Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Maria Anna does geometry

Last week you were surprisingly positive about the black and gold Regency frock.  Many of you noticed the bee/bug resemblence, and you actually approved of it!  The dress rated an 8.1 out of 10.

This week, I thought it was high time I posted a full portrait, where you could consider the dress and the way it fits the wearer’s looks and personality.  This is Maria Anna of Spain, who was considered as a potential bride to Charles I of England, and was instead married to her cousin Ferdinand III.

Maria Anna of Spain with her son Ferdinand, 1634, unknown Austrian Artist

Maria Anna was everything you could want in a 17th century princess: pretty, without being so attractive as to cause jealousy or tempt a king into an unwise match; even tempered and happy, more than capable of balancing her gloomy husband’s moods; a competent ruler when called upon to serve as her husbands regent, but not tempted by more power, like her sister Anne of Austria.  Also unlike Anne, she had no problem producing the raft of heirs that was the ultimate mark of success for a royal consort, and it was this that proved her undoing.  Maria Anna died in childbirth only two years after this portrait was completed, and her most notable legacy was her contribution to the horribly inbred and inter-married Hapsburgs.

Today though, we are not concerned with Maria Anna’s character or history.  Let us look, instead, at her dress.  As a Spanish princess, it’s not surprising that Maria’s dress is still very stiff and formal: more 16th century than 17th century.  Within the confines of conservative Spanish royal fashion Maria Anna has found space for something unexpected: unusual and elaborate geometric patterning.

What do you think?  Do the lines and checks and squares lift the dress from ordinary to fabulous, or does the trim and design only add to the impression of stiffness and formality?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10



  1. Zach says

    Oh, dear…

    Well, I like the fabric, and I like the skirt, but the way it looks is…just…so…yuck. The bodice makes her look like she has no…um…assets, and between that smooth, flat front and her oddly illustrated face (mildly attractive from a distance–“what on Earth is that?!?” up close) makes her look quite a bit like a fish. Those lips are so…fishy! Also, her hair reminds me of that I Love Lucy episode where Ricky won’t let Lucy buy a new dress or get her hair done, so she makes her own dress and gives herself a perm. Unfortunately, she forgot to take down her hair and do whatever it is they do when it’s time to take the curlers out, and the results are similar to this kind lady’s ‘do. On a side note: the prince’s clothes are very cool!

    Six out of ten–saved by that lovely fabric. (I think I’ve reached my ellipse quota for the day… 😉 )

  2. This is magnificent, but not entirely coherent. That maybe because the combination of the rigid lines of the fabric and silhouette and the curves of the shoulders and peplum add to those imposed by the sitting position and drapes to confuse the impact the outfit should have.
    Still, 7/10 for the fabric, the fabric, the fabric.

  3. I admire Maria Anna’s daring in commissioning such an unusually patterned dress, but I don’t really like it. The geometric motif is too gimmicky for me, and the color scheme is drab. A 5.

  4. I think I have to say I appreciate this dress on an intellectual level… even if I don’t necessarily find it very pretty. The fabric and shapes make the dress interesting, and those sleeves are downright fascinating. They look like giant birdcages hanging off of her arms. I suppose I have to say I approve of the cut of this dress, but the color choices are rather drab. I don’t know if I like it, but I do appreciate it.


    • Elise says

      I agree completely with you. I like it intellectually, too, especially because it evokes (to me) the geometric lines of Arabic architecture, of which Spain has beautiful examples.

      I think it would have moved beautifully…7/10

  5. Claire Payne says

    I agree with Zac – I don’t mind the print and the skirt but the rest is just too much. So many ruffles at the neck and the way the shoulders stick out with the sleeves flowing out from them just gives a vision of a woman lost in her own dress. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to move in it. It is indeed” just so yuck”. Bearly scrapes a 3 out of 10 from me I’m affraid. It just doesn’t excite me at all.


  6. Rebecca says

    itchyI actually like this dress quite a lot. The lovely geometric print, while complex, is in such muted tones that it balances the cut. In general I am not a fan of this style dress because it looks so uncomfortable (ruff+stomacher=oooowww itchy itchy (at least in my mind; I’ve never worn them and hers are probably really good quality so probably not itchy)), but she’s a 17th century queen, so what other choice did she have?
    I am confused by the sleeves. The sleeve on the left, near the baby, looks simply droopy, which is good, but the one on the right is shaped like a … uh … I have no idea. Something that would drag in your dinner. Is it possible that she’s wearing some sort of one-armed cape extra-oversleeve-thingy (if such a thingy exists)?
    The cut of the skirt is great, especially the front point where the lines come to right angles. Whoever designed this dress used the geometric fabric to its best advantage. I don’t know if it’s pieced like a quilt or woven in one piece, but the math and precision there is amazing.
    I think what really pulls off this look, though, is her face. So friendly. But yes, the hair is funny. In any century.
    Oh, I like the pearl necklace and the little lace cuffs too!


    • No, she’s wearing an overgarment (it might be hip length, or longer–because of the geometric pattern I can’t tell for sure) with outsized sleeves, and a slit down the middle so she can put her arms through the outsized sleeve instead of having to wear the sleeve in the conventional way. I’ve seen the style before. I believe it was period in the late 16th century; it’s a bit old-fashioned for 17th century, but the Spanish princesses were behind the fashion curve by then.

      However, I agree that wearing a brown-on-brown geometric pattern on your undergarment *AND* your overgarment makes for a kind of boring, fool-the-eye kind of outfit.

  7. Daniel says

    I don’t really care for it – on the positive side, you do focus on the face. On the negative side, it’s perhaps not the most flattering portrait. The colours are a bit dull and the optical effects a little annoying. Overall, I have to say 3/10, I’m afraid, although it may look better when she’s standing in it.

  8. Lynne says

    May I start with baby Ferdinand (who, does, oh dear!, look Habsburg). A gauze skirt, so that his wee white legs and bare feet are sticking out in the cold Austrian air? Why would a baby have a see-through skirt? His top is adult formal with good lace and even some bling, but the crowning wonder (sorry) is the teeny baby sized pickelhaube behind him! Lawks!

    I rather like Maria Anna’s costume. She has wonderful hair, and I love the way the ruff matches the crimp in her hair. The colour of the dress looks really good on her. The geometric patterns are a bit much – a little quilt-like – but as a whole it is very effective. Wonderful pearl necklace/chain thing, with the emerald and the ruby – monsters – hanging from it! The way the pearls sit wide on the shoulders makes the dress look better, otherwise it would look more as if she was running up to a point at the head!

    8 out of 10.

    And note that even if she didn’t get King Charles, she got his spaniel!

  9. I’ll give it 10/10. I really love the fabric and the geometric bits are really interesting. I would really love to feel this dress and examine how everything was put together. I also like how the ruff and wristbands add wavy lines with all those straight ones. I rather like the portrait too, I love it when the artists put pets in the paintings! The childs dress is interesting too, quite a bit of lace, it already looks really Hapsburg. : )

  10. I think I’ll go with 7/10, it’s ok but it’s very stiff and drab. I prefer a little colour and movement.

  11. karenb says

    Blame the painter for Maria Anna’s hairstyle and who knows what he altered while he was painting the dress. That might be why the sleeves look odd. I looked up Wikipedia and looked at various images of her as I was curious about her hair. Us frizzy haired girls get lots of unwanted comments on the look of our hairstyles so I felt I had to defend her…..
    interesting dress though but dont like the baby’s odd outfit; such cold looking little legs.


  12. 8/10

    Am I the only one who enjoyed this? I found the pattern to be exciting, and the sleeves oh-so-amazing. I’d love to see a modern-day fashion designer be inspired by this gown.

    It looks heavy and warm (and right now it’s cold and raining in Australia), so maybe that has a little something to do with it, too!

  13. I really like the geometric aspects of the dress – the piecing of the skirt in particular is very clever and effective. I also think the comparatively drab colouring makes the geometric designs work even better. I also like the shape of the skirt – I know it’s just because she is sitting in a chair with arms but it looks rather fishtail-shaped which would be fabulous in some alternate universe. ^_^

    Unfortunately, the remainder of the dress is … well … early 1600s. I hate the extra-long stomacher style. I also have no idea what is going on with the overgown – the wide shoulders are ugly and she appears to have some sort of hunchback. The ruff is just … well … a ruff. And not really a nice one. The cuffs are quite dainty and sweet, though.

    The sleeves, however, I like. Coming from a 1300s perspective I’m quite familiar with (and rather like) the idea of having a garment with loose sleeves with a slit in to reveal the tight sleeves of the undergarment.

    Overall … 6.5/10.
    Though, 9.5/10 if it was a similarly daring use of colour and fabric on a slightly earlier (and more palatable) silhouette.

  14. Ha! The way the pattern is matched / shaped on the skirt makes me think of a Marimekko dress I saw in in the Helsinki City Museum!
    The rest of it is as far removed from Marimekko as it can be.

  15. I’m trying to like this, I really am. I like the fabrics and the way they’ve been used, I’m even OK with the colour, but the end result makes her look upholstered rather than dressed.


  16. Myrthe says

    I’ve been looking at this since you posted it, trying to figure out what I think of it. I want to like it, since I’m usually a fan of big dresses and I like the colours, but for some reason it just doesn’t get much beyond ‘meh’. Maybe because the overall dress is just a bit too busy, or because her waist seems so low due to the v shaped panel at the bottom of the bodice. I’d give it a 6/10.

  17. Elise says

    Why oh why do I keep checking? I love the responses so much. (I need a job, too)

    • karenb says

      I have the same problem as you Elise, I check far too often to see if there are new comments….its all so interesting.

    • Demented Seamstress says

      Gah! Some of my words got transplanted again.
      wordpress is so weird.

    • Thanks for the Maria Farnese link. I see that something of the same sort of patterning is going on in her gown; it must have been a Spanish fashion of the period.

  18. Cornelia Moore says

    another one I missed. strangely, I really like the drab color and the strait line front…but it could do w/o the larger print coming around the sides…and yet there’s nothing specifically wrong with the larger print, at the same time. something softer in the large print rather than the sharp, blocky look would appeal to me more. and royal colors instead of brown. still, overall I rather like it, and in the day would have worn something very like it, but brown is not my color. the color and I just don’t get along. 9/10 but only narked down for the color and the squares

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