Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Mrs Lockett Agnew by Sir Samuel Luke Fildes

Usually when I show you 1910s evening wear, I assume it’s a shoe-in for rave reviews and +8 scores.  Not last weeks dress  though!

True, 1/4 of you liked it, but of the other 3/4, 1/4 of you liked the fabrics (but not the skirt draping) 1/4 of you liked the skirt draping (but not the fabric) and 1/4 of you didn’t like the skirt draping OR the fabrics.  It received quite a few comparisons to playing dress-ups with window curtains.  I think the dress has suffered with age associations: in 1912 that sort of lace wasn’t used for curtains, but now it is (and not even elegant  ones), so we can’t look at it without thinking curtains, so the poor thing came in at a paltry 5.4 out of 10.

This week lets look at an entire ensemble, on the actual wearer, the better to assess how it looked in-period.  This is Mrs Lockett Agnew (nee Augusta Isobel Sheil) in a confection of ivory stripes and gold and yellow embellishments.

Portrait of Mrs Lockett Agnew, Sir Samuel Luke Fildes, 1887-88

Portrait of Mrs Lockett Agnew, Sir Samuel Luke Fildes, 1887-88

Mrs Agnew’s ensemble is the height of late 1880s style, with strong elements of the 18th c revivalism that was in fashion at the time.  The tilted brim of her ostrich feather hat is a nod to late 18th c hat styles, and her jacket, trimmed with decorative gold buttons, references the jackets of Georgian riding habits.

While historically inspired, the outfit is also redolent of its own era: the broad tone-on-tone stripes are typical of the bold yet subtle fabrics popular in the 1880s, and the curved front of the jacket and decadent under-bodice emphasise her fashionably ‘neat’ figure, with narrow shoulders and a long, rounded torso, very much in the style of the acclaimed beauties of the period, such as Alexandra of Denmark.

Mrs Agnew was probably described as ‘handsome’, or perhaps ‘elegant’, rather than ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’, but we’re not here to judge her looks, but her choice of outfit.  Do you think it elegant and beautiful?  Suitable to the wearer?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I can find no fault – an outfit a woman of the era should be proud to wear. I love that the gold underbodice appears to reflect the filigree of the buttons, and the simplicity of the main fabric doesn’t fight the more ornamental underbodice. The jauntiness of the hat is echoed in the ribbon nosega at the waist/hip. 10 of 10

  2. Rachel says

    I think, regardless of how I feel about the outfit, Mrs Agnew knows she looks amazing.

    While I like this period, I think the dress wouldn’t do all that much for me on a mannequin. It’s really gorgeous – the striping and the unexpected color pairing – but there isn’t anything about it that pushes me into “I love it” territory. But in the context of the painting, it adds to the subject’s personality – and gains some personality of its own. It looks confident and vigorous (with the gloves and walking cane), but the colors are so sunny and extroverted.


  3. Ari says

    I love it except for the buttons on the peplum! 9.5/10

  4. Charlotte says

    I think this dress is stunning. The colors are so harmonious and cheerful. I particularly like the reference back to Georgian riding habits, a personal weakness. Perhaps I shall put this on my “to make” list. A resounding 10 out of 10!

  5. Kathy says

    I always wondered how you sat down in a bustle and now I see why women were not expected to touch the back of her chair.

    I love it except for the jacket. Jackets that aren’t able to close just irritate me.


    • Same irritation with the jacket, but it’s mild, caused mostly by the fact that it does close at the neck, creating a weird incongruous feel… 9,5/10, because this works marvellously on her.

  6. Valerie says

    Girl’s got Swagg’r! Totally a 10! (Oh, and I love the subtle striping!)

  7. It seems like the right dress for the right wearer. It is very elegant, and I like the tone-on-tone stripes with the gold under-bodice. There’s just enough colour there to make the whole thing pop, while still looking classy and refined. 9/10

  8. I am SO into late 1880s Directoire-inspired fashions right now – I even made one in December. So I love everything about this! Full marks from me 10/10.

  9. It’s perfect, from the feathered hat to the delicate gloves; great fabrics, a terrific rework of the Georgian riding habit. She looks wonderful and her super-confident gaze at the artist says it all. 10/10

  10. Barbara Stevens says

    Oh Wow! 10 out of 10. Just shows how seeing the garment in context and on a real figure is so much better than on a dress form. Mrs Lockett Agnew is a star, and so is her outfit.

  11. Lisa W says

    Oh my!! Wide cream on cream duchesse satin stripes? Textured gold brocade? Exquisite tailoring? Hint of gold in the bustle? Perfect mix of insouciance and haughtiness? All this AND ostrich feathers??? Be still my beating heart and give this outfit a 10!

  12. Hat, gloves, and stick in complementary shades? Wonderful. I love it – although I wouldn’t fancy wearing the corset necessary for obtaining such a ‘neat’ figure. It would be amazing to see this outfit in motion, don’t you think?
    9/10 because the jacket closes only at the top, as Hana-Marmota pointed out, and the more I look at it the more that detail bugs me. I keep thinking it would tend to look pyramidal if she was standing up.

  13. I think it looks marvelous…but, for some reason, when I look at it I feel, well, kinda choked up. The high tight collar would drive me absolutely nuts; it may not actually be as tight as it looks but since the jacket only closes at the top it is emphasized. It’s probably a minor nuisance for someone used to the restrictions of a corset, but that kinda secondary claustrophobia means I can only give it a 9.0/10

  14. Lynne says

    9 out of 10.

    I think it’s lovely. Love the colours (like a very high quality Easter egg) and the elegance of the whole outfit.

    My only reservations are about the neck closing, front opening look. I think there may be tapes holding the jacket from the side waist to the bottom of the gold bodice at the front. Is that cluster of ribbons and bows part of that? Not sure what they would look like when Mrs Agnew was standing.

    She’s a handsome, assured woman, looking really good in a beautiful outfit.

  15. mom says

    I’m always a little hesitant when judging outfits in paintings – often they have so much more “personality” in paintings than on mannekins.

    Still – on the plus side: very elegant dress, beautiful white fabric, lovely jacket, huge cul + associated layers of trimmings mercifully not visible, amazing hat

    downsides: the golden armour looks weird to me.


  16. 10/10!! That is GORGEOUS. Just absolutely stunning, She looks an absolute knockout, it fits beautifully, the fabrics are just perfect together, and the proportions are spot on. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. I think it looks flawless.

  17. The vest looks like she is wearing armor and her pose is very regal which is wonderful. But that is also kind of the problem. The whole things works in this painting, giving off the impression of a feather-hat wearing warrior queen, yielding her walking stick like a sceptre.

    But I suspect that the dress outside of the painting would be a lot less impressive. The back tails of the jacket look awkward draped over that bustle. Those bows are awfully close to the crotch and I am not a fan of crotch decoration. There is a lace panel in the dress that nearly disappears while sitting but implies that there is more going on with skirt than these endless, gorgeous yards of white-in-whites stripes.

    Dress as seen in the painting: 10, hypothetical dress as it would translate to the real world: 7, in summary: 8.5.

  18. Lucy says

    I’m trying so hard to love this, but something just feels a bit off. I can’t figure out if it’s the colour – I think it would look better to have red, blue, or hunter green instead of the yellow… or if it’s the military styling. I think Edwardian + military styling doesn’t fit as well as say Georgian + military styling.
    But it is still lovely. So 7/10.

  19. Ruth says

    Just the right amount of ostentation, without tipping over into vulgarity. Well done, Mrs. L.A.! The white-on-white stripes are gorgeous, and the gold of the bodice and other details a striking contrast. Personally, I would like the hat even better if the feathers swept out a little more over the brim, but this is a minor cavil. 9.5 out of 10.

    Like Lynne, I am wondering how the jacket stays so snug at the waist without any visible means of support…

  20. Julia Ergane says

    I LOVE this dress and its owner knows she looks her absolute best. 10/10

  21. Love it, all of it! The colours, the fabric, the silhouette, the cane and the hat (oh how I want them both!) it’s just all so good and she clearly is loving wearing it. Just so gorgeous! 10/10 and more if I could give it more!

  22. I love it, I even like the way the jacket fastens just at the top, but then I have a cardigan that also only fastens at the top and it’s quite comfortable and still warm enough.

  23. Lyn Swan says

    This is perfect! My only wish is that we were able to see more views, especially the back. Just Lovely!! Query… I have always wondered whether or not special seating was created for women wearin bustles?

  24. 7/10. It’s undeniably lovely, but I also think it’s just too, well, predictable. The perfectly tasteful outfit for its time. I prefer a couple of risks taken, or surprise features. Better to take a risk than play it safe.

  25. Zanne says

    It would take too long to detail all the things I hate about the outfit. I only vaguely like the fit of the underbodice, fullness of skirt, and the curve of the jacket. That’s it. Not fabric, not trim, nothing else. Separate from painting, the dress/outfit, 1/10.
    However, she obviously loves it, and that changes everything. Especially if the outfit wasn’t being presented to me as something I should wear. So worn by that woman, in that pose, 7.5/10.

  26. letthemeatcake says

    True it’s perfect. Yet giving it a 10 would mean I’m in love and I’m not. She looks worldly and all but somehow nouveau riche. I don’t know why this reads as new money to me and not exactely as old money. I don’t think that new money is a bad thing either….i just imagine this woman could get on my nerves after a while with her focus on surface and money and display. But i applaud her for “getting it right”. 9/10

    • letthemeatcake says

      Her outfit is gorgeous though, just her attitude a tad to conscious of it. Or maybe if my breakfast had been better I would have been more approving of this parvenu.

    • Well, Augusta was the daughter of a very old and well respected family, and was married to an well-connected art dealer, and moved in the highest circles of the British gentry (including having George V as a guest), so parvenu definitely isn’t the right description for her!

      As the wife of an art dealer, she would have patronised up and coming artists, and would have tried to add to a memorable portrait with her outfit. I think what you’re looking at is the different between modern good taste and restraint, and the Victorian ideal.

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