20th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Schiaparelli’s not-shocking pink

Last week’s summer suit proved difficult for many of you.  You wanted it to be one thing or another, and struggled with the transitional silhouette, neither Edwardian pigeon-breast, nor Empire-Revival, nor later-teens tailoring.  Or you struggled with the colour – too neutral, too drab, too boring.  Or you struggled with the embroidery – too drooping, too unflattering on a large busted woman (so unfair!  Not all dresses can be made for large-busted women!  There has to be something for us flatties to wear!).  And yet, after listing all the things you didn’t like about it, many of you gave it very high ratings, and it came in 7.4 out of 10.  It was an outfit that you liked in spite of yourself.

I had an incredibly difficult time picking something for this week’s ‘Rate the Dress’.  My last few picks haven’t been very popular, so I didn’t want to pick something too obviously problematic, but at the same time, there isn’t much fun in showing you one of the historical costuming ‘best-sellers’ that has been recreated half a dozen times, and which everyone already knows and is madly in love with.  In my attempts to find the perfect item I ended up with 14 different tabs open, with options ranging from medieval gowns to 1950s evening frocks.

One of my brilliant ideas for a Rate the Dress was something in Schiaparelli’s famous shocking pink.  What could be pinker for the HSF pink fortnight, right?  Problem: no one can seem to agree on which shade was shocking pink, and none of the things that I thought were the most likely candidates were very interesting.

But I did find this Schiaparelli dress, and it is pink, and it is fascinating:

Evening dress, Elsa Schiaparelli, ca. 1948,  French,  silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.2923

Evening dress, Elsa Schiaparelli, ca. 1948, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.2923

Evening dress, Elsa Schiaparelli, ca. 1948,  French,  silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.2923

Evening dress, Elsa Schiaparelli, ca. 1948, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.2923

Evening dress, Elsa Schiaparelli, ca. 1948,  French,  silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.2923

Evening dress, Elsa Schiaparelli, ca. 1948, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.2923

In this dress Schiaparelli combines ivory satin and lavender-pink faille into a frock that celebrates the female form and two of Schiaparelli’s biggest design influences: Victorian fashion and Surrealism.  The slim silhouette, draping lines and low-bustled back emphasis evoke late 1870s natural-form dresses.  The front view, with its curved bottom skirt, give a nod to Schiaparelli’s obsession with lobsters, and the wide stripes hint at the skeleton beneath all the layers of dress and flesh.

The frock is certainly challenging: it’s sweet meets surreal, avant-garde and decadent, all at once.  Too much?  Or was Schiaparelli up to the challenge?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.


  1. Love this dress! It really reminds me of the natural form era. I think it would be divine to wear. The only thing I’m not to keen on is the placement of stripes at the bust. Not sure what else you’d do with giant stripes in that area…..

    But I mostly just love it so 9/10.

  2. [insert Dowager Countess of Grantham reaction shot]

    I have to say that this is one of the most bizarre treatments in an evening gown I’ve ever seen.

    All I saw on screen at first was the rear view, and the width of the stripes made me think that someone had come across a discarded circus tent. When I scrolled further and saw the construction of the front, my jaw dropped. Count me as one who has no yearning to look like a lobster, particularly a red-carpet lobster!

    5 of 10, giving credit where credit is due for the extreme skill needed to create it

  3. Tracy RAgland says

    I am completely in love with the back! The front, not quite so much. I think the way the ivory stripe ends in a squared-off shape at the top of the bodice conflicts with the rest of the dress. And the colors are lovely. Overall, I give it an 8.5 out of ten

  4. I think my only gripe with this is the color. It’s just…not. Not quite pink, not quite purple, not quite clear nor bright, and yet not muted, either. It’s just meh. And, I think, a difficult color to wear. I think you’d have to have the right skin tone. As a fellow flattie, I could pad that bodice, but nothing could make that a flattering color. Stripes, yay; shape, yay; stripe placement, yay. If it were navy and ivory, I’d rate it a 9; as is, a 6.

  5. The positioning of the stripes are… interesting. Especially where they form ho-ha arrows. Bombshell ballgown, I’d say. From the position of the bow, it’s obviously something you can’t sit down in. I actually don’t like this one. At all. still, it’s interesting enough to get a 5/10 from me!

  6. It’s fabulous. Lobster chic!!! I love the colour, because the low tonal contrast, or lack of, means the stripe manipulations doesn’t drag you down and beat you up! And it is not lobster coloured, how literal and gauche that would be.
    And I am sure that the bow is in exactly the right place to be just out of the way when you sit down, due to the dress moving upward with the curve of the sitting position. So clever.
    Of to have known the Divine Ms S….

  7. I think this dress is quite a feat, but despite the things I DO like about it, I don’t like the dress overall.

    I think the back and side views of the dress are most stunning. Like Stephanie, it reminds me of the natural form era, too. The fabric is pretty, and I am extremely fond of stripes.

    But the bust is just too strange. I can’t stand dresses that put such an emphasis on the bust with cups like that…
    With the colors of the dress, it really reminds me of those little “baby boobie beanies” that are a thing right now for nursing moms buying for their newborns. The bust points are a little too much RIGHT THERE, too! 😮

    All in all, I think I’m going to rate this dress a 5/10. If it weren’t for bust, I’d be rating this a lot higher, but I’ve never seen a dress with the top part looking like this that I’ve liked, no matter how magnificent the lower half of it is! 😀

  8. I like the idea of playing with stripes and draping to create an interesting effect, but I don’t actually like the dress. For one, the bodice reminds me of a friend of mine who, when removing a pair of not-so-well-fitting stays, remarked “Hey, my boobs are smiling at me!” No facial expressions from torsos, please.

    And the wrinkling required of the front of the dress to achieve the gathered-floofsplosion on the back is just awkward. I’m not even too keen on the floofsplosion which, in a different color, might have been sumptuous, but here puts me in mind of curtains.

    Sorry, Elsa. 4/10.

  9. Love the back! That’s such a beautiful silhouette, and I think the stripes gather perfectly into the bustle at the back, and I love the way the tie flows perfectly into the train. Those two stripes on the back that run parallel then separate to show the widening of the hips – so feminine and sexy! The front… not so much. The stripes are awkwardly shaped, and I really detest the swooped, pouchy hemline. Love the colour combo too, but the front really kills it for me. 6.5/10.

  10. The back is gorgeous and I love the stripes and the colour. The front is itneresting, but a bit of a disappointment after that back 8/10

  11. An absolutely stunning dress for a woman who is totally unlike me. A 9.5 (I’m deducting a point for the odd U-shaped flap at the front center bottom, because it looks odd.)

  12. Bold. Amazingly cut and constructed. Not shocking-pink (which is a more powerful punchy shade) but striking nonetheless. As close as she came to being Charles James. I think it is brilliant, and with pink gloves and a statement necklace, it will showcase and flatter.

    10/10. I am always a fan of Elsa.

  13. I don’t like the blocky bust treatment. Otherwise, love it! 8 out of 10

  14. Lylassandra says

    You had me at the back… and lost me at the front. (what is up with her boobs???) The back, fighting my dislike of pink, would have been high. As it is… 5/10

  15. Helene Illervik says

    Oh, this is a hard one to rate.
    I love the back, love it!
    I dislike how the draping makes the stripes look really odd in the front view of the dress, I think the stripes (the light ones) on the bust are too wide, making a very rounded form appear squared. I also don’t like the pouch like lower part of the dress.
    I love the colours
    I would, however love to wear it.
    So, love and kind of dislike, how to rate?
    A 7.5.

  16. Love, love, love! Am a bit biased as Schiaparelli is one of my favorite designers and I adore this dress…The back is fabulous, the gathers over the hips and legs, the sheer genius of the construction, it’s all incredible! Ok you probably could not sit down, but who needs to when you look that amazing 🙂 No one but Schiaparelli could have designed this. 10/10. Would have given it more if I could!

  17. I love this! Lobster look-a-like and all. It really is not very different from a stylized mermaid silhouette, after all. The colors are really elegant together, if not what I would normally go for, the precision in the placing of those stripes, the seamlines. I don’t know why, but I really, really love the lobster dress! 😀

    10 out of 10 for the lovely pink lobster.

  18. I LOOOOVE it! I could see this on the red carpet today, which seems important for a 20th century work of wearable art. I see it on someone with a creamy skintone, like Christina Hendricks – who has the knockers to fill out out. Or how about Lupita Nyong’o. She has amazing shoulders and with proper tailoring her flatter chest would be enhanced.
    I think my favorite little part is the little corner of the ivory stripe at the bustline. It’s very angular and 40s. Overall the back is a slam dunk and the central feature of the dress, its just amazing in theory and execution. As far as the stripe placement through the front body, I like that is does NOT point at the crotch. This is a problem with a lot of striped dresses, in particular chevrons. I think a lot of thought went in to making the abdomen to thigh area flow smoothly.
    Overall 10/10 because I would wear it as is. <3

  19. I really, really like it. I think that the wrinkling front and the hemline at the front would make sense on an actual real body in motion, and yeah, it would not be out of place on a red carpet today. 10/10.

    Not my shade of pink though. Actually, I don’t think I have a shade of pink.

  20. L. A. Khatt says

    I like the colors used on this. Like most, I prefer the back over the front. That said, I do have to give Ms. S. kudos on how she used the stripes (except in the bust area). Interesting that she had such diverse inspirations – both of which I see here.
    With all those positives, like others, it just doesn’t grab me – maybe it’s the “lobster woman” aspect – I’m not too fond of the mermaid look either.

  21. It IS weirdly lobster-y and I have Problems with the cut of bust but I adore the fabric and the way the pattern meets on the front so generally I very much like it. 8/10

  22. Lynne says

    It is a very interesting dress. An absolute show-stopper of an evening gown. Beautiful shape, pleasing colours. The back is just wonderful, the front, a little more alarming. Am I right in thinking it is very narrow at the bottom? Huge fish-tail at the back makes it look wide, but I don’t think it is.

    Not a practical garment. One would have difficulty sitting, and getting up and down stairs would be tricky. A lady would have to stand and receive glasses of champagne and compliments.

    It is really a work of art more than a dress. And it is a work of art. Beautiful, beautiful thing.

    So, 9 out of 10, because of that little voice inside that is telling me it is sooo impractical. But are we about practicality, here? Not really.

  23. LOVE the back! I want it! But the front loses points at the bust (reminds me of a clamshell bra) and the bottom of the skirt, where the stripes curve downward (it’s just odd looking, I think). So… that comes to an 8 of 10 for the whole dress (but it would totally be a 10 out of 10 if I could only look at the back!


  24. carol butsko says

    10, definitely 10! I love Schiaparelli and have this dress in my inspiration album along w/a lovely pink and black stripe number ca. 1933.

  25. The back is beautiful; those gorgeous pleats. I really can’t understand these 10/10’s everyone seems to be giving though. I can’t care much for the lobster front with large curtain stripes.

    What really gets me is the odd tail the front seems to have. Add that to the little too accentuous bust stripes and this is a 4/10 for me. Maybe for someone with some big hair and big curves, but for a stick chick like me, I just can’t hear the wail of the dress siren.

  26. Belinda says

    What an incredible dress! From behind, so much yes! From the front, so much… shellfish? I like all the elements individually, but all together in front view all I can think is it’d be a great one for a district 4 girl to wear to her pre-Hunger Games interview. The lobsterishness puts me off a lot even though the cut is insane and the fabric is divine.

    Because lobster is obviously what she intended (who am I to turn my nose up), because of the sheer skill in executing it, and because someone with the right amount of personality and audacity would make it fabulous, I give it an 8.

  27. Angela Wicentowich says

    I adore Elsa Schiaparelli! I think this dress is a conversation stopper – in a good way. When you see a Schiaparelli design, boring isn’t the first word that comes to mind.

    As I rate these dresses as if I was the one who is going to be wearing it, I give this dress 9.5/10. The only reason it’s not a 10 is because the colouring of the dress doesn’t go with my colouring. 😛

  28. The back of this dress is absolutely stunning. I really love those colors, too. However, the front is just…. off. It looks weird. I don’t like the way the stripes were pasted together, and I don’t like the rounded hem at the bottom.

    So, 6 out of 10 for the back.

  29. Rachel says

    I have to admit I am a fan of Schiaparelli, so I am trying not to be biased. I love it – I personally love the way the stripes burst out in angles on the bust. Sure, it’d be a very particular woman who would make this work, but she would be a firecracker and probably the person at the party i would want to hang out with. For me it’s at 9/10

  30. Love the back! Hate the front. Boobs, stripe accenting, and really who wants to look like a lobster. I do like the colors. That creamy gold and the pink are nice together. I say 7 out of 10

  31. Wow. This is quite a dress. The colors are unexpectedly subdued, but I like them. I love the bustle back treatment. I’m a bit concerned with how narrow the front skirt seems to be. It looks like the wearer would have to adopt a very mincing sort of step. To top it off, the gold stripes across the bust make me think of Wonder Woman (and I mean that in a good way). 8/10 because it’s beautiful and unique, but something about it hits me as not quite reaching a perfect 10.

  32. Grace Darling says

    I feel like if I twist the skirt, there’ll be a chocolate inside!

    Lovely rear view.


  33. Melanie says

    It is an amazing looking dress from the back and 3/4 side, but I have to agree with many others on the weirdness of the stripe layout at the front. But perhaps it made more sense on a moving person? I’d give it a 6, because it would still be the most interesting dress in the room.

    I actually had a bridal client bring me a dress very similar to this, in the same fabric but a dusky mint green stripe. It was very fitted like this one, but sculpted into a shelf bust so the wide stripes were very effective, and topped with a layer of tulle over the bustline. The skirt was a similar bustle style but again the ‘tail’ was in mint green tulle.

    To my mind it worked much better than this design, and it may have been a Schiap, as it belonged to her grandmother who was a wealthy socialite in NY. But there were no labels I could find.

    Alas the client was a bit nutty and thought she was going to be able to fit into it for her wedding, despite being 3-4 sizes larger – hey I do alterations, I’m not a magician!

  34. Claire Payne says

    I love it. The only thing I am not sure about is the T shape across the top front. The curves of the bust line are at odds with the straight lines of the ‘T’ which makes it lose it’s flow. Everything else I adore, particularly the beautiful lining up of all those stripes. I’m not a pink person generally but this shade is beautiful and I have to say I’d wear this gown. 9 out of 10 from me and a few cuddles for Felicity.

  35. If we were just judging the back it’d be a 10; unfortunately they turned the model around and the front is a hot mess, I’d give that a 0. Probably makes sense then that my total score is 5/10

  36. Like most other people the back is just WOW. I love everything about it but the front is just a little bit wrong, I don’t mind the shelfy bosoms too much. It’s just a little bit .. not really boring, just meh, but maybe if you saw the front first and then the back it would be a sort of just a prettyish, planish dress but wow look at the back kind of statement a sort of now you see it now you don’t effect. Maybe that is they way it’s meant to be and I would like it better. Anyhow 6.5 / 10.

  37. Oh, wow! Love this dress, love it! Looking at the dress, I cannot fathom the shapes going into all that draping to achieve the flow of lines.


  38. My whole impression of this dress is “send this down the catwalk or red carpet today and nobody will be the wiser”.
    Which does not necessarily mean it’s the best, but it’s certainly stunning and unforgettable, and sometimes that’s exactly what someone needs.

  39. Oh, and is nobody going to mention that the stripes just have to be bias-placed for the dress to work like that? No? Okay, I’ll do it.

  40. I love the backside, not very fond of the front but I can see the intent behind it. It looses points on the colours though. My first thought about it was faded circus tent or certain brand of cheap/bad tasting vanilla/strawberry ice cream that’s popular here. I would probably have loved it with stronger and bolder colours. Final score is 6/10.

  41. What a sexy dress! I love the back gathering and details. The front runs into some issues… just the expectation after seeing the back, the front is a bit of a let down, but it’s still gorgeous. I think the front top half works up to about the knee. Then that area below the knee just loses the strength of the diagonals above it. Ah well. It’s still a real stunner!


  42. fidelio says

    This is a brilliant dress and the woman in it would be sure people would Notice (not just notice) that She Was There.
    It’s cut for that, and to show that the designer was not afraid to get out and play around with stripes.

    All the complaints I’ve seen above apply. The colors are a challenge to wear. The bust section is Odd. The little lobster tail at the bottom frnot is Even Odder. But taken altogether the entire thing is a bravura performance, and I do think performance is exactly the right word: “Look! I can do this! Bet you’re wondering how I make it work! Yes, I am a genius!”

    As a common or garden-variety evening dress it’s impossible to contemplate. As a statement (“Look at me! I am in this dress! Will you remember what any other woman wore this evening? No, of course not!”) it crushes all the common or garden-variety evening dresses in the room under the heel of its Roger Vivier pump and then swaggers over (bustle bow catching the eye of every man in the room and every woman, all of whom are seething) to air-kiss a dear enemy.

    10/10, and no, I wouldn’t be caught dead in it.

  43. Put me in the love the back not the front camp. The front parts that are bothersome to me are the bust and that scallop at the bottom. I do like the waist in front and how the stripes are placed, that’s great. I don’t like the “cups” not glam at all. Doesnt work with the rest of the lovliness of the draping. And the lobster scallop at the front bottom looks out of place also.
    I wonder what the “action” of the dress is when the wearer walks? What happens to that funny looking scalop thing in the bottom front.


  44. It’s very clever. It must be difficult to make something which is at the same time a beautiful dress and a hideous crustacean. Personally I don’t like it, but I have to acknowledge the vision to have the idea and the skill to carry it out. 6/10

  45. Ummmm….no.
    I don’t know, I have loved many of the dresses in RAte This Dress, but this is not a favourite.
    Main gripes:
    – the strange white T-shape across the breast + belly. WHY?
    – the cloyingly sweet combination of pink and white and then stripes.
    – the strangely sacklike lower front
    – the stripes and the draping is all a bit much
    – the bow in the back. Hmmmmm…

    I ADORE the back, though. If the fabric were blue or red or even black, this would be spectacular, absolutely stellar. Love the way the fabric is gathered andthen fans out.

    So, overall look: 0
    Back: 8 (the bow! the bow!)

    = 4/10

  46. Beatrix says

    “Not all dresses can be made for large-busted women! There has to be something for us flatties to wear!”
    Try being 5’10” & 50-3o-38 and find something to wear (Jayne Mansfield didn’t have nothing on me!) Difficult? Nay, impossible!
    Well, I think I could rock that dress.
    Whether I was still the original chestnut haired brunette of my youth or the flashy retro platinum blonde I am today, with a just a bit of a tan on my peaches ‘n’ cream complexion. (Hey, it was go grey or go blonde at my age.)
    The back is rather elegant, the front is a bit wild (to say the least) to the point of being ALMOST ungainly.
    I’d wear it.
    But I don’t think it’s quite conspicuous enough for my taste & effulgent personality-
    Make mine in gold lame & flaming fuchsia pink!
    I already have some metallic gold, rhinestone & lucite Salvatore Ferragamo stilettos to go with, ……do you think Harry Winston would loan me a few gazillion carat baubles too?

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