20th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Mrs Dunstan does details, 1910ish style

Last week I showed you Felipe I, Duke of Parma, in his elaborate mid-18th century getup, all fur cuffs and cisele velvet and brocade waistcoat and lace cravat and…

…you liked it!  Perhaps, as Erin suggested, it was all about having the chin to pull it off, but between the excess and the chin and the dog, it all worked and Felipe rated a very respectable 8.9 out of 10.  Now if only I could convince Mr D to wear it…

This week we’re looking at another kind of design excess.  The end of the first decade of the 20th century was an interesting era, fashion wise, as garments transitioned from the exaggerated silhouettes and rich, massed details of the early Edwardian, to the more neoclassical inspired simplicity of the ‘teens.  Colour-wise, the switch went the other way: the Edwardians had favored the pale pastels of the Neoclassical & Rococo, ‘teens fashions took their colour cues from the wild combinations and exotic hues of the Orient.

This dress, by New York dressmaker Mrs Dunstan, bridges these two trends, with a dress of pale ecru livened by touches of deep emerald green and layer upon layer of details.

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

Like so much of ca. 1910 fashion, this dress is all about the details: the layers of lace, tulle, and satin on the bodice, forming a faux bolero:

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

The soutache work on the bodice and hem:

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

The back fastenings, which echo the touches of green on the front of the dress:

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

The mad, tasseled belt effect:

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

Dress, Mrs. Dunstan (American), 1909—11, silk, metal, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.475

What do you think?  Does the contrast of pale ecru and deep green work, or is it too abrupt?  What about the mass of details?  Are they too much, or do they balance each other?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I love the fairly natural silhouette of this era, and some of the details are exquisite.

    By staying in the same colorway the soutache, satin and the amazing drape detail of the skirt front work off each other beautifully.

    Two elements veer away from charm for me:

    1. I do find the darkness of the green jarring — I would prefer the same details in celadon.

    2. The tassels at the back are quite distracting, because I can’t help but think they would bounce off the bum in locomotion, which seems contrary to the manners of the pre-WWI era.

    8.5 of 10 for overall excellence.

  2. The front skirt detail (the crossover effect) is beautiful. I’m not quite so sure I like the tassels in the back though. 8.5 out of 10

  3. Tracy Ragland says

    I love it! The only drawback is that the crossing panels on the skirt front seem to cause the hemline to go up in that area…or that may be the way it is hanging on the mannequin. I give it a 9.

    • I think the raised hemline in the front is deliberate – a practical intervention to avoid tripping.

  4. Love it! I really like the green with the ecru, and the back is amazing. All the layers of detail are exquisite. I give it a 10.

  5. I really like the bum tassels, but I do find that green too dark. But the shape and the color of the rest of the dress is beautiful. It may just be the wrong green. Because the main fabric is a lightish peachy color, a softer green would have looked nicer. I give it an 8.5

  6. Elise says

    I love everything about it–except the cross in the front. Not only is it distracting, but I can only imagine how annoying it must have been to have children try and throw things into it. 9/10

  7. Lylassandra says

    Omg, I generally dislike Edwardian fashion but I LOVE THIS DRESS. Full stop, 10/10.

    Possibly this is going on my life list for costumes-to-make.

  8. It’s gorgeous!
    I’m only a little bugged by the dark buttons / loops – literally: they somehow remind me of bugs. Or ants. It could be the colour, or the spacing, I’m not sure.
    Buuut… it’s gorgeous! The large amount of light fabric, with all kinds of different textures, and just a little bit of dark contrast + the silhouette – it’s very nicely balanced.

  9. Rosamond says

    Lovely… But I do adore details. For me the drawback is the tiny high lace collar. I do like the emerald , but my minds eye sees those bits in lavender. The tassels are a bit heavy but I think the movement of the lady wearing this gown would make them delightful… And a bit daring! 8.5 out of 10.

  10. Amy B. says

    I declare this the most perfect rate the dress ever posted. 10 all the way down to the tassels. I couldn’t pull them off now, but they work perfectly for the time period of the dress.

    The best part is the crossing of the sheer fabric in front. It’s so perfectly done.

  11. holly says

    That is one stunning dress. I don’t care if anyone thinks it’s over-ornamented, I’d like to believe I would have worn something like this. Guess that’s what happens when you’re born in the age of jeans & t-shirts.

    a big 10 / 10

  12. Really like the colour combo and the layers, and while at first I thought the tassles were a bit weird, I agree with the above that they would be quite tantalising in motion. I still wonder if they would be a pain in the bum to sit on!
    Never mind that, I give it a 9

  13. I don’t mind the ecru and emerald color combination, but I think there’s way too much detail for this dress to be truly beautiful.

    I like the soutache detailing, and the tassels/buttons in the back. I don’t much like the buttons down the lower/inner sleeves, or the lace Peter Pan collar, or the chiffon criss-cross in the front. I think the bolero is okay, but I don’t particularly like the shape of it.

    Anyway, 7.5 from me.

    • One thing more What I dislike about the bodice is the false underbodice with the “ant-like” fasteners. The satin-edged V-shaped opening though which the false underbodice shows is rather nice.

  14. Kathryn says

    I think adding this many details works really, really beautifully when everything is so monochromatic. My only issue with this dress is the green crossover band on the bottom of the faux bolero. Where all the other green details are very small and delicate, adding just a tiny touch of contrast, I find the band to be too wide and attention-drawing. It’s out of place with the rest of the green, and quite jarring. Overall, 9/10.

    • Kathryn says

      To elaborate: I think there needs to be *some*green in that spot for balance and to keep a nice line, but I just think it needs to be narrower.

  15. Gorgeous. Unlike some dresses where there is a single area of a contrasting colour and you think, “What on earth is that all about?” here there’s just enough green to make it work. Without that contrast is would be a pretty, but a bit boring. And I LOVE all the details.


  16. Tenshi says

    Oh my gosh, I love it! I love the pops of colour in deep emerald green, I love the beigey non-colour of the overall dress that allows for the interplay of all those different and luxurious textures without being over the top, I love the geometric soutache, I love it for still being restrained and elegant despite of all those details. I love it, full stop. 10/10

  17. If Mrs Dunstan were still in business I’d order this one and several others in different color combinations (lets pretend I could afford her work). This dress is gorgeous. 11/10

    (If you must you can down grade the score to 10/10. I really like this dress this much!)

  18. Lynne says

    The back is just beautiful! The best bit of a rather lovely dress.

    I love all the ecru detailing – the work around the bottom of the skirt is impressive, and I find the tassels at the back work because they are in the same colour – and because they finish off the strap effect so well, of course.

    The green. At the back, really wonderful. The buttons on the sleeves and the trim on the lace of the bodice are okay. But maybe it was thinking about Felipe’s impressive chin that made me think of the rather large swags of dark green on the under-bust part as an over-sized droopy moustache! Too much, in the wrong place.

    I do like the dress – very rich and elegant. 9 out of 10.

  19. Jenny Wren says

    Beautiful- especially that mad cross-over bit at the front. How on earth does one do that?


  20. I enjoy Edwardian gowns.
    I enjoy buttons, tassels, and lace.
    I also enjoy mustaches, but not when they are green and situated at my waist!
    If the back of the dress with it’s four amazing buttons was the front, this would be nearly perfect; however, the awkward mustachioed bodice front and strangely designed sleeves, destine this dress to be a still-respectable-but-not-quite-stellar 6/10.

  21. It’s gorgeous!
    There are a lot of things that I would tweak slightly if I were to make a version, but it looks great like this. The front skirt crossover is a bit strange, and the green at the front of the bodice is a bit too big and fish tail-y, but these are only minor complaints.

    The back is fantastic! Butt tassels are not a detail I would usually like, but I love these. I think if I wore this dress I would be constantly skipping and jumping to make them flip up in the air.


  22. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this dress. It is one of my favorite ever and I WANT it!!! 10/10!!!


  23. Belinda says

    Goodness the detail! I think the only thing I’m not 100% sold on is that crossover, but still it’s the nicest skirt crossover I’ve seen, so it doesn’t spoil it for me.
    I have to say I really like the green. It gives it enough pop to avoid the dress turning into a mass of pale friff, but without distracting from the incredible details. I also really love the tassels. But what I love best is the combination of fabrics. It’s so delicate and sumptuous at the same time. I would totally wear this.

  24. L. A. Khatt says

    It’s love at first sight with this one! If I could fit into it I’d definitely wear it! I love that it is so very detailed, yet it doesn’t feel OTT due to so many of the gorgeous trims being in the same tone/color as the main fabric. Nor does the green bother me – there’s just enough to provide well balanced interest to the overall look. Favorite parts – the bolero bodice and the fantastic butt tassels.
    I give it a 10/10 for overall fabulousness.

  25. Euuh…tassels fall in the same box as fringe for me–the I-don’t-really-care-for-that-but-I-guess-I-can-accept-it box. But other than that I really like this. The soutache, the color palette (I actually love the mix of ecru and emerald), the lace, it’s all lovely and elegant and it really seems to work together. 9.5 out of 10 for me.

  26. I LOVE this! The colors are lovely and the details are stunning. Just enough but not overdone. I might question the tassels, but here I think they work. Stunning.


  27. I love the back, and the front reminds me first of Georgia o’keefe and second of the lines of art nouveau which I guess means they have balance and keep my eye moving. (and are lovely and sweeping) I love the cream satin of the collar; I am undecided about the ‘green moustache’. Also the buttons ( as with the green bodice details) don’t seem as gracefully integrated as the lines of the dress might suggest but maybe that’s the point… I wonder if the fabrics have stayed true to their original colors? Even a little shift might change the way this balance looks. 7.5

  28. Daniel says

    I think it has partly discoloured with time, which gives it a slightly dingier look than originally intended (perhaps not meant to be QUITE so ecru) I like the green, although it seems quite a strong contrast to me, just a little bit too intense against the muted ecru. The tasselly bustle is fun and the soutaching is really pretty. I give it 7.5/10 as while it is lovely, it isn’t really setting me on fire one way or the other.

  29. Beatrix says

    Imagine that dress on a redhead or a dark brunette!
    Yes, it is a bit ‘busy’ for modern tastes.
    But I love the the incredible detail on these dresses – it would be near impossible to recreate in modern times.

    I’m with Kim.
    I’d order this dress in several colors also!

  30. I abselutely love this. I’m not always a fan of this era, but this dress is beautiful. I love the color combination, the small deep green touches and the gorgeous details in the trim and lace. 9,5 out of 10.

  31. I’m a fan of the era’s artwork, and this dress just dazzles me! Consider me dazzled! The details, the criss-cross of silk chiffon(?) or tulle (?) at the front, the intricate detailed swirls… love it all, and the touch of spruce green just pushed me over into dazzle mode.

    If I were the final wearer, I’d omit the tassels, but since it wasn’t made for me…


  32. 10/10 I love it. Interesting from up close, balanced from far away. All covered up (I like that), but sheer enough to intrigue.

  33. I LOVE THIS! The design looks very delicate, detailed, and time consuming.

    However…I could just IMAGINE how long it would have taken to find and fasten all the crazy hooks and eyes to keep this piece together, so…


  34. Heaven and Perfection! In my mind’s eye this gown is worn by a brunette, whose dark coiffure balances the deep green touches of the dress. To my eye the details are harmonious and the back view, ravishing! Mrs Dunstan, you have my undying respect and admiration. 10/10, more if I could!

  35. I love this. The ornate details all in one color look elegant rather than garish, and the unexpected dark green holds its own against the rest of the details. I don’t think I’d like it as well if the dark green were substituted out for something lighter; I think a more pastel color would be overpowered by the rest of the dress. 10/10 because it’s gorgeous.

  36. Stunning! 10! Those details are gorgeous, love love the colours!

  37. Brenda says

    GORGEOUS. A lovely balance of details and simple lines. A pop of green to liven up an otherwise pale dress. My only issue is with how the sleeves are cut off at the midway point. The buttons lining the bottom half of the sleeves don’t seem to fit the style of the rest of the dress. Also, like the sleeve buttons, the tassels might be a bit heavy-handed in comparison to the delicate details of the rest of the dress.


  38. I really like this dress. The silhouette is very nice & I ADORE the detailing. I think the ecru & deep green work, but my only complaint is where the green is. It’s all above the waist! And with such a a thick swatch of it right there too, I feel like there should have been at least some subtle trace of it in the bottom detailing of the skirt to balance it out.

    I give it 8/10.

  39. I just can’t find anything to dislike about this dress. It got a gasp of delight at first viewing and further examination doesn’t change that reaction! (My only disappointment is that I could never wear it, since that shade of ecru/pale gold makes my pale skin look dreadful.) But so, so, so lovely. 10 from me!

  40. Mrs Dunstan was clearly good at details. I’m also very keen on the green silk. 10/10

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