20th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Gingham Ballgown

Last week most of you liked the 1880s girls party dress with its excellent pockets.  Not all of you though: some thought the colours sickly sweet, or the silhouette too adult, so it came in a very good but not fabulous 7.9 out of 10.

It’s midwinter here in NZ.  It’s cold and wet and grey and icky.  But in the northern hemisphere, it’s lovely and warm, and those of you in Canada are celebrating Canada Day (Happy Canada Day Canadians!) and those of you in the US are celebrating July 4th (Happy Independence Day Americans!).

So, in the spirit of midsummer picnics and midsummer balls, with red and white for Canada and firework-pinwheel thingees for America, I present a  gingham ballgown by Arnold Scaasi from the collection of the Met.  Yes, it is from the 1980s.  This is, by far, the most modern Rate the Dress I have ever shown you, and I am fascinated to find out what you think of it.

Ball Gown, Arnold Scaasi, 1988, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art

What do you think? Fascinating and fabulous and fun: a great blend of evening drama and glamour with a sense of humour? Or a tacky take on 80s exuberance?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10.  


  1. TRacy says

    I love the silhouette but hate the fabric choice. What was the designer thinking? It give it a 7 because it would be so lovely in a different fabric.

  2. Zach says

    Oh, my. That’s strange, all right. I have to admit, I love gingham quite a bit, and the dress wouldn’t look so wierd without that apron/quilt thing. It is definitely a step (or five million) up from the typical ’80s garb. I consider 1980-2003 to be a major fashion black hole. I still can’t imagine anyone actually wearing that, though.

    Four out of ten.

  3. hmmm … ok … strange thing ^^
    with the apron it looks strange, without it would look like a tablecloth-accident …
    a 3/10 because i like the way the apron itself is made … but nothing i would ever wear

  4. I like the idea of the woven overskirt, but overall it looks like a Strawberry Shortcake doll costume. The full skirt peeking out from the overskirt just…. looks wrong. In gingham like that all I see is kitchen apron. 4.

  5. Jamie says

    Wow. o_o That’s… loud. I actually like the silhouette and wouldn’t -mind- a full dress made out of the gingham part, but the apron-thing is just too clashy. It looks like a costumer decided to try to be trendy for a production of Oklahoma! or something. Heeblyjeebly.

    Reading about how the white ribbons make a sort of houndstooth pattern is interesting, but… it’s just too much.


  6. Wow…it’s just so…literal. You know that Carol Burnett sketch where they spoof Gone with the Wind and she makes a dress from curtains with the giant tassels and rod still attached? This reminds me of that. Except I don’t think the designer was kidding.

    It’s beautifully made and draped, but the fabric looks like it was just ripped off a couple picnic tables…which makes it too literal to be pleasantly “inspired by” or “whimsical.” I would have guessed it was the result of one of the odder Project Runway challenges. “Make a gown…from Oriental Trading Company items!”

    If it were a superbly done costume or tongue-in-cheek gag, I’d give it a 10. But it’s a dress…so I have to give it a 4.

  7. OMG A picnic blanket exploded onto a dress form! NOOOOO!!!!! I give it a 2. At least it’s red and white.

  8. Courtney F. says

    Augh! It’s like the wearer is setting out to play the table in the “Bella Notte” scene from Lady and the Tramp. All it lacks is an avant-garde hat that looks like a bottle with a melty candle stuck inside it.


  9. Oh, no, a quilt gone mad! Or, if you shrink this, you can use it as a napkin and wrap your cutlery in it.
    This is wrong in oh so many ways.
    I like red and white, so… 1/10.

  10. I notice that there isn’t anything in the notes about whether anyone actually ever wore this dress. Can you imagine someone trying to go down a 1988 movie premiere red carpet in this monstrosity? I love gingham, but this is just too much.

  11. Gingham is usually something I hate, but in this instance I quite like it. It’s kitschy fun without being too tacky, and I would totally wear it. 8/10

    • Tenshi says

      Hooray, I’m not the only one who loves this! I usually don’t like these kinds of patterns – gingham, stripes, polka dots, … and I absolutely abhor the 80’s, but this totally works for me. It’s absolutely overdone, way too literal and totally kitschy, but it is also proudly so. I like that. It’s not ashamed to be what it is, it doesn’t try to be subtle or ironic, but it is bold and proud and so much fun.

  12. This is an odd dress. It looks like someone attending a ball in Appalachia. Either that or Scarlett O’Hara made her dress, not with curtains, but with the tablecloth off the picnic table. I give it a 5 for effort. I don’t completely love it, but I can’t completely write it off either.

  13. It looks like a giant napkin wrapped around a tiny person. Ha ha!

    Still, it’s kind of fun.


  14. Nicole says

    I love all the parts, but together it’s way toooo much! Red/white, awesome. Shape, perfect. Bodice/neckline/sleeves, would totally wear. Overskirt/bottom ruffles, wonderful. Together it’s just horrific. But then I love that it makes a statement and anyone wearing this would stand out more then anyone else in the room. I’m giving this 7/10. 🙂

  15. The only possible occasion for this dress would be a fundraiser somewhere in the U.S., where you wanted to show that even though you are incredibly rich, you’re in touch with The People and really wish you were eating barbecue or red-sauce Italian somewhere with checkered tablecloths.

    Rating this a 3.

  16. I think it’s ugly. But then, I hate fashion that attempts to be witty and ironic about prior fashions. 3 of 10.

  17. Urp. Even looking at it gives me a terrible case of indigestion.

    Tell me no one had the idea to actually purchase and wear it, please.

    1 out of 10.

    Very best,


  18. its gross. it looks like someone /tried/ to make the already terrible 80’s style dress out of a picnic blanket. then tied another over like a lobster bib.

    • Elise says

      Exactly. Nononononono NO 0/10. My first 0, I think. So yucky.

  19. Laura says

    D-8 I really hate this. I hate the gingham, the silhouette, the horrible 1980s giant Bertha… The only thing like is the actual construction of the fabric of the apron area. It looks like a bubblegum paper chain, but in an interesting way. I can’t quite tell if it’s patchwork or woven ribbon strips or what. In different colors, in a different shape, on a different garment, I would like that textural construction. So with +2 for that, I’ll give it a 3.

  20. Um… I think it’s horrible! I give it a 2 out of 10. It kind of looks like campy picnic tablecloths spewed all over it… not a good look! I don’t mind the colors, though which is perhaps why it doesn’t get a 0 out of 10… It’s really bad!

  21. My brain LOVES this, but my eye can’t stand it… Though I might be tempted to wear something like this because it’s witty in a textile sort of way… 5 of 10…

  22. Libby Gohn says

    Oh my god, this is aweful. I never really like gingham, but I can accept it if it is small and worn during the day. But this large scale gingham on an evening dress just screams “recycled picnic cloth”. I wouldn’t be surprised if this dress was inspired by Scarlett O’Hara’s curtain dress. 4/10

  23. No. Just no. My brain had a momentary lapse of what if we just wore it for a holiday party? But, no. No no no. I find it so objectionable I can’t event articulate what it is about this dress that I don’t like. I… just…. NO. Bonus point for the red color.


  24. Ok, that is just gross. I don’t like the shape, hate the fabric in that shape, it looks like something exploded. 1/10

  25. Jenny Wren says

    What the hell is that blanket thing? It looks like you would have trouble walking in it. 3/10.

  26. This is what Jem & the Holograms would call: outrageous.
    And they would totally wear it too.
    I love the design elements of the interweaving fabric + ribbon and the use of pintucks (on the shoulder drapery & skirt) to give the fabric a different texture & opacity. It looks like I went to the Met and enlarged the pic to really see these aspects.
    Unfortunately I don’t like the other aspects of this dress.

  27. Daniel says

    Well, I love it because it’s rattled so many crinoline-cages around here, so I give you 10/10 for doing so. 😉 (I have to admit that some of the barely-critical love for anything period was getting to me a wee bit.

    As for the dress itself. I’d say that only Scaasi could get away with that fabric, although I suspect Victor Steibel in the 50s, or indeed, the great Adrian (shades of Katharine Hepburn’s Philadelphia Story flouncy gingham dress here, wouldn’t you say?) , or even John Bates for Jean Varon, circa 1973, could have gotten away with it. And heck, Vivienne Westwood would’ve done something absolutely outrageous and fabulous with it, although it’d obviously be a lot more madcap. (and half the commenters here would have choked on their tea in their desperate rush to mark it minus-infinity/10 ;)) The silhouette/cut is pure Charles James.

    I see it as a splendidly bonkers ballgown made in a subversive fabric. And silk gingham taffeta? That’s insane, and I love it. The more I look at it, the more I love it. I ADORE the ribbon weaving – that’s a detail you don’t see done as often as you should, and I love that it’s created a houndstooth pattern. I love that it has chutzpah and nerve. It’s exactly what it is, and it makes no apologies, and it doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Okay, it may be more suited to a very elegant drag queen, but I don’t think that’s any reason to mark something down. It’s bravura, bold, and has presence.

    So. I might have given this a 8 or 9 out of 10, but because so many people hate it, I’m going for the full TEN OUT OF TEN.

    • Haha! It’s not quite the poppy dress, but I had a suspicion you would appreciate this one too! I’m glad I made your week happy!

  28. I hate it! I count my lucky stars that I got through the 80s with few photos of myself. Nasty era. I give this dress a 1 but only because I laughed imagining the reaction a bride would get if she told her brides maids that this is the dress she wants all of them to wear at her summer themed wedding.

  29. Dream says

    Gah! Why gingham? I love the shape, I love the ribbon weaving, I could totally imagine wearing a dress like this if it were a solid color or perhaps a large print plaid, but the gingham check is just obnoxious and inappropriately informal for a ball gown. I would give it a 10/10 for the shape but the gingham forces me to downgrade to a 2/10.

  30. Gaële says

    Ouch… what is this supposed to be? A quilt? A napkin? From the waist up the shape is OK but that poof on the bottom just throws the whole thing out of balance!

    I’ll give it a 3 for the effort it must have taken to produce such a garment!

  31. Yvonne says

    I know I missed the voting, but I just had to say, I’d wear that before I’d wear any of those stupid balloon hems that were so popular. Those made you think that someone didn’t make the lining the right length and/or that the wearer got their skirt caught up in their pantyhose.

  32. The Mad Purple Chicken says

    Hideous! It looks like a costume from some cheesy musical in which the table cloth is a character.

    I hate it quite a lot, but I will be generous and give it 2/10 because it isn’t quite as ugly as the J.P. Worth vomit & dead bats dress. Or the moldy muppet hair hospital gown.

    I wasn’t alive in the 80s but from what I’ve seen fashions were quite ugly.

  33. Cornelia Moore says

    just so you know, I read the responses of other people _after_ writing my own-and Kelly’s.

    his first reaction? “GOOD GOD! the only thing worse was Carol Burnett in her Gone With the Wind parody with the curtain dress!” followed by laughter (I’m paraphraising, though not about the laughter), and mine was “it looks like a picnic cloth that came alive”….and then, after a short pause and without without preamble…”Pizzaria”!!!

    it’s bbbaaaddd, and not the way the kids mean it these days.

    I can see this dress in a solid color, with a different (or no) front panel, but this is bizarre in red check.

    a overly generous 5 because the cut isn’t too bad (except for that quilt/apron thingamajig, and it’s definitely saveable in a solid color. but not in check or paisley (ok, gingham, but I call it check).

  34. Black Tulip says

    Aaagh, my eyes! This is really not a thing to look at when recovering from a migraine.

    My first thought was – hideous. However in the interests of balanced commenting I put on my sunglasses, squinted through my fingers, and had another look.

    And still thought – hideous.


  35. Lynne says

    I think Daniel has nailed it. It is a very witty dress – but not one to wear seriously!

    8 out of 10.

  36. Cheyene says

    That totally makes more sense, but the first thing I thought when I looked at the dress was “SWASTIKAS?!”
    But upon closer inspection I realized I was wrong… but really… every time I glance at it again I see swastikas.

    I don’t like the Italian restaurant tablecloth/picnic blanket look. If it were a different color, maybe in a black or dark blue, I think I’d like it a lot better.

    I’d actually be embarrassed to wear it. Unless, perhaps, we ripped the apron thing off, and changed the color. Ugh.

    I don’t like it.

  37. I love gingham. Love it. I’d wear gingham and plaid constantly if I could get away with it. But this was sooooo messed up. That bertha/shawl/thingamajig is bad enough, but that apron? that just does it. Makes the silhouette just plain horrible…….and the woven look just clashes with the gingham. 1/10. Because I still do like gingham. Even for a ball gown.

  38. Fiona says

    I agree with someone above it reminds me of Strawberry shortcake doll dress. Cut is interesting, so I will say 3.

  39. As far as 80s silhouettes go: I’d wear the heck out of this if it were the short, pouf-skirted 80s prom shape? But the sheer expanse of it is out of control!

  40. It looks fairly good on the manequin, but I think it’s the kind of dress that would overpower nearly anyone who would wear it… in a very 80s way. So that depends on whether you like that or not. And I don’t.
    Still, rather clever on its own, so I guess that’s… um… 3 from me?

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