18th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Élisabeth-Alexandrine in a perky hat

In case you’ve noticed that I haven’t posted anything for 5 days, it’s due to WordPress problems – I haven’t been able to start or edit posts.  After a desperate bit of ‘throwing away tons of stuff and clearing the cache and updating all the software’ I think I have it working again!  (I hope!)  So here is your slightly belated Rate the Dress…

Last week’s Victorian Fairy Godmother dress might have impressed you a lot more if it was better displayed (once again, I’m still impressed at how good the auction house managed to display it at all – unlike a museum, they don’t have a finite collection and infinite amount of time to stye and document a garment), and if it wasn’t such a strange green-gold colour.  Many of you acknowledged that for the event, and for the person and age, it was probably a fantastic choice.  The ratings evened out at 6.8 out of 10 – reasonable, but certainly not a rave rating.

This week’s Rate the Dress is inspired by the HSF ‘Tops and Toes’ challenge, because Élisabeth-Alexandrine de Bourbon-Conde de Sens (or Alexandrine, as she was known) is wearing such a distinct and cunning headpiece.

Alexandrine was the granddaughter of Louis XIV and his noted mistress Madame de Montespan, and a daughter of the 6th Prince de Conde, and thus a princesse du sang.  She herself was a close friend of the most famous royal mistress of all: Madame de Pompadour.  She’s most notable for being un-notable.  She renovated a few houses, and otherwise had little impact.  In the fraught annals of the French, her lack of notoriety is perhaps a virtue in and of itself.

Elisabeth-Alexandrine de Bourbon-Conde de Sens, Circle of Pierre Gobert, c. 1730

Élisabeth-Alexandrine de Bourbon-Conde de Sens, Circle of Pierre Gobert, c. 1730

While Alexandrine isn’t that interesting as a person, her costume is quite fascinating .  The dress of vermillion bizarre silk, with its long slim sleeves.  The black wrap with fur trim, lined in the same bizarre silk as the dress?  The single short glove that she puts on.  And that funny hat.  What does it mean?  Was it some sort of ceremonial wear?

And what do you think of it?  Is the wild fabric balanced by the simplicity of the dress, and the austere black?  Is the hat fun and witty, or just odd?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Mmm, the hat is odd, yes. But the dress fabric looks lovely and works with the black and fur. I rather like it, despite its oddities. 8/10.


  2. Erin says

    So dramatic as a whole. Is it meant to look medieval? It almost looks like an academic cap and gown…. I’m not quite sure how to rate it because I’m not quite sure what it is supposed to be. It would be a high score for overall drama, but if everyday wear maybe lower. A 7 in confusion and admiration.

  3. I’m not too keen of busy, colorful prints, but this works okay.
    The hat certainly is strange though. That tassel looks a bit like a skeletal hand reaching to one side.
    It’s not bad, but I don’t love it.


  4. Lisa says

    I’m imagining the wrap in a lush black velvet, how decadent with the fur trim. Love this (sort of) austerity next to the exuberance of gold patterning on the dress.

    Gloves – I think she’s taken one off (and laid it neatly to one side) and is about to do so with the other. A bit suggestive, I reckon!

    Hat – is that some sort of snufflupagus snout off to the left? Dripping with something? and with a posy over its ear on the right? An arch little tilted black thing would have looked fab, but snout-sprouting millinery? No.

    Overall: 7/10. Overall outfit pretty good, hat pretty strange.

  5. This makes me think of Discworld. If women were wizards, I’m sure they’d wear the pointy cap jauntily tilting to the side, with some flowers. And the big, comfy, brooding robes would be lined with something bright and cheerful. Obviously witches wouldn’t have time for that nonsense, but wizards would. For that mental image, I give this dress 8/10

      • Diana says

        OMGosh yes Granny or Perdita X lololol love those books and I love this outfit. I would wear it.

  6. Melissa says

    I love it! I don’t know why but it’s just fabulous! 10/10!

    • I’m with you, Melissa! For reasons I don’t know I just love it, so also give it 10/10! It probably doesn’t hurt that I’m currently going through a love affair of over-garments lined in the same fabric as the main/dress garment, though I’ve mostly seen this in vintage couture of the 50s/60s. I think it’s wonderful to see such a historical example of it!

      • Treda Marie says

        I am with these ladies. I love the entire look. I was sold on the lined overgarment! How gorgeous! The ensemble has amazing balance to me because the coolness and depth of the black velvet contrasts with the warm red and print of the dress- the fur is very much like a bridge between the two. The hat is beautiful to me. The tassel is a little goofy, but at the time, whimsical headpieces were becoming in vogue. Without the tassel I would love it for today! 10/10!

  7. I love the contrast between the black velvet (?) wrap with the white fur, and the bold red pattern silk of trim and dress. The black hat is an elegant match to the wrap.

    But on the other hand, the details of this one are odd. The beaded tassel (?) on the hand almost looks like a clutching hand, and the hat is an odd shape halfway between a tasseled cap and a small trilby. Viking men once wore something similar, but not with a huge skirt and panniers. (!)

    Similarly, the use of the same fabric for both dress and wrap lining makes it seem almost as though her arms are emerging from the viscera of a giant sea creature–a strange and off-putting look.

    So I’ll call this one a 6.5. The color contrasts are beautiful, but the weird details of design distract from them uncomfortably.

  8. holly says

    Meh. I hate having to rate dresses from photos, give me a mannequin & photos any day (even a nightmarish Doctor Who mannequin). 4/10

  9. I really like the combination of black wrap, and white fur, and gorgeous brightly colored brocade. I would like the hat if it didn’t have that odd jester-cap point, but as it is I find it a bit silly. I’m sure it’s meant to symbolize something, but I have no idea what. 9/10.

  10. I LOVE it! Of course. All that texture and colour, it is very me. And I love vermillion.
    I absolutely love the idea that female wizards would wear this! Perfect!

    • Elise says

      Me too–I love love love the color combination (if she were a figurine, she would look perfect in my home), and the black fabric and her white makeup create the perfect neutral places to rest the eye.


  11. Love the dress, but the hat looks a bit like ‘oops I left my satin nightcap on – quick, a bunch of flowers and a brooch to make it look intentional!’
    Still, overall the outfit is gorgeous (although the gloves don’t seem quite right, maybe because they’re not quite white) so a 9 from me.
    Just the thing for a chilly winter’s night, although I think I would want a bit more round my neck than a strand of pearls!

  12. Love the hat, but don’t know what to think of the dress. I don’t know if I like the rich pumpkin tones with the black and white contrasting overlay. I don’t know what to rate this dress!

    a thoroughly confused 6/10
    (5/10 dress, +1/10 pt for the cute hat)

  13. Helene Illervik says

    The hat is odd, but quite pretty at the same time. It’s a bit disturbing with the tassle looking a bit like a skeletal hand. I can’t help wondering if the flowers at te other side of the hat are attatched to a “horn” as well. Probably not, making it asymetrical. Though with two horns it would look like a part of a goat sitting on the head. I also think the angle of the hat in the painting makes it look even odder.
    The dress seems quite nice, lovely strong colour, it really suits her.
    The wrap makes it a bit stern, without it she might even look frivolous. I’m not all that fond of the matte black (velvet?) wrap, and lining it with the same material the dress is made from makes it look quite strange, as if she is part of the wrap in some way.
    If it hadn’t been for the wrap I would have given this dress a 9, with another hat it might have been a 9,5. As it is it’s sadly just a 7 from me.

  14. flickr.comI’m feeling the painter was more interested in the dramatic effect of swaths of black against the white and pumpkin colors than in getting the outfit exactly right, which makes it hard to rate. And my first impression was that it’s painted from an odd angle and might not have been so bizarre, but I couldn’t quite picture what it would look like. But then … well, I googled her. There’s another picture in that same hat. It clearly is exactly what it looks like: a Disc World Wizardette Cap. It’s so odd, actually, I’ll bump it up for creativity. And also because I don’t want to get turned into a frog or something. I’ll give the whole thing a 6 and back away slowly. https://www.flickr.com/photos/thelostgallery/6602851563/?rb=1

    • L. A. Khatt says

      It looks like she’swearing the same dress and wrap too.

      • Yeah, I guess if I was getting painted, with all the expense and time it took, I’d definitely whip out my favorite outfit. So she REALLY liked it. The whole combination. If she has a diary somewhere, she probably writes about the hat. (See? This is how historical research projects start. Some PhD student will stumble onto this, and a career will be made. Maybe even a best-selling book. “The Woman In the Black Tasseled Hat.”)

  15. Emma says

    I really like this dress. The combination of black and that pattern looks lovely and comfy. Personally the hat isn’t my thing but I appreciate that she looks so natural in it. So for pluck I give it a 8/10.

  16. I love the brocade of the dress, both the color and the pattern (for which the dress has enough volume to support its scale), and the authority of the overgarment.

    The hat is really kind of a giggle, as if she were relaxing after a child’s birthday party (perhaps the sack[?] on the table beside her holds a noisemaker .

    9 of 10

  17. Brenda says

    The bright red fabric goes very well with the simplicity of black fur-trimmed wrap. The hat however, seems a bit silly: something worn by a court jester.


  18. mom says

    I like it. It looks dignified, courtly, elegant, rich and expensive. Slightly matronly, but warm in draughty palace rooms. Nothing avantgarde, just solid design and sewing skills.
    What’s not to like?

    Apart from the White Alien Hand of Doom, of course.


  19. The dress and wrap are absolutely gorgeous. I like her quirky hat, though it seems ahead of it’s time. I could almost see a hat like that paired with a dress suit fitting right into a 1940’s movie. 10/10 for the whole ensemble.

  20. Belinda says

    Love love love! I love all of the fabrics and how they set each other off. I love the silhouette: part 18th century lady, part academic regalia, part Dumbledore. The dangly dooby on the hat is a little… interesting, but she wears it with conviction and a knowing look that dares anyone to point it out.
    Also that silk! It’s delicious and I want to eat it, or maybe roll around on it.

  21. L. A. Khatt says

    By the look/cut of Mme. Alexandrine’s dress, I think she was dressed for a fancy-dress ball. It appears to be an 18th century interpretation of persian or turkish clothing. I love the combination of the vermillion bizarre silk countered by the black, fur trimmed robe. Very classic.
    Though she was a ‘quiet’ lady at Versailles, that she had herself portrayed in these clothes tells me she might have been a fun lady to be around!
    Love the whole outfit: 10/10

  22. I do like this a lot. The brocade is gorgeous and the absolute simplicity of the dress beneath allows the fabric to be as bizarre as it likes. And the boldness of the very plain, very simple black stole/mantle with white borders is the perfect contrast – and lined to match! She could actually walk into a 1950s formal event and look almost perfectly modish with her stole and her tight-bodied, full-skirted brocade dress… The hat? I can’t unsee the skeletal hand pointed out earlier but I like it too. Small, but bonkers, but not ridiculously so. Again, a very 1950s style hat!

    For being SO fashion forward I have to give it a 9/10

  23. I think it’s lovely! The underdress reminds me of Elizabethan garb, and I think the stark black over-dress off-sets it perfectly. The hat is a little silly – it wouldn’t be if it didn’t have the little jester dangle at the end. 9/10.

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