Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Adolescent Swashbuckling in 1608

Last week I showed you an 1880s ensemble that has been enormously popular.  There were a few naysaysers (as always) but the general consensus was extremely positive.  I haven’t tallied the votes yet (The Project has completely taken over my life and I’m afraid you aren’t likely to hear from me again for a few days more), but I’m sure it will be in the 9s.

Moving away from the feminine and the colourful, and the super popular, it’s time for black.  Early 17th century (always a worrisome era on Rate the Dress) black menswear (also problematic), to be precise.

Well, kinda menswear.  Prince Henry was between 10 and 15 when this portrait was painted.  Not exactly manly, though the tailor and Peake the Elder tried their best with the pose and costume.

Prince Henry Frederick, eldest son of James VI & I and Anne of Denmark, ca. 1608, by Robert Peake the Elder, Palazzo Reale, Turin

Poor Henry barely got to be a child, his life overshadowed by what was essentially a custody battle between his still married parents.  And he never grew up to be a man either, his life tragically cut short by typhoid at 18, which is why there was never a Henry IX of England.

What do you think of his outfit?  Princely, manly and timely, all at once?  Or just ridiculous?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. He was a very handsome young man. Typhoid — how horrible! I guess I do leave a wide margin for “the style of the times” and the gentlemen the further back we go. As Jane Austen might say, he looks just as a young man ought to for his station in life.

  2. There’s always a challenge in evaluating historic clothing between “do I find it attractive, based on my contemporary mindset” and “is it well-designed for its own time”.

    I’m afraid I’m pulled between the two questions, since it looks to be quite handsomely designed for its time, with an elegant use of trim, but the pants silhouette and peplum jacket is one from which my contemporary eyes dodge away in distaste.

    The hat is doing its best to compensate for the width of the trous, and I like its dashing hint of red, but I don’t care for pale shoes with dark hose, today or yesterday.

    5 of 10

  3. I, on the other hand, probably like the shoes best.
    And what strikes me most is that it looks like he has extremely short hair.
    I think it’s actually nicely subdued (I’ve seen far worse pantaloons-or-whatever-they’re-called), and the pose makes it look – even though that may not have been true, who knows – that it was actually quite comfortable, too. The shoes certainly look quite sturdy and sensible to me, all things considering, which is something he certainly would have wanted when making poses like that!

  4. I love this era. The clothes are completely unfashionable by modern standards, but so fun to look at and wear! This is a rather understated outfit– very “manly” and quite tasteful. The green accented with gilt trim is absolutely perfect and flatters him very well. The only element giving me pause is his hat. I am usually a fan of large, over-the-top hats, but this feathery one just seems to weigh poor Henry down. I do love the pop of red, though!

    Overall, a solid 8 out of 10!

  5. Elise says

    Ok, so I live on a military base, now, and there are lots of kids who dress up in military costumes and run around acting like their parents (with a large dose of mutant superpowers mixed in). No comment on the politics of such a thing. The point I want to make is that he reminds me of those kids playing super-hero, and he looks so dang *genuine* that I have to score up: 9/10

    • I like the dose of mutant superpowers in the mix; it makes it seem much more… familiar. 😀
      (I did not play mutants, I think, because I did not know what mutants were, but…)

      • Elise says

        Who hasn’t played super-hero/mutant/princess/robot/warrior/wizard as a kid?

  6. Lynne says

    I love the painting! Dear boy – if he lived now, I bet he’d be seriously into cosplay! And that escutcheon could use wheels under it.

    He really owns that outfit. The black looks great. The top half is really flattering, but I have yet to see the man who looks less than slightly silly in those pants. The Tudor and Stuart periods were not kind to the dignity of men’s nether regions. And white shoes with black stockings? What was someone thinking?!

    So, 8 out of 10, reduced because of the pants.

  7. I like the look overall (though the hat would work better if young Henry had had thicker hair). I don’t even mind the pale shoes–they’re a bit daring, a touch of something different, and I do like the shoes of this period.

    However, the shape of the pants is odd, and not flattering (the fashions of the first decade of the 17th century have ugly odd silhouettes in my opinion). I agree with Lynne–8 out of 10, because of those pants (hardly Henry’s fault, but they’re still the only ugly in a mostly elegant costume).

  8. I am very fond of black, and of menswear, but this is not a good era for breeches. These are just too puffy, especially next to the tight doublet. The shape makes them actually worse looking, I think, than pumpkin breeches. I am not entirely sure that white is a good colour for the shoes.

    Other than that, I think it’s a fine outfit. I love the hat and stockings especially.


  9. Based purely on facial expression, I would say Henry knew he looked ridiculous, had done it deliberately to show up his father – not known for a dashing outward appearance – and was quite pleased with himself as a result. Have to love this portrait for that alone. However I struggle with the outfit. I don’t mind a fitted doublet with a peplum, but those breeches are just…well, words fail me on this one. And then there’s the hat, which looks like he raided a much larger person’s wardrobe. So overall, I give points for his flamboyant dress up sensibility – clearly a boy at play here – and take some away for the ridiculous pants. 6.5/10

  10. It may have been the height of fashion for men, but on this boy it looks rather feminine – nipped in waist, curvy hips, and his face really hasn’t had enough of a testosterone hit to make up for it. It almost looks like a young woman with cropped hair has stuck her head through a hole in an oil painting.
    Actually, it would be a dream outfit for a cross-dressing young adventuress, so 8 for the outfit itself but 5 for being on Henry – make of those scores what you will.
    Not that I have anything against Henry – he looks tragically ill even at this age – as though he’s wearing his blacks for himself (sob).

  11. This actually does nothing for me. I don’t find it totally unattractive, considering the time period, but it’s not something that make me excited either. A solid 5 then from me.

  12. Helene Illervik says

    All in all I like his outfit. The colour is very pleasant for my eyes, the trim is exquisit, I love the collar. The trousers makes him look quite bottom heavy the pose might add to it.
    I agree with those who has objetions toward the hat, in itself it’s a nice hat, but too big, and it looks about to fall off his head.
    But as a whole I like it so it’s an 8 from me.

  13. Love this comment!
    The portrait looks as though dear Henry was told, “H. it’s time to have your portrait painted.”
    “I don’t wanna. Do I have to?? It’s boring standing there.”
    “How about if you get to pose however you want? How would that be?”
    “Okay, I guess…”

  14. I really love this time period and the dramatic effect of all black ensembles. But what really does it for me with this outfit is the shoes! Such a perfect shape, with perfect bows. 7/10

  15. fidelio says

    I try really hard to think about what was the style then, in lloking at period clothing, and to consider the evolution or form and all that. But I have never, ever, ever been able to summon up much love for this era, whether for menswear or womenswear.

    The trim is nicely done–enough to make an effective appearance, not so much as to be ridiculous. I agree about the shoes/stockings contrast–with white hose the shoes wouldn’t have been so bad, but white hose/dark trousers would have lacked the lengthening effect you get from the monochrome combination. If wonder if the impractical color was a conspicuous consumption thing–I am a Prince! My father is King of England and Scotland (plus Ireland! and France, not that the French care!) I can afford to wear white satin shoes, because I can have a new pair every day!

    The collar of his shirt is very nice, though. I always like seeing these open collars when they show up in paintings–it’s clear that however stylish the ruffs and wired collars were, people did find them as uncomfortable as we would, and were ready to jump on an alternative.
    5/10, mostly because I have seen things from this era that are much, much worse. *gazes into distance, remembering* *shudders*

  16. Daniel says

    By the standards of the time, very restrained. It looks more like a very dark green than a black. I like the braiding and I actually rather like the jacket. The breeches? Hmmm. But yeah. 5/10, mainly for the nice jacket.

  17. I like it – the black is stylish, the hat is great, the shoes are a nice contrast – the only thing that seems strange to my “modern” eyes & brain is the cut of the trousers – they make him look like a wide-hipped middle-aged person. It’s SO not a good teenage look…
    Then, of course, there’s the question what it would look like if the young man wasn’t posing but just standing there. I think the pose really does enhance the appeal.


  18. I have a bit of a soft spot for this style of trouser because I could wear them myself and say in all honesty that the’re supposed to look like that, which is not something I can say about my backside in any other context.

    I like the doublet quite a lot. I like the use of trim and the not-quite-black colour of the fabric. And I do like the hat. I’d like to make that hat; in fact I’d also rather like to make the doublet.


  19. arteinscena.itI think the outfit is actually green. (I checked on several monitors and looked up several other scans of the painting. It looks forest green here:
    http://www.arteinscena.it/cartamodelli/costumi-teatrali/17-secolo/1605-abito-maschile )

    What strikes me as odd is his hips. He has some child birthin’ hips there – which really isn’t attractive on a guy. 😉 The doublet is cute though – it looks like they created the hat before someone shaved his head. Those breeches though just make me giggle.


  20. It seems unfair for the kid to die just as he’s reached an age where he might choose his own clothes, he certainly doesn’t look happy in what he’s wearing here. Seems a shame to make a kid wear that get up at an age where life’s hard without your friends laughing at you. The fitted bodice looks a little too feminine for my taste and those breeches are ridiculous no matter what era you lived in. Love the shoes (with another outfit) and the hat definitely looks like it came from his mother’s wardrobe.

  21. Belinda says

    If I could rate it based on the look on his face, it’d be a 10. That kid looks like he means business! The really excellent thing is that the clothing doesn’t distract from that, in fact, the shade of beetle-green (or is it black?), the sensible amount of trim, the matching bonnet; they all serve to fade into the background and draw attention to his business face and his athletic, dramatic, defensive pose. It’s not my favourite era for men’s costume, but despite that I actually kind of like it, and I think it serves the portrait quite well.

  22. Well, I’d happily wear this (which is not what teenage boy might like to hear…) and although the breeches look a bit on the odd side, if it’s what everyone else was wearing he would not be mocked for it. In fact I do have a developing fondness for any garment where it can be said: “does my bum look big in this? No? Well then, bring me something where it does!” I agree the hat is too big and the shoes too white, but he does manage to look as if he’s having fun. 9/10

  23. karenb says

    give him some long hair, turn the breeches into a shortish skirt and it would look fine for a girl but as a boy….daft outfit. I don’t think I care for men’s outfits in those times.

  24. L. A. Khatt says

    What caught my eyes first was Henry’s very earnest looking face. Maybe he was trying to look brave in the face of his parents’ fighting over him…
    His clothes are very true to the style of the time. The rich dark green/ black fabric is nicely trimmed…just enough to show he comes from a family of great means and yet that he’s still underage. Although big hats were worn by males at that time Henry’s hat looks too big for him. As Fidelio mentioned the white shoes may have been a status symbol, but I think black ones would’ve completed the outfit better.
    In all, Henry presents a favorable image. The clothes are something I’d not mind wearing.
    8/10 Points taken off for the too big hat and the white shoes.

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