Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Late 15th century Florence does the Bible

Last week I  showed you a striped Schiaparelli frock.  It certainly caused a lot of commentary (almost twice the average for the last 4 months), but the response was quite divided.  Some of you thought the gown the epitome of Schiaparelli’s clever design and cutting.  Others thought it strange and hideous.  Many, many of you loved the back view, but hated the front.  I’m almost the opposite: I think the front is spectacular and unique and an absolute mastery of fabric, and without it, the gorgeous back would simply be run-of-the-mill red carpet: so sexy and pretty that it becomes boring.  So we’ll have to compromise at 7.8 out of 10, which is still rather good!

This week I wanted to show you something in very bright pink, but couldn’t find the right dress, so instead let’s travel back in time to the Renaissance, to Domenico Ghirlandaio’s depiction of the birth of John the Baptist.  While  Ghirlandaio was illustrating a scene from the Bible, his paintings are exquisite glimpeses into domestic life in upper-class Florentine households at the end of the fifteenth century.

The young woman who looks out of the painting in this detail from The Birth of John the Baptist is a perfect example of this.  Her front-lacing bodice, snug sleeves with her camisa sleeves peeping out in puffs, and pink-over-robe, along with her elaborately arranged uncovered hair, all represent fashionable Florentine dress for an unmarried noblewoman in the late 1480s.

Domenico Ghirlandaio (Italian artist, 1449—1494) Detail from Birth of St John the Baptist

Domenico Ghirlandaio (Italian artist, 1449—1494) Detail from Birth of St John the Baptist

What do you think?  Most of what you can see is the pink over-robe, with its intriguing leafy trim hanging down from under her arm, but there are also the delicate patterns of the fabric, and the details of the lacing and sleeves  to consider.

Does the whole look work for you?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.


  1. Daniel says

    I think she’s beautiful. Very graceful, flowing lines, love the delicacy of the fabric patterns and how the white undersleeves and bodice are picked out in pink, while the pink robe is picked out in white. Very subtle and understated and elegant and graceful. The trimming is intriguing but not flashy or distracting. All very, very pleasant, with enough detail not to be boring, but not overdone or gaudy.

    8/10 as it’s just a little TOO pleasant, lacking real punch, but it is lovely.

  2. I love the fashion of the era and love this as an example. Am I right in assuming that the surcoat would have been woven of silk, so that she would be the glowing center of whatever space she occupied, whether lit by sun or candle? Love the surprise of the leafy trim.

    10 of 10

  3. Very pretty. It might be just a bit too sweet for me, but if it were in a different color I think it would be perfect. I love the details on the sleeves and bodice, the only thing throwing it off for me is the color. It is still a very lovely outfit though.


  4. I love the dress! But the hair, not so much. Since we’re rating this on the dress however, and since I love the pink color, the embroidery, and just the overall outfit, I’ll give it a 10 out of 10.

  5. holly says

    It’s a challenge to rate a dress from a painting, rather than the actual dress. That being said, I think the elements have a great harmony and just *wish* I could have seen some of its details. 9/10

  6. Lovely. I want to see what’s underneath though, the pattern of what I can see looks interesting.

  7. I love this! The pale pink is a great shade and I love the subtle pattern in the fabric. The leafy trim is great too, I wonder why it’s only in that one spot though! 10/10

  8. The young lady is dressed a perfect 10. I also love her two ladies in waiting – the peach and teal with turquoise shoes of the older one, the brown and gold of the young one, with just a touch of green at her bodice. And they all coordinate so well with the walls. The arist is a genius with a wonderful sense of colour.

  9. The leaf trim looks like dagging to me. Would that be right? Regardless of what the trim is, I’m a fan. It’s very elegant. 10/10

    I wonder if the paint was that colour originally, or if it has faded a bit.

  10. Lynn Brooks says

    Love it. I’m a big fan of late 15th century Italian fashion. I love everything about this look: the color, pattern, the puffs, showing through the sleeves, the necklace, the hair.

  11. I’ve always rather liked this giornea over the red and white Asian silk gammura. Of course, what I love about this point in time is the hair. They were still trying to grow those bangs out that were oh so popular the decade before (notice the curls hanging down to frame the face).

    Another interesting thing to note is the giornea only has dagging on the back inside opening. Did she get bored and give up or was there another reason for this? Also, although not obvious from this angle – you can just barely make out that the back side is folded up and into a belt (note the “puff” about a foot above the floor). You see this a lot with the trained giorneas.

    As for a vote: 9/10 simply because I’m not a fan of the pink and gold over the red and white.

  12. 9/10, I like most of the look but I’m not sure what’s going on with the lower 1/2 of the sleeves

    • The sleeves are meant to be very tight fitting. The edges/seams are rolled and then sewn down to the elbow. From the elbow to the wrist, they are tied. This allowed for freedom of movement while still having a tight fitting sleeve. Plus, you were able to show your camica off – often, the camica (chemise) has embroidered cuffs or sleeves – you didn’t want to cover that up so the lower half of the sleeve allowed for “puffs” of it to come out. You’ll sometimes see the lacing all the way up the sleeve or slits in the sleeve for addition puffs – even this early.

  13. Helene Illervik says

    I can’t find anything to complain about with this dress. I love it.

  14. Gooorgeous. I can’t fault it. I absolutely wish we were still dressing like this, other than the fact it can’t be easy to keep that much fabric clean and not have it hamper movement. It’s just so flattering, so subtle, so ladylike. Although I have to admit that the fluffy leaf-like trim looks just a wee bit like a plastic Hawaiian lei from a Halloween hula costume…

  15. I think most Italian Renaissance gowns are beautiful, and this pink one is no exception for me. (I also think that the leafy bit is an elaborately dagged edge of one opening in the sleeveless overrobe–called a giornea–but that’s irrelevant to rating it.) Normally I’m no fan of wearing different patterns together, but this combination strikes me as tasteful for some reason. A 10.

  16. Oooooh, pretty pretty Princess! 10/10
    I am a sucker for pink and embroidery.

  17. I’ll give it a 9/10. I think it’s a perfect dress, very elegant and tasteful, sleeve details and hanging vines are so pretty. I imagine the brocade was full of lovely details, too. One thing I liked was that the hanging vines were in front of a blue piece and if that blue had been picked up somewhere in the front it would be a 10.

  18. This dress happens to be from one of my favorite eras for historical fashion, so it is not much of a surprise that I find it nearly perfect! I don’t think I would change a thing. The dress is perfectly elegant and there is something so harmonious about it, the soft color palette with all of the detailing. Definitely a 10/10.

  19. Love the dagged edge, the embroidery and brocade, the cut. All very elegant and suits her well. 9/10

  20. Absolutely a ten! There’s just something about that color and style that’s soft and elegant. And the details simply make the dress. Gorgeous!

  21. Belinda says

    I love how it’s very sweet and feminine, but avoids veering into girly-girl territory. I love the stark embroidery on the inner gown. Maybe it’s not madly striking, but it’s almost like the Renaissance Florentine version of modern street style – understated but fashionable and well-put-together.

  22. Ooh, I didn’t see you’d posted this dress! I love it so much and used it years ago for part of the inspiration for the 15thc. Italian dress I made for dancing in. I got some lovely material which is quite similar, about the same shade of pink with little tiny gold flowers all over, very soft and silky… it would have been a 10/10 from me.

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