest part of the leopard, and less surface area, which means more expense/rarity.

    Fuzzy leopard bellies aside, I like it. I’m not a big ruff person either, but I think if you’re a king, you need to go big or go home, and except for the Kama Sutra-esque choice of positioning for the scimitar, it works. The proportions are good, the hat is striking, and the ruff isn’t super massive. I’m also a fan of the intricacies and luxury of having an elaborate black on black design. The whole image is regal (with some nice slavic influences meshing well with the Swedish-ish ruff) without being excessively over the top.


    On an aside note for the painter, besides the Scimitar of Wrong, WHERE THE HECK IS HIS LOWER HALF???

  8. Zach says

    Wow. That is a lot of somethin’, alright. I don’t hate it, though; it’s just wierd. He kind of reminds me of that Vlad Dracul Guy–not someone you want to mess with. As far as the details go, leopard isn’t really my thing. I’m not an “animal print” lover. I do like those crazy neck ruffles, though; they’re so silly. The hat reminds me of those guys who drive around in the tiny cars with the red hats that have tassels on them, but cooler. I like his black outfit to, though I also wonder, where are his legs?

    Eight out of ten.

    Silly sword.

  9. So, we had a gentleman with a dog leg protruding from his nethers, and now a fellow with a scimitar…gentlemen and your illustrious artists, come now! The suggestion is not as enticing or flattering as you think it is!

    All right, now that that’s done…

    It’s strange that there’s so much going on yet it still comes off so blah…I wonder if the fabric’s texture showed up more in person, because as is the delightful pattern is nearly invisible (even with some contrast-uppage). Which, sadly, gives the garment a dull plain black look instead of a richer, more exciting brocade effect. The ruff and hat aren’t doing it for me (ruff too boingy, hat too goofy), and the capelet doesn’t quite make up for how blah the rest of the outfit comes off. But I bet it was deliciously warm.

    Nothing too wrong here, nothing too right either…a 6.

  10. This is not coming off to well for me. His face scares me a bit. That and the sword, that may or may not have been intensionally depicted in such a Freudian fashion, makes me think he would have been a bad boyfriend/husband. And that cape likely took at least two sweet fuzzy snow leopards is not helping me like the guy. As a kid, my school sold popcorn every Friday to help our zoo buy a snow leopard girlfriend (they were endangered at the time) and to this day I look at them and think about what I did for that cause. All that black is not making me think dignified, it is making me think Dracula (as someone else pointed out). I’m afraid my emotional reaction to the man (not a handsome one by the way) is tainting my perception of the outfit. If it were Gregory Peck wearing it with faux fur and no neck ruff and the sword was properly stowed it would do much better I guess. 5/10

  11. fidelio says

    He’s highly fashionable, almost to the point of being Spanish (wonder how that went over with the Poles and the Lithuanians?) and he does have a nasty eye.

    I’ve never been a fan of those really big ruffs, although the lace is lovely on this one. This outfit has a lot of nice, tasteful details, although the pose is an awkward one. Given how dire late 16th-century clothing can be, this is pretty restrained. I’d give it an 8, partly because I know just how much worse this could have been.

    • fidelio says

      AH! I have checked a bit on Sigismund’s biography; the Spanish tendencies in his clothes are probably not an accident; he was a Catholic, and strongly attached to the Hapsburgs (the main reason the Swedes ran him off).

  12. Seamstrix says

    To my relatively practiced 16th century eye he looks pretty much spot on for fashion in the 1590’s although he seems to have skipped the extremely exaggerated peascod belly that so many gentlemen of that era wore. The hat is quite striking for it’s complete lack of brim even in an era where crown not brim reigned supreme. I will also guess that the fur is actually lynx rather than snow leopard, lynx being the more usual luxury fur from that area rather than snow leopard.

    Overall I’ll give it a 7/10

    • Pamlin says

      Lynx totally makes sense. I figured it was regular leopard (belly fur.) It’s definitely not snow leopard.

  13. Reading all the previous comments had me in stitches (no pun intended! LOL). Ignoring the scimitar, the outfit is…….odd. I like the hat, and simple-but-not-so-simple black brocade doublet. I’m not a huge fan of furs and all, but just looking at that cape makes me want to have one like it for cold winter days. Fur looks not so great, but warm, fuzzy comfort is great. The lace ruff is ridiculous. Was he trying to imitate John the Baptist and put his own head on a platter? Again, it’s ridiculous. I think overall, the outfit probably made the statement he wanted made. Think about it….Spanish influence (as noted by fidelio), Chinese-ish brocade, Turkish fez for a hat, Middle Eastern scimitar, leopard fur……the outfit says “Don’t mess with me! I have influence all over the world, and Sweden doesn’t stand a chance against me.” I give the outfit 7/10.

  14. Anna says

    I like everything except the ruff. Hate the ruff.

  15. Black Tulip says

    Nope, sorry, I’m with the gigglers on this one. Cold eyes or not, the overall shape of pointy hat, cape and apparent lack of legs just makes me think of Weebles.

    I do like the doublet, though.


  16. The Mad Purple Chicken says

    Well, I love the doublet, but everything else looks a little off. Normally I like large ruffs but not this one, it might be the way it dips in the back or that the edge looks too much like piranha teeth. The hat is also odd, too much like a film canister or a giant black gumdrop, it really needs a brim. The cape is an awkward length and the fur looks out of place. I wish it was a full length portrait so we could see his feet and so we could get the full effect of how silly that cape is.
    6/10 For the doublet and that mustache.

    • I wonder if the cape is that length specifically because it is a 3/4 length portrait. It would look silly full-length, but it works perfectly for this length, just revealing his very elegant hands.

  17. Can I vote on just the fez-hat-thingy? Cause it’s totally awesome and makes me incredibly jealous.

    8.5/10 for the awesome fez


  18. I’m so totally reminded of Huggy Bear from the crazy modern reimagination of Starsky and Hutch (I don’t know the original and watched the new one while on a bus to France, so that’s about it, OK?).
    He’s less colourful, but otherwise, it’s him, down to that stare. Oh dear.

    … More seriously: In spite of all the individual things I don’t like about it, I actually rather like it. 7,5/10.

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