20th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Holiday florals in the 1940s

Ah, Maria Christina.  That was quite a lot of ensemble last week!  There was actually quite a lot of love for the dress itself, once you found it under all the STUFF.  And most of you recognised that for an 18th and early 19th century monarch, in the days before Queen Victoria’s middle-class monarchy, overkill was probably exactly what was desired!  So you gave MC and her mass of jewels and lace a 7.8 out of 10, which is a pretty decent nod of approval for an ensemble from the usually un-loved 1830s.  (I think we can all agree that the necklace needed to go though!)

I generally do a Christmas-y/holiday-y themed frock for the Rate the Dress closest to Christmas: something in festive red velvet, or sumptuous white fur.  A sparkling gala gown, a skating costume or a snuggly jacket with muff.  But those are really an unrealistic depiction of the holiday around me.  It’s summer in NZ – the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and it’s time for warm-weather frocks!

So this years Christmas offering is a dress for an Antipodean holiday party: festive, but floral rather than furry, sumptuous but summery.

Cocktail dress, Hattie Carnegie, Inc. (American, 1918—1965) 1940s, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1994.153

Cocktail dress, Hattie Carnegie, Inc. (American, 1918—1965) 1940s, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1994.153

This 1940s Hattie Carnegie cocktail dress features black silk net with a twining garden of tambour embroidery in vermillion, peach, buttercup yellow, tangerine, celadon, spring green, and silvery blue.

Cocktail dress Hattie Carnegie, Inc. (American, 1918—1965) 1940s, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1994.153

Cocktail dress (detail), Hattie Carnegie, Inc. (American, 1918—1965) 1940s, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1994.153

The dress is probably late 1940s, and the design would have been a celebratory splash of colour and cheerfulness at the end of the war.

Cocktail dress, Hattie Carnegie, Inc. (American, 1918—1965) 1940s, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1994.153

Cocktail dress, Hattie Carnegie, Inc. (American, 1918—1965) 1940s, American, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1994.153

What do you think?  Just the think for holiday parties in a warm climate?  Or an odd combination of little-black-dress and bright colours?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. That is flat-out gorgeous, and the black of the ground really makes the embroidery sing. The embroidery motifs seem especially well-placed to define the figure.

    10 of 10

  2. Honestly? I would have problems dating that one, because it looks more timeless than a specific era. And while I would rather it be on a white background instead of black, it’s a nice sundress. Because of the background color, though, I’ll give it an 8/10.

  3. Liberty says

    I don’t wear colors, and I don’t wear florals, but I would love to wear this dress! I rate it a 10!

  4. Oh, a bright floral on a black background! My favourite thing ever! And embroidered. And floral. Can I give it a 57/10?? :):)

  5. It is perfectly proportioned, has just the right graceful cut, and that embroidery is scrumptious. It looks good stationary, and it must have looked good in motion as well.

  6. Oh it’s beautifull! I love the detail of the contineud embroidery on the shoulder straps! I would wear it inmediatly!


  7. It’s gorgeous. The black background contrasts beautifully against the embroidery, and the cut is very elegant. 10/10

  8. Elise says

    Oh what fun, it is to wear, that dress on Christmas Day–Hey!

    10/10. I wish it were in better colors for me, but that’s my prejudice, not the fault of the dress (or supremely talented dressmaker)

    How interesting the part about the clothes of the monarchy before Victoria’s “Middle Class Monarchy.” Never thought of that!

  9. I’ve never been so inspired to vote in Rate the Dress – this is exquisite. Love the colors, love the stitching and the repeating panels, love the central bloom. Perfect 10.

  10. I give it a 10! Perfect embroidery placement and the black background gives it a more formal feel. Beautiful dress!

  11. I appreciate this dress, but I don’t love it. The colors stand out against the black, but it feels a bit off somehow. I like the design, but I am not in love with the color palate.


  12. Lynne says

    I was prepared to give it 10 out of 10 when I thought it was ‘just’ a wonderful print! And it’s embroidered? Where to go? I suppose 11 out of 10 would be out of the question?

    It would be totally wearable nowadays. Embroidered (probably Mexican?), silk, with net. And a beautifully simple cut. One of those moments when I wish I was forty or fifty years younger.

  13. Angela Wicentowich says

    I’m not a fan of florals, but I do love black and silk netting. I can also appreciate the amazing embroidery work. I give this dress a 8.5/10

  14. Louisa S. says

    This dress is stunning. I think it is a perfect combination of festive embellishment and flattering elegance. It looks perfect for twirling, too! I love it and wish I owned a dress just like it. 10/10

  15. L. A. Khatt says

    I would love to have a dress like this! The style is classic/timeless – I thought it was from more recent times to be honest. That lovely, almost ethnic, embroidery stands out beautifully against the black. This dress could be dressed up or down depending on the event- so it’s versatile too. This one’s a winner in my book.

  16. Beatrix says

    I do embroidery & collect hand embroidery styles from South Asia.
    It’s interesting that hand embroidered clothing is still a ‘status’ symbol in India, Pakistan & Nepal.
    The chain stitching on that dress would be admired here in India but would still be considered on the ‘cheaper’ end of hand embroidered status clothing.
    Because chain stitching is considered the easiest & fastest stitch to do- (which is strange because the ‘expensive’ embroidered pieces here usually feature some sort of tiny but simple running stitch.)
    I still admire the free flowing curved lines that can be achieved with chain stitching – it almost looks as though the embroidered design is drawn or painted in thread.
    Actually I have a hand embroidered black silk shantung coat from Kashmir with almost the same multicolored floral design on it as the featured dress (Oh the benefits of having a Kashmiri husband!)
    I love the cut & fit of the dress with the tulle accents even without the embroidery. I think it would be flattering to just about all figures.

  17. Athena says

    I have loved this dress since the first time I came across it on the net. I hope to be able to to make a replica of it one day when my tambour embroidery gets a lot better.

    10 out of 10

  18. Holy woah! This is the most beautiful dress I think I’ve ever seen. Reaffirming for me that I love 1930’s fashion. I give it an 10!!!!

  19. melissa says

    I love this! 10/10! The embroidery and colors is perfect, I like the use of the netting on the skirt, and I love that the straps are embroidered too. This would be such a perfect party frock!

  20. Beautiful and timeless. The close-up of the embroidery is so pretty, and the placement of the patterns makes the whole dress look perfectly in balance. 10/10

  21. fidelio says

    Did Hattie Carnegie ever allow her dessigners to turn in anything ugly?


  22. Daniel says

    DEAR SWEET DEITY OF CHOICE… I love this! I utterly adore it. I love it so much. Ten out of ten!

    It’s just GORGEOUS. I adore vibrant florals and I LOVE rich embroidery and I love vivid colours against black grounds. And the tulle makes it light and feminine and floaty, not heavy at all. I love it, I love it, I honestly, truly, madly, passionately ADORE IT. It has to be ten out of ten. Ticks every single box here. This is one of the most absolutely perfect Rate the Dresses you’ve ever come up with.

    Let’s see how in the minority I am now…

  23. If it was a print rather than embroidery, I’d wear it in a heartbeat. The embroidery looks too “heavy” to me for such a light dress. Still, I’d give it an 8.5/10

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