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 the back of that dress. It is masterful. But I HATE the stripes on the front. I’m not much of a fan of the way the front of the skirt sits either. Not particularly loving the colors much at all. A bit difficult to give a rating because I have such mixed feelings about the dress depending on the view. Hmmmm….


  2. Love the back! At first I didn’t care for the front design but it has grown on me. It is an interesting form. Who wore it and for what occasion? I would love to know. 8/10

  3. It’s odd, but very interesting.
    The panels on the front are kind of science fiction-y. Like something you would see on Star Trek. I imagine this dress being worn to some intergalactic red carpet event by a lady with light green skin. I think the colours would work better on her than they would on any human.

    I don’t mind the lobster-like qualities at all. I think lobsters are quite pretty.
    I like it a lot more than I did when I first saw it, though I think the top of the bodice could do with a bit of alteration.

  4. Elise says

    I adore it; I chalk up the breast plates to the time-period. 9/10

  5. I love, love, love this dress!! I’m not usually a gal that will wear pink put I would put this on in a heartbeat!

    The gathering at the back is fantastic and I feel like its almost like a 1950s homage to the bustle gowns of the 1880s.


  6. karenb says

    love the back and the colour is fine but the front is awful.

  7. ..it is amazing how she considers the character and pattern of the fabric… and at least it depends always on the person who wears the piece..

  8. I love the draping in the back, and I hate the top in the front. Maybe this is the type of dress you need to see on someone, but like this it’s horrible. I’m not really sure about the colours, but it’s somewhere between afwfull and ok, so not really my favourite. From the back I’d give it a 8,5 and from the front a 1,5, so I guess it’s 5/10 for me.

  9. DodiRose Zooropa says

    LOVE! Back is gorgeous! The front is unique enough to make it unpredictable. I really see the surrealism in it. The color makes it very striking. It would be easy to make it a much bolder color but then the form would be lost to the color. This muted pink balances both color and form. 9/10

  10. Susan says

    I immediately thought of Marilyn Monroe when I saw this dress – she would have rocked it, with over-the-elbow gloves and silver sandals with a very high heel, and a heavy-duty diamond necklace (this dress reminds a great deal of Marilyn’s costume in her “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” number).

    But what’s up with those black pedals sticking out at odd angles beneath the dress’s slightly strange front panel?? What an ungainly stance! If the feet were more human-like, and not stuck out so awkwardly, the dress would present much more elegantly.

    So – do I blame those odd feet for the dress’s less-than-ideal front appearance? I also think the bodice could have been better done, but those black feet really bother me. But they’re not the dress’s fault!

    So – 9.00 for major elan, style and flare, with a point off for the clunky bodice trim and those very odd black feet sticking out on either side of the front panel (which is also a bit strangely shaped).

  11. Brenda says

    I looked at the back of the dress and thought it gorgeous.
    Then I looked at the front. Train wreck. Well, on second look, it’s not THAT bad, but still…the gold “Y” on the bodice looks like it was slapped on by a 3rd grader working on a Valentine’s Day project. I don’t like how the beautiful stripes from the back come together, or rather, “glom” together in the front part of the dress in such a weird way.
    And no, the pink is not too shocking, but I can’t decide whether I like it or whether it’s too Pepto Bismol.

    6/10 because the dress looks great from the back

  12. Change the pink to red and add some blue and some gold stars and the front of the dress looks like Wonder Woman’s evening wear.
    I LOVE the back of the dress though. I like the shade of pink and the stripes. But the the way the front is designed just screamed Wonder Woman as soon as I saw it.

    • I think I just inadvertently came up with my Alternate Universe Challenge idea. …. OK, where can I find a pattern that would work for this dress? 🙂

  13. Love the cut, loathe the colour – it reminds me of something sickly sweet and probably full of artificial additives. Bleck.
    And I agree with Susan about the disturbing is-it-a-mannequin-is-it-a-coat-stand black feet. It’s a little too Dr Who…
    9 for the cut, 4 for the colour – 6.5 overall.

  14. Stunning but the curved panel (lobster allusion) front panel distracts from the angularity and sweep of much of the rest if the dress. The panel looks flat and lifeless (dead lobster?). Not everyone could wear these colors, but with the right skin tone, it would be quite the dress.

  15. Rachel C says

    WOW! I don’t even like pink, but I want this dress. I love the lines and drama of the flowing stripes and the big lobster tail skirt.

    8.5 out of 10 (would’ve been more if it wasn’t pink)

  16. This thing is schizoid. It needs two ratings. I seldom like stripes or anything in pink, but I LOVE the late 1870s, so I’d give the back a 5 for having its designing heart in the right place.

    But then there’s the front. Who’s it for? A hobble-skirted mermaid with a corset fetish who wants to look as if she’s got a bandage across her bust? Ack, call Nurse Nancy! The front gets a 0, and that’s generous. So the whole thing either get a 0 (5 x 0 = 0) or a 2.5 out of sheer stubborn fondness for anything late 1870ish.

    What a fun site you’ve got! I think I’ve found a whole new way to procrastinate! (And it’s educational too 🙂 )

  17. Bonnie S says

    LOVE the back, simply despise the front. Lobster drapey bit at hem is awful, and agree bodice is reminiscent of Wonder Woman. Kinda hate pink also. 5/10
    (also so happy to have found this fun site!)

  18. This dress is a great construction and l feel that the stripes will actually make the wearer look taller. The back is just a masterpiece. A wonderful creation I can see Lady Gaga wearing this as it is. Even with a different option of fabrics its a wonderful creations.
    But then l am a great believer that the back of a dress is more important that the front.. You always watch something stunning walking away. You don’t rush back to get in front. for me this is a 9.99 out of 10. I have not see the perfect creation just yet. 1 came close in the V&A but l still couldn’t give it the perfect 10. Im sure as a lover of seeing wonderful creations being worn by women who know how to wear the dress and not the other way round. Its easy to be a clothes horse its not easy letting the dress be part of you.

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