20th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the dress about which I know nothing

There were some rather divided opinions about last week’s black and white-ish dress.  Some thought perfection, others though the dress and corselet didn’t match, and others thought it looked like the evil queen dressed up as Snow White.  All came together for a not-quite-fairytale total of 7.5 out of 10

One of my sewing students found this image and showed it to me:

Unknown 50s (inspired?) suit dress


I’m intrigued.  It looks so familiar, but I can’t quite place it.  The skirt is reminiscent of a Charles James, particularly the four leaf clover dress, but I’m not sure about the whole thing as a Charles James.

So today I want to know two things.  One, do you recognise this dress or know anything about it?  And two, what do you think of it?  Perfect combination of business and pleasure?  Too many ideas at once?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


UPDATE: Huge round of applause for Daniel who identified the dress as Lachasse’s 1955 ‘Coat Dress’, now in the collection of the Manchester City Galleries.  The fabric is a silk, not a wool, and the dress was created as a runway showpiece.


  1. It looks like Charles James meets Dior meets Chanel. I like it, but wouldn’t wear it. So perhaps an 8?

    Hello, by the way — as they say on talk shows, long-time reader (listener), rare poster (caller).

  2. I can’t decide if I love or hate it. The first word that sprang to mind when I saw it was Dior – but I’ve no idea why.

  3. I like this fusion of styles much more than the gingham evening gown from a few weeks ago. I can only imagine how much boning is in this gown, and what would have to be worn under it to keep those buttons from gaping (or worse, flying across the room). I’d wear it, but only for a very short time, and definitely not at an event where I’d be expected to eat anything because it just doesn’t look like there’d be room. 8/10

  4. I know nothing about this dress, but I have to say, I sort of like it. I like the shape, and the texture of the fabric. The only complaint – where would one wear this dress? Too fancy for day-to-day, but not glamorous enough for an evening event. Conceptually interesting, but not entirely practical.


    • Elise says

      My thoughts exactly! Unlike the stupid 80s dress, this one is so interesting without looking like it’s trying too hard. I love the shape and the proportions. I think that the fabric choices are an interesting one, and you can see the designer’s thought bubble: “Just how glamorous can I make tweed, without it looking like a stupid 80s dress?”

  5. Odd, but strangely appealing. It would be perfect for hostessing a party in a chilly old castle.


  6. Black Tulip says

    Definitely not practical, but I really like it. Especially the neckline – simple, elegant, complements the black at the hem.


  7. Yuck. The heavy suit fabric just does not work for this skirt and if you take away the mermaid skirt it’s pretty boring. 2/10.

  8. I don’t know about this one. On one hand it’s quirky and unique, but on the other hand it’s kind of a weird dichotomy between business suit and evening gown.

    I love the bottom half, with the huge skirt, but the top just looks funny to me.



          • Well, these seem to be functional, but at the same time, the way they are used as part of the design makes them embelishment, too, and I just don’t like the look of that with the rest of the dress… and generally don’t like the look of that. I think it’s the way these rather large buttons are running waaaay down that puts me off…

  9. I think the simple top balances the OTT bottom nicely and as a result it’s lovely 10/10

  10. Natalie says

    I love the skirt and the scalloped design. I even love the suiting on the mermaid part of the skirt but can’t stand it from the knees up. The two just don’t go together and it looks awkward!


  11. Lynne says

    It’s a daft dress – looks like a woollen fabric, and quite a stiff one – but I rather like it. It is a bit like the gingham evening dress, in that it shows a designer being clever with some terrific techniques and styles and unexpected fabric in a rather witty way. I love the sculptured shape even though the boning and corsetry must have been formidable. Using the black around the neckline was clever – really pulls it together, and stops the black lower skirt from looking as if a giant black clam was eating a woman in a tweedy dress!

    Sorry, but I know nothing about its origins. Film costume??

    9 out of 10.

  12. Zach says

    Odd is just the word to describe it, but I like it. While it isn’t very practical, most designer things aren’t. It’s pretty, though!

    Ten out of ten.

  13. As a piece of art of fashion, I’d give it a 9. As a thing to actually wear, I’d say 4 because although I would love it and it looks swooshy, I would definitely trip on it and go arse over teakettle.

    But wearability is not the point, surely? I really love the dark contract bits, they make the change of shape accentuated and yet less ridiculous, somehow.

  14. Claire Payne says

    I love the dress (it’s 1950’s so naturally I’m going to think it’s marvellous). My initial thought was of the exhibition in Te Papa to promote the wool industry. The fabric seems too heavy for such a dress so I wonder if it is a special design to promote wool/tweed material? A highly impractical frock with an excessive amount of skirt below the knee – what a way to celebrate the end of WW2 rationing it would be. 9 out of 10

  15. I love it! I’d give it a perfect 10 and as soon as I find an event I could wear it to I’d sew it up as fast as possible. Now that I think of it … ballroom competition gowns are quite extravagant and in a lighter, stretchy fabric this might actually work … but would a lighter fabric be killing the vibe?

  16. Hmm, I’ve tried to comment twice. Let’s see if three’s the charm.

    I feel like the top and bottom don’t go together well at all. The suit + ballgown bit seems just pieced together instead of clever to me. I don’t even know if I like the bottom at all in that tweed or whatever it is. 5/10

  17. There is just so much to love about this outfit. The cut and contrast of the skirt, the little scallops where the skirt panels join the dress, the fit, the big buttons detail. The sheer absurdity of combining this style and those fabrics. How freeing!
    Practical? Not a chance. But so very, very pleasing to me. I love subversive fashion and to me this si subversiveness at its cleverest and most playful, and successful.
    I give it a 7,000 out of 10. Can I do that? 😉

      • Daniel says

        And after all that – OK, it’s a designer showpiece rather than an actual serious garment, so it’s meant to show off the designer’s skill and ability rather than to be bought and actively worn. So for that reason it does exactly what it says on the tin.

        I do prefer it in the contemporary photograph, but it is a pretty impressive piece of cutting and construction and pure fantasy – and would certainly have made a great film costume for the right film. Great silhouette, cut – and definitely a strong James influence. On the right model/figure, as in the fashion shot – a definite wow. I would rate this 7/10 as while it’s pretty impressive, I’m not sold on the neckline for some reason and when I think of it as wool tweed and black velvet it’s ABSOLUTELY gorgeous and dramatic and somehow, knowing it’s made from satin with a sort of check, that’s sort of disappointing…

        • Daniel says

          No, hang on, we’re supposed to be rating the IMAGE, and so I would rate the image 10/10 because it really makes the dress look spectacular and alluring and dramatic and like wool tweed and black velvet and overall really sells it. Let’s not get caught up on what I know about the actual garment.

      • Laurel Parker says

        Agreed, but that is because that manniquin lacks the curves the dress calls for. This is a heavy dress – it will sag unless it’s supported by someone who can fill it out.

        Wonderful that you found the designer, BTW!

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you! (though I must admit, when I posted this I thought “I bet if anyone knows who the dress is by it will be Daniel”).

    • Lynne says

      Wonderful find – bravo, Daniel! So it’s silk satin, not wool. That makes a lot more sense. And the buttons are not just decoration, the dress opens down the front. Ha. Fascinating – thank you.

  18. Laurel Parker says

    I IMMEDIATELY thought Charles James.

    I love it. I am familiar enough with this era’s fashions to know exactly where and how this dress would be worn ( a formal party held in the boss’s home), at a time when the alternatives were decidedly for women who can’t take care of themselves. What other time in history was fashion dominated by house dresses and house coats?

    Couch upholstery as evening wear is one of those things with such fashion victim potential that no one should try it, but Charles James knew exactly what he was doing. Instead of fashion victim, his declared that one was a strong yet feminine female in complete control of her self and her environment. Find another 1950’s era garment that makes that statement!

    • Laurel Parker says

      I saw after I posted that this isn’t a Charles James dress, and realized I implied that I thought it definately was. I’d like to ammend that by saying Charles James was the type of person who could pull this off ( I also think he may have inspired the designer who did). I think it takes someone who is a tailor first, to do this type of garment. They have to understand all the nuances of suiting.I learned a lot about this from a tailor who used to make custom suits through a store I worked at. Every suit he made was a love affair for him – a mating of fabric and the human body. Those pieces of fabric were carressed, not sewn, into place. I hope there will always be a place in the world for such skilled craftsmanship.

  19. Lene H. says

    This gown is sort of stuck between two chairs. Isn’t quite the one thing, but not the other either. While I like going a bit off track and mixing things up, this particular mix of evening silouette and (looks like) heavy suiting fabric does not do it for me. The two things dont really meld, but look forced and as if they want to run off in different directions. This does not go beyond 4/10

  20. Silk masquerading as tweed, a dress that’s both fish and fowl, both evening dress and day suit: I love it. The buttons are meant to be big — that was the design ethos of the day, and especially a few years later.

    And as the galleries said, definitely for the catwalk, and not the street, or a formal dinner. Unless, perhaps, someone today wore it to go to the annual Metropolitan Museum fashion evening event. I can see a few movie stars who might be able to actually carry it off.



    • It may have been the design ethos of the day, but that does not mean I have to like it…
      But I can understand people who love the gown, don’t worry. 🙂

  21. The Mad Purple Chicken says

    That is WEIRD, it’s like a business suit for a fish or something. I don’t vote for anything 20th century because I totally loose interest in fashion after about 1918 so I don’t feel qualified to give a rating.

    • The Mad Purple Chicken says

      Ooops, I just remembered that I rated that 1980s gingham thing. That was an exception because that dress fairly screamed “have an opinion on this!”

  22. Joie de Vivre says

    LOVE IT. I agree with Mrs C and would like to raise her 7,000 to a squillion. Failing that, 10 will do. Practical? No. Glorious design and execution? Hells yes.

Comments are closed.