Last week I showed you a luxurious silk frock inspired by simple folk embroidery. The scores were all over the place: mad love, complete revulsion. Quite a few of you expressed doubt that it would look good on most women, which didn’t help its score. Overall, the dress came in at 6.9 out of 10 – very close to the 7 that was the most commonly given score.
This week, we’re leaving peasant chic behind, and going very upscale: Paris couturier fashions in the 1890s. It’s not quite Worth, but this gown reflects the decadence of late 19th fashion that he helped to inspire, and the caché that his work lent to Parisian fashions.
This gown was purchased by American heiress Cara Leland (née Rogers) Broughton, either on a European tour just before her first marriage, or after she was widowed a year later in 1891, but before she married (only slightly) upper class Englishman, Urban H Broughton in 1895. His work as an MP and during WWI led to Cara being given the title of Lady Fairhaven after his death, meaning that Cara is sometimes used as an example of a Dollar Princess or a Buccaneer (though only in a fast and loose usage of the terms, I would contend).
While purchased by Cara, the dress may have been worn by her older sister Anne. The restrained black and white colour scheme means it is possible that the gown was used for the later stages of mourning by Cara, or by Anne, who would have had a much shorter, more relaxed mourning period for her brother-in-law (or either one could have been in morning for another family member).
While the colour scheme is restrained, the rest of the dress is anything but. There are lines of lace, ribbon, and bows. Layers of light frothy cloth and lace. Texture upon texture.
The entire dress is quite muted and diffused, until you get to the unexpectedly bold stripes of the back skirt panel.
The more you look at the dress, the more details there are to find: the way the lines of ribbon keep the tulle flat over the hips, allowing it to escape in gathers below. The unexpected asymmetry of a few lines of lace on one side of the black and white striped panel.
What do you think of the dress? Is it an interesting way to do a very simple colour scheme, perhaps for mourning? Is it the garish vulgarity of nouveau riche that the term ‘Dollar Princess’ usually implied (Cara’s family had been reasonably prominent for generations, so nouveau riche isn’t quite accurate). Does it say ‘widow seeking exciting new husband!’ or ‘woman with a more interesting story than meets the eye’?
Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10