20th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Hattie Carnegie stripes and suit-inspiration

Last week I showed you the wackiest Halloween costume: a bug-bedecked floral frock.  Hana Marmotta correctly identified the bugs as may bugs, which frequently swarmed in Europe in the 19th century, which gives a bit more insight into the joke behind the frock.  One of the main points of criticism for the costume was that it didn’t look like it had taken any effort : it was just some pictures of bugs tacked to a dress.  From a modern perspective I agree: find an image on the internet, enlarge it, print out copies, paste to cardboard, boom: costume!  But the outfit was from 1900ish, when getting copies was a LOT harder.  Either she had them specially printed or hand drawn, and in either case, I’m impressed!  Whether you were impressed depended mainly on whether you thought it was icky creepy, or fabulously wacky.  The division between the two led to a score of 7 out of 10.  Not quite winning the costume contest!

This week, I’m still inspired by florals, but have gone for something much more restrained.  This Hattie Carnegie dress always reminds me of a flower: the fitted pink bodice, and the way the skirt is pleated so that only the pink stripes are visible, and then opens out to show the green.

Evening dress by Hattie Carnegie, 1949 New York, Shelburne Museum Worn by the museum’s founder to a Hollywood event

Evening dress,  Hattie Carnegie, 1949, Shelburne Museum.  Worn by Electra Havemeyer Webb, the founder of Shelburne Museum, to a Hollywood event

Electra would have been around 63 when she wore this dress.  I mentioned last week that I felt I had to make my pink dress before I was too old, and while I meant that there was a time limit on me wearing a fluffy pink ballerina dress, it did bring up a discussion on the age limits on pink.

What do you think?  Is this dress the perfect way to wear pink as a mature woman, or mutton dressed as lamb?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.


  1. Julia Ergane says

    I still love pink and I will be 64 in mere days; however, this is NOT my favourite dress at all. For one, I have never been a fan of straight 3/4 sleeves, even though I do like other types of 3/4 sleeves. The material (a crisp silk-satin, I believe) is also not a favourite of mine, either. I do prefer softer fabrics for evening. This definitely would not swish gracefully. All in all it is just an OK dress, nothing special about it.
    Rating: 4/10

  2. The transition of the bodice to skirt is beautifully crafted, and the peach tone of the pink also transitions well to the green.

    Even though this is in no way my style, I can’t deny that it’s a beautifully refined look done with skill.


  3. Where did you find that ??

    I like very much the shape, the top is rather elegant, but the colors… my god the colors… !

    4/5 for the fabric and the shape only

  4. I don’t care how old the wearer was; this dress is restrained, but beautiful. I love the way the green striped skirt (even with hidden flashes of pink, not visible in the photograph, alas) compliments the pink top, and the shape would compliment many figures. A perfect 10.

  5. It’s gorgeous. I don’t like the overly undergarment created shape of early New Look, but I do love the pink/green thing and the overall concept. 8/10.
    As for pink, I think the most important thing any woman can do in regards to colour is to wear shades or hues or tones of it that suit her complexion at the time, not ten or thirty years ago, because these things change, and nothing says mutton dressed as lamb like trying to be who you were 30 years ago. I think there is no sadder fear a woman can have than that of ageing. Sad that it is so encoded into our culture too.
    As a self expression however, wearing things because you LOVE them and it is who you are right then, is fabulous, because it is fear free and it will always work out, even in a way that breaks all the rules. Rules about fashion are, after all, about trying to ‘help’ people not to make ‘mistakes’ and so are inherently about a fear of getting it wrong. I try to see these so called rules as an attempt to express some phenomena that occur when certain shapes, colours, arrangements etc are used, and a knowledge of these can be a guide to refer to. I like that.

    • Well said. I think all those fashion rules can be useful when you want to achieve a specific look or project a specific persona; the problem lies in thinking there’s a specific “right” look that has to be achieved.

  6. Lynne says

    I love this. The way the pleating/gathering of the skirt shows the pink up the top by the jacket! So beautiful, flower-like. Green and pink are wonderful together – the green stops the pink from being blah.

    Pink and age. Very interesting. Skin changes happen whatever you try to do, and there is a stage in the middle years where many pinks are … unkind. But as I age, pink is becoming more d0-able. And there is always the inspiration of Miss Marple, sorting out murderers while wrapped in a cloud of pink fluffy wool scarf. 🙂

    The 1950s produced some amazing clothes – to look at. They were less easy to wear, and few people were the right shape. This is a gorgeous outfit. Wish I could croon happy songs at the internal construction of that jacket!

    10 out of 10.

  7. The cut is very elegant and I like what they’ve done with the stripes, and it has a subtly 18th century thing going on which I like, but that pink looks tacky. 7/10

  8. I feel that this dress is trying too hard or doesn’t know it’s own mind. It reminds me of the mother-of-the-bride dresses put forth by stores. They are all more like great grandmother dresses made in the wrong colors and fabrics. If I had just the top as a jacket (with longer sleeves) I would wear it often. I am 50.

  9. I think this dress is perfect, even for a lady in her 60s!
    I would say 10/10. It is lovely, simple and elegant.
    Ladies over 30 don’t have to wear nothing but puce! 😉

  10. Elizabeth says

    I wouldn’t normally like this dress simply due to the colour, but recently I have been looking at Japanese traditional dress and this strikes me as similar with that collar, sleeves, and waist tie, and the skirt hanging rather like hakama. Along with the beautifully fitted waist, I have to give it a 7/10

  11. redbarngirl says

    Lovely…I think it would work for any one of any age (provided pink was one of their colors) b/c it is not frilly and the green saves it from being too little girl/balerina pink. The only problem I have is with the sleeves–they seem like they would be hard to move in…but comfort is not the primary focus of the dress.

  12. It’s absolutely pretty – not the type of pink I like best and I am also not a big fan of green but the style is beautiful and the colors go well together. For someone who looks good in this kind of pink, it must have been a perfect dress. It’s one of the prettiest dresses I have seen in the “rate this dress” category. 10/10
    PS: Personally, I don’t think there’s an age limit for wearing specific colors. I love pink and will probably always wear it. In Germany, a lot of elderly ladies love to wear purple and lilac (not sure why this is considered an appropriate color by so many – a lot of them look terrible in that color) and I know I won’t be wearing those colors just because I am old. I recently saw a cute old granny who wore a pink cardigan with matching pink earrings and grey Nike sneakers with pink details. She looked great in that and I loved her for not wearing the typical purple old-lady-uniform.

  13. I quite like this one. It’s not even anything very specific I don’t like, just something about it does not exactly make me go “wow” or “ooh”. But I think it must have been perfect for the wearer; it looks like the kind of dress made exactly for someone’s figure and taste. So, for being that kind of dress, it earns 10/10, even though I don’t quite go head over heels over it myself.

  14. Nice dress, but I’m not a good friend of this colour matching, pink+green, looks like as if a flower grew out in the garden and fary godmother transmogrified it into Mrs. Webb for the banquette 😀 6/10

  15. I think for Electra (I looked her up!) this dress would have looked beautiful. Regal, refined and very elegant. It’s understated and with her snow white hair, I can see it looking fantastic on her. You would have seen her, rather than the dress, and I think this is a perfect example of a dress that complements the wearer rather than a dress that wears the wearer. Not my favourite colours, but I like them together and in this dress, and I imagine Electra looked queenly and regal in it, just as she presumably wanted.

    It works perfectly for what it is and it makes me approve wholeheartedly of it, so I have to give it a 10/10.

    • And after the last one which looked like someone had projectile-puked frills, flowers, and beetles all over the wearer, this is really refreshing.

  16. Susan says

    As Daniel noted, this dress very much reflected Electra Havemeyer Webb’s personality. She was a remarkable, generous lady who was a major collector and lover of antique dolls and toys, as well as a collector of thousands of other antiques, many of which were not viewed as being of particular interest in her time. Her great wealth gave her the freedom to pursue her varied interests and to disregard those who viewed her as eccentric or odd. She was truly ahead of her time – though her interests were “behind her time”.

    The Shelborne Museum was originally named “The Electra Havemeyer Webb Museum of Fascination”, a far more descriptive name than the blandly dignified “Shelborne Museum”.

    So this distinctive, very individual, dramatic and beautifully made dress would have suited Electra right down to the ground. The color combination is one frequently found in nature, and would have suited her well – who needs a little black dress when you could wear this??


  17. I am attracted to the jacket – the shape and the fabric – but it goes wrong in the skirt. Perhaps it would look better on a person. I have a salmon pink and olive green scarf which is from the early 50s, which reminds me of this, but the olive green on my scarf is somewhat more muted and the pink is more of a salmon colour. I don’t know why, it may be the proportions and the lighting, but the more muted combination works better than this one.

  18. Rachel says

    I’m leery of the pink/green combo, but I think here it works more for the dress than against. The lines are really nice, especially the waist. The high collar, quarter-length sleeves, and long full skirt give it a “stately” vibe, but the colors are sweet (like you said, flowerlike) but also bold. That punchy green keeps the dress from looking too demure and pastel.


  19. Jeanette Murray says

    Elegant and looks like it may have been a beautiful fit. I am 63 and would wear this today and will if I can find the fabric to recreate it. I love it! The color would be beautiful with the paler skin that occurs with age and a hair that would also be lightening toward silver. Having a belt to emphasize a still attractive waist at an age when the waist tends to thicken is a wonderful yet subtle statement. I wish we could see the jewelry, shoes, gloves, and perhaps hat that would have been worn. I imagine the overall look was stunning! 10/10

  20. Grace Darling says

    I just rewatched ‘Steel Magnolias’ and the definition of pink.

    Blush and Bashful.

    The design is elegant, the fabric is too shiny-shiny


    *thanks for the heads-up on the Shelburne and
    Electra. I love the squirrel people. They need
    to stay clear of shiny pink but.

  21. I love the bodice and the way it merges into the skirt, but those shiny green stripes are just really unappealing. Too much like pyjama fabric? 7/10 because overall it’s lovely.

  22. If she had the figure and personality to carry this off then good on her! I love the look of it and am slightly mournful that I couldn’t wear it without looking silly.
    I think it’s beautifully fitted and there was obviously a lot of thought went into it to get it looking so nice and fresh

  23. I normally love pink and green combo and don’t believe that color has an age limit (or that colors can only be worn by a certain sex), but the plain/stripe combo here looks too costume-y to me. It looks more like a mother of the bride’s dress, given the cut, than it does like something to wear to a normal formal function. I’m not completely against it – unlike that zombie Edwardian- but I’m not loving it either. 6/10

  24. The colours may not be me, but I would be pretty stoked to have a waist that could fit into that at 63. Perhaps Dame Westwood could pull of such a work of majesty? I’d give it a 4 in colour, 7 if the photo was black and white leaving me to imagine a more suitable combination.

  25. I love the jacket – so beautifully fitted and just the right marshmallow shade of pink – but I’m doubtful about the skirt, like the designer fought shy of doing a whole pink outfit and substituted something else at the last moment. If not entirely pink, a black or deepest grey skirt would, in my humble opinion, be a better choice. 7/10
    (Incidentally, when my husband left me, the first thing I did was to put a pale pink glass chandelier in the house, and fill the rooms with pink flowers. The second thing I did was to sew a pink gingham 1950s sundress with a boned bodice and a full, full skirt, which I wore all summer Even in the midst of personal disaster, pink makes you feel GOOD!)

  26. Susan Robinson says

    I think this dress is beautiful. I’ll bet there are gussets under the arms, I love the stand up collar, and I think 3/4 sleeves are so functional. Speaking as person who is nearly 68 I think the choice of pink for a woman of a certain age is a good one (maybe not this shade on everyone). When hair goes white, colour leaves your face too. A pink reflects up and gives a little colour to a face.

    I think the dress is beautifully constructed and was probably very flattering to its wearer. 10/10

  27. It’s cute. This is not something I would ever wear, but I think the colours work well together. I don’t like the texture of the fabric though. It’s too shiny.
    However old the wearer was, that is quite an impressive waist.


  28. Alyssa says

    I like the neckline, peplum and skirt (though the hemline could be longer), but not how the sleeves are of one piece with the shoulders – but just in this case. I can love a ?kimono? (?dolman?) sleeve, I just don’t like it here – maybe because of the stiffness of the fabric? And I’d call for a more structured belt. The colors! Pink and green is one of my favourite combinations! I know voting has been tallied already, but for the sake of completeness 6/10

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