Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: The Countess as Flora in 1613 (ok, sort of)

Last week a lot of you loooooooved the Poiret negligee gown.  And then, predictably, some of you were less than enthused about the daring colours.  Less predictably, some of you got hung up on the tassle, insisting the wearer would trip over it (you could clearly see the hemline behind it, no tripping happening there).  Despite this perplexing criticism, the dress managed a 8.2 out of 10 – quite good for something so avant garde.

I had the hardest time finding a Rate the Dress for this week. I wanted to keep with the theme of _13  for the  Bi/Tri/Quadri/Quin/Sex/Septi/Octo/Nona/Centennial Challenge, but simply couldn’t find  a _13 garment that I hadn’t already featured and which appealed to me.  I finally settled on this 1611 portrait of the noted beauty Frances Howard (this one, not the notorious Frances Howard) by  Gheeraerts, with the assumption that there is every chance that the Countess would have been wearing the same items in 1613 (backed up by evidence that that definitely happened in this post).

Marcus Gheeraerts the younger (Flemish artist, 1561-1635) Frances Howard, Countess of Hertford, 1611

Marcus Gheeraerts the younger (Flemish artist, 1561-1635) Frances Howard, Countess of Hertford, 1611

Gheeraerts paints Frances in an elaborate embroidered bodice, rich green skirt with sumptuous gold trim, and elaborately rosetted shoes.  The drape of fabric around her, the posy in her hand and the wreath in her hair indicate that she may be in fancy dress intended to represent an allegorical or classical figure – perhaps Flora, goddess of spring.

Frances was 33 at the time of this painting, still considered a great beauty of the Jacobean court a decade after she had driven a suitor so mad with despair that he killed himself after learning of her marriage to the Count of Hertford.

Is Frances the perfect early-17th century Flora, or is she doing it a bit rich, posing as the goddess of youth and new beginnings at 33?  Are her clothes suitable to her age, position, the portrait, and and your taste?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I know this is probably a “just me” thing, but I’ve always found the polychrome embroidered jackets a bit gaudy. I much prefer the earlier (and later!) monochrome or even dichrome (or would it be bichrome? I always confuse my greek and latin numerals) embroidered jackets. I do find the polychrome jackets fascinating as an object of study and marvel at the amount of work that goes into them but…they sort of go into the same category in my mind as the “Big Fat Gyspy Wedding” gowns. There are aspects that I love but the entire thing together is a mess to my eye.

    I do like the skirt that she is wearing. However, those shoes keep distracting me. They truly are gaudy and look like a DIY project gone awry.

    Overall, about a 6. The shoes are what really took it down a notch or two.

  2. Sarah says

    I spent ages looking at the shoes thinking she has some sort of trousers peeking out from under her skirt!?? Hmmmmmm….!! First time I’ve joined in on ‘rate the dress’ and I will give it a 7. Fancy dress or not, I like it all apart from the shoes.

  3. Zach says

    I share the same birthday as her! I just happend to notice it when I pulled up the Wikipedia page you linked.

    Those shoes are hilariously cool! At first, I though I was looking at baggy pants with a lot of ruffles all over them, but now I can see what those puffs are. I like her jacket much the same as I do that one embroidered jacket you showed in your centenial challenge inspiration post: it’s very pretty in paintings, but the actual jacket–the way it looks in real life–just doesn’t float my boat. I really like the shape of hers, though. Her skirt is really pretty and reminds me of another Rate the Dress you had not too long ago. I also love her lace ruff-thing (Is it a ruff? I really haven’t a clue!). I also really like her shawl thing–it brings out the red in the jacket nicely, and it contrasts with the green nicely, too.

    Nine out of ten.

  4. I love it all, particularly the skirt with that gorgeous deep hem detail. I can imagine it live and I want it. I’m giving it a nine because the shoes are hideous lol.

  5. Sue H says

    I love this outfit! Well, from head to hem – the shoe bows are weird to my eyes. It is such a guilty pleasure. 9.5/10

  6. Lynne says

    Flora was the goddess of spring and flowers rather than youth, so, go Frances, I say! A woman in her lifetime has many springs. She’d just have got better with time, learning the proper pruning and cultivation techniques, so that we got a Flora we could trust, one who knew her stuff, not some slip of a girl, ignoring the first onset of greenfly!

    I really like the outfit. Adore the embroidery, love the very different hem – dagged? And that cape – is it orange velvet, do we think? Love the wreath of fruity/flowery things.

    The only problem I have is with the rosettes on the shoes. I know they are the big feature – the skirt is shorter than usual to show them – but they make me giggle, which is probably not the desired effect.

    So, 9.5 out of 10.

  7. Hmm. Love the jacket and the skirt. Not so keen on the drape, and especially not on the massive black bow on the shoulder.

    Those shoes though, aargh! I also thought that they were trousers at first. Surely something that large must be far more of a trip hazard than last week’s tassel.

    Close up the shoe rosettes look rather like a those brightly coloured child’s windmill things you get on a stick. I wonder if they rotated in a breeze?

    6.5 / 10

  8. Love it all except the shoes, they’re a bit too wide and make it look like she’s wearing trousers under the skirt. Love the bodice and although I would have draped the cloak differently I still like the punch of colour it adds. 9/10

    • Elise says

      I also thought that she was wearing pantaloons! I love the colors–my very favorite color combination. 9/10!

  9. I really love the whole outfit, especially the skirt and the draped shawl. I love the color and hem line of the skirt, and the draped shawl is very beautiful. The jacket is pretty, but there is something a bit much about all of that together in one outfit.

    I think for her age, doing the gaudy look isn’t as bad compared to being much younger wearing all that. I’m not a big fan of the shoes, and it only increases the gaudy factor. The whole outfit is very sensory overload.

    Overall, I’d say a 7.5.

  10. Gail says

    Symbolism and reality don’t work in this picture. The only thing I like is the skirt, everything else looks thrown on. Her maids just walked in and started dressing her in things that don’t go well together. Then they were like: Oh, you must be the picture of antiquity, here’s a nice cape draped like the Greeks would probably have worn it.


  11. I like the dress. The shoes, as crazy as they are, don’t bother me that much. It’s the draping of the cape thing that is really bugging me. The color of it is all right, breaking up the gaudy prints, but it seems out of place nonetheless. 5/10.

  12. I love the skirt and the cloak. I like the bodice, but I don’t love it. There’s something about the sleeves I can’t quite put my finger on. And I certainly don’t love the rosettes. I’m going to have to deduct points for those. 7/10 from me.

    I don’t think 33 is too old to portray Flora at all, even though 33 probably was a lot older then than it is now.

  13. Mrs Leapheart says

    I wonder if you’ve found the wonderful tumblr “OMG That Dress!” ? This is right up your alley.

    • I actually really don’t like that tumbler because it often doesn’t cite its sources, which is both unfair to the image owner and to the viewer as a researcher.

  14. I have always detested the fashionable silhouette of the early 1610s (big lace collars, very low necklines, long sleeves, ankle-length skirts) and I detest it here. I do like the 17th British vogue for embroidered, all-over floral designs, and that also shows up here. In Frances’s costume, the mash-up of 17th century bodice, skirt, and shoes with a vaguely-classical-Rome-oid cloak doesn’t do it for me. It all clashes and screams of “trying too hard.” A 4, only because the embroidery on the bodice is lovely.

  15. BTW, Sarah–I agree with you–the roses on her shoes are so flagrant that I also thought she might be wearing some kind of trousers under her skirt!

  16. I would have to rate this an 7 out of 10. Even though this is not a style that I would wear, I still do believe that the colors are very beautiful.

  17. Jaqu says

    I have just returned from half an hour reading about British peers on wikipedia after following your link. I have to give the dress a 6, I really do not like the shoes that ruin for me.

  18. Lene H says

    This seems like a mess to me – the drape disguises the dress too much, and is too stiff to properly drape – sort of a neither-nor-thing.
    And those shoes! I simply cannot get past those shoes.. DIY gone waaay over the top…
    skirt at top dont really go together, so this only gets 6 / 10
    And only because I totally respect the amount of work going into the embroidery, and believe each item could look nice if combined with something else.

  19. Daniel says

    Mm. No. I’m sure the embroideries and textiles are stunning, and for its period, it is nice, but there’s a lot here I don’t feel. Mainly because she has swathed herself in a curtain or a tablecloth and there’s too much pattern and texture going on in a clashing way, and not in a good way. I like the jacket and petticoat, but really dislike the stole/drapery and am really not liking the shoe rosettes at all. The way they disappear under the hemline looks like her (non-period-accurate) frilly knickers are around her ankles. Not a good look. So it’s getting a rather harsh 3/10 from me, with acknowledgement that the individual elements are nice, but the way they’ve been put together is not.

  20. fidelio says

    I hate to condemn an entire period of fashion, but I have never been able to feel the love for the clothes from about 1600-1620 This outfit just sums up all the things that made this period a hot mess.
    The textiles are wonderful, an individual item can be interesting or even lovely, and when you get to the complete outfit I feel the urge to break out screaming and running to get away from it.

    This ensemble isn’t the worst by a long shot, either. 5/10.

  21. I’m not really feeling the Spring inspiration here, she looks like Autumn to me! I’m in love with the hem detail and what look like pantalets. 6/10

  22. OMG! This! This is amazing! So much embroidery! So much gilded thread! So much! SO MUCH!

    I love early 17th century jackets like this one, especially with polychrome embroidery. The look on her face with the low cut bodice is so impish and fun. The wide gold trim on her petticoat is making me have serious dream of making a gaudy skirt out of sari trims. And lastly: them rosettes! They are the size of CDs!

    For creativity and flamboyancy, this dress gets a solid 9 out of 10.

  23. Demented Seamstress says

    I like the skirt, but not really the rest of it. I’m not sure leafy wreaths go with clown hair, and the cloak is way too orange.


    But while we’re on the subject of outfits from _13, here is my favorite one, also from around 1613.


    It’s Rubens with his first wife Isabella Brant. This one was painted in 1609 or 1610 but she would probably still be wearing it in 1613. Also, I found another painting from 1615 with a very similar outfit.


    It’s the bottom picture, the one second from the bottom is also similar and it’s from 1621. I know Isabellas outfit is insane but I LOVE IT! Oh dear, I’m rambling again, I’m sorry. I just didn’t have much to say about Frances.

  24. I love it. LOVE it. The painting style is quite 2D and I think overemphasises the patternings of the fabrics. I suspect they would all work very well in the conext of the fashion of the tie and the fancy dress element. 10/10

  25. Angela Wicentowich says

    First, I’d like to comment on how much I love her coy little smile. With that smile I can believe she drove her suitor mad!

    I have a huge shoe fetish (I owe more than 100 pairs) but I don’t really like these shoes. I find them to be too much.

    The rest of the outfit is amazing. I wish I could see the textiles used in a “real” picture…heck, in real life would be even better.

    I give this dress 8.5/10

    • Angela Wicentowich says

      *EDIT: You would think I would owe, but I OWN 100 pairs of shoes.

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