19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Bad or Best of News in Blue?

Last week I showed an asymmetrical bustled 1880s dress that combined three fabrics.  The dress was rather all over the place, and so were your ratings.  There were so many different bits, and some of you liked some bits, and some of them others.  The overall verdict was 6.5 out of 10.  Not terrible, but certainly not great.

This week we’re looking at a painted frock that may be the artists fantasy, though the details are so precisely rendered, from the laced bodice to the seam-lines and creases at the hem, that one wonders if the dress actually existed.

There are two versions of the image, one which shows the whole scene, and a smaller cropped version.

'La mauvaise nouvelle' (Bad News) (1804) by Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837). Oil on canvas. Musee du Louvre, Paris, France

‘La mauvaise nouvelle’ (Bad News) (1804) by Marguerite Gerard (1761-1837).  Via Wikimedia Commons

As you may have guessed, we are rating the attire of the blond woman in white and turquoise  at the centre of the image. Both she and her friend/attendant are dressed in luxurious, fashionable garments which reflect the strong strong classical influences, particularly in their hair and jewels.

In addition to addition to looking back to Classical Greece & Rome, our heroine’s dress shows the effect of the new political situation in France.  Napoleon became Emperor of the French in 1804, and one of his early moves was an attempt to protect the French silk industry and to limit the amount of cotton being imported into France.

The attendant wears a cotton gown, but our heroine models a dress is the rich, heavy silk satins that Napoleon hoped to return to fashion for the benefit of France’s economy.  Gerard probably approved of the move – she excelled at painting the light reflecting on luxurious silks, while her treatment of cottons was nothing special.

So what do you think of the blonde’s  outfit, with its nods to both the ancient past and the new political situation?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Heh. Now that I’ve finally made my stays, I really appreciare the fit of this thing…
    And think that the neckline is way too low for my comfort like this. Both of them. As in, it looks like “wardrobe malfunction” waiting to happen.
    I love blue and white and empire fashions, so I’m predisposed to love this; but I love the colour more in the less greenish “unofficial” picture above. Is it the photo of the painting, or does the painting really have that greenish hue to everything?
    7,5/10, because despite how much I want to love it, I don’t. Raise the neckline of the underdress, please, and definitely have it in a non-greenish hue. (It’s so simple that those two things somehow make me not love it… but also so simple that fixing those two things would land it firmly in the land of “drool, want, 10/10!”)

    • I agree! It still wouldn’t be my colour(s), but blue and cream silk satin is just the perfect melding of milkmaid simplicity and utter luxury.
      The woman wearing it appears to be a waxwork in both versions, which is a little unsettling, though I suppose it would avert the otherwise imminent wardrobe malfunction!
      8/10 – a little higher than I first thought, because I love the rich swathes of fabric in that underskirt.

  2. Elise says

    This is my very favorite part of the Empire/Directoire era. I adore how radically simple and radically daring everything gets in a verve that wouldn’t be seen again until the 1920s. The lady’s dress seems just as evocative of Juliet as it does of the Classical era, which I think is interesting and adds to the drama of the scene. (And the poor little dog looks so sad for his owner!)

    With that said, I do not like the dress itself: I don’t like the color of the sleeves with the blue or the blue itself…something makes me uneasy. 7/10

  3. It’s… very daring, isn’t it? I rather like it. Its simple, classical lines make it elegant and I love the lustrous blue silk. 9/10

  4. I have conflicting feelings about this one.

    On the one hand, the sky blue of the overdress is simply beautiful, and blue and white is a reliably pretty combination, both on me and on many people.

    On the other hand, there’s something weirdly anachronistic about the combination of the shininess of the heavy silk, the tightness of the fit, and the total lack of ornamentation. It almost looks like something one of the alien women Captain Kirk keeps meeting might wear.

    I think the outfit needs at least one more accessory to make it look right for the period. Perhaps a belt around the high waist (either in white or a similar blue) with a glittery buckle would do the job. As it stands, however, I give it an 8.

    • plantingoaks says

      Yes, that’s really it. I kept thinking it reminded me of a halloween costume, and thinking it was the bright color, but the color is beautiful, and a great display of on-trend fabric. And you’ve hit it: something that shiny needs a little more more.

      Also, ‘pending’ wardrobe malfunction be darned, I’m pretty sure I see at least two currently in progress, and that’s in a painting! ahem, ladies. For which I will dock another point. I don’t like to see those in public now, and I have no need to see them in the 1800’s either. Maybe she’s fainting from embarrassment.

      So 7/10 it is

  5. Belinda says

    I think I would like it slightly better as a short-sleeved summer version, but as it is it’s still very beautiful (and perhaps it has another underdress with short sleeves anyway?). There’s a casual quality to it, despite the satin, and the colour is still flattering to the lady despite how pale she is in her swoon. It’s one of those versatile dresses that I can see being easily styled for different occasions and venues with different coiffures, sashes, jewellery, hats, muffs or gloves. By itself it’s pretty plain, but that’s kind of the charm. 8/10

  6. 6
    I LOVE the blue. it’s such a pretty color. But the sleeves look…well they look like underarmour almost! And that is so much BOOB. So much! I agree that it looks like one little mistake could make everything spill out!

  7. I really liked this at first glance, though it gives off a rather costumey vibe. Then I started reading through the comments and took another look. There does seem to be a rather anatomically correct rendering of the area near the neckline of the dress. Apparently the silk is both luminous and sheer. If I were going to be wearing the dress, I’d have to line it or ask for some airbrushing. I’m not wearing it though, and if the aim was to improve the appeal of silk, I think this rendition probably accomplished that. 8.5 out of 10 from me.

  8. I like this dress quite a lot. The fabric is gorgeous, the colours are perfect together, and I see no objectionable design elements.


  9. I’m not a fan of regency, and this one too me doesn’t really do anything for me. The only thing I can think about is how pregnant anyone with any curves would look. It’s not a disaster though, so it’s a solid 5.

  10. Jenny Wren says

    Lady! I can see your nipples. 2/10.

    • letthemeatcake says

      I see nipples so this is not a lady! Simple formula and a bit too simple I think. The dress and the overall style is still refined and aristocratic….And than she’s a french Lady.Just google images of the former First Lady of France Madame Carla Bruni Sarcozy (…though originally Italian) and viola: nipples! I’ ve got to give this a 10 and if it’s just to make up for those poor 2 points. She looks like a slightly frivolous yet elegant lady to me.

      • letthemeatcake says

        Sorry i mean ” then she’s a French lady”…not ” than…”….it’s that typing help!…

  11. Normally I love regency, but there’s something about this that just feels slightly off. I don’t know what it is, normally I love those colours together and the style, possibly it’s got something to do with that obscenely low neckline combined with the pale pearls being just underwhelming.

  12. I’ve got some shiny fabric like that blue…its giving me ideas…reminds me of giselles outfit in enchanted.
    I actually like both dresses.

    So 9/10.

  13. Beautiful fabrics.
    Divine colour.
    Extremely unobjectionable.
    Delightfully dull.
    Kinda boring, despite the boobies galore.
    Kinda eh.

    4/10. I like the design idea a lot, I really love these overdress style designs, and the fabrics are gorgeous, the colour is to die for, but the long tight sleeves just emphasise the overall simplicity too much, and it’s not quite the right colour to make that AMAZING blue especially exciting. The neckline is awkward. It’s the sort of nondescripit dress that showcases the wearer for herself, and because we’re seeing it on a limp lettuce leaf, there’s not an awful lot to hold the interest beyond “oh, lovely dress… hang on, is that lady DEAD?”

    • It’s the kind of dress, where on the right wearer, you’d say “that lovely lady in the beautiful blue dress with the ahem – chest.”

      On the wrong wearer, “that lady in the blue dress with the ahem – chest.”

      On COMPLETELY the wrong wearer: “that man in the blue dress with the ahem – chest.”

      • letthemeatcake says

        Oh come on, give her some rest…she probably looked quite delightful two minutes before she opened that letter.

    • Elise says

      She DOES look dead. And you hit the nail on the head about the colors. It does look off, but I couldn’t explain my unease with the dress before.

  14. The other dress is enchanting. Perfectly proportioned, lovely in its movement and subtlety, the cleavage bow is a nice touch of whimsy that negates the alarming lowness, and love the short puffed sleeves. If we’re rating that, it gets a 8/10

  15. Helene Illervik says

    Sorry to say that I don’t like this dress at all. I can’t really say why, the fabrics are gorgeous, though I’m not a fan of the blue colour, mostly because I look awful in that kind of blue.
    I don’t like the sleeves. I don’t mind the very low cut, but so much skin needs another kind of necklace. A sapphire (sp?) rather large and sparkling would have set of the blue really well, I think.
    I actually prefere the white cotton dress.
    Also the lady in blue is so pale it’s almost scary.
    The lady in cotton has a very small head, doesn’t she?
    Rating, hmmm, from me this is an alltime low, 2.

  16. Jamie Jo says

    I like the dress and the color. my first thought was the bad news was her lover telling her he was going back to his wife and kiddies. thus the “vapors” and smelling salts. and I do think she needs some serious “kept woman” jewelry on her.

  17. Susan says

    Well, the pallid lady in blue has fainted, hence her friend’s application of smelling salts. But wait! Is she really unconscious?? If so, why has she such a firm grasp on most of that fateful letter? Would she not have dropped the entire thing to the floor, there to flutter with the one dramatically dropped page? Yet she certainly is pale enough for all the blood to have rushed from her head, rendering her unconscious. A medical mystery, to be sure.

    But – back to the dress. Lovely color, lovely fabric, beautifully painted. Execution of the gown itself – well, no. It needs some sort of frill or under-bodice to provide a little modesty at the bosom, and fuller sleeves would have provided better balance. Perhaps small double-puffs at the tops of the sleeves would have continued the antique influence and provided balance to the (ahem) neckline.

    What I really want to know is what was in the contents of that letter. Can anyone blow up the picture and decipher what’s written on the pages that are still within the lady’s grasp?

    Doggy is cute. King Charles spaniel, perhaps?

    Dress: 10 for color, 6 for design. Average 8.

  18. juliaergane says

    These gowns ARE authentic to the period. Gowns were much simpler in the early years of the Napoleonic Empire (it IS NOT the English Regency yet). So classical simplicity without a lot of folderols was the ideal. This was the age when ladies would dampen their muslin gowns and NOT be thought trollops. So, even though the bodice and sleeves would be too tight for me, I will still still give it 9/10 by being an excellent exemplar of the period.

  19. Brenda says

    I want to like it: it’s simple and elegant and the blue color is simply gorgeous. But besides the color, there’s nothing really special about this dress. Perhaps it’s its shapelessness. Perhaps it’s the fact that the color doesn’t do the pale wearer much justice. To be fair, it seems that in the painting, she has just fainted but her very blonde hair doesn’t go well with the dress. Also, the neckline is DANGEROUSLY low (but that was the style back then).

    It must be the shapelessness that’s not doing it for me…


  20. Susan says

    Well, I became further intriqued by Mme. Gerard’s work, so checked it out online.

    Oh, my. She seems to have a penchant for painting well-endowed ladies displaying their endowments, along with depicting cherubic, chubby, bottomless babies – and extremely large cats: check out the huge feline in”The Cat’s Lunch”. This calico kitty is more nearly bobcat-sized – she’s larger than the nearby dog! Other cats painted by Mme. Gerard include a white angora, and another calico – perhaps the giant cat as a kitten.

    Makes me want to know the rest of the story!

  21. Beatrix says

    At first glance the items in the room were in such disarray I thought perhaps the satchel had exploded.
    The first IED?
    Love it.
    The pearl earrings & necklace, & the red/saffron Kashmiri shawl on the arm rest are all the ensemble requires.
    I doubt the blush of nipple showing with the rather daring neckline would not have likely brought the raised the slightest eyebrow fo even the most prudish of the era.

  22. Rachel says

    Pros: I really love both the color and the sweeping, simple effect of the blue overdress. I’m not sure about the headdress – can’t see enough of it – but again I like the long dramatic lines.

    Cons: Awkward neckline, and while I like simplicity, I would’ve liked this better with more colors or detailed embellishments.


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