Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Emperor Yellow

I do apologise!  Yesterday was Wellington Anniversary Day, which made it a public holiday in the Wellington region.  I was so busy painting and photoshooting and going on walks with Mr D and having such a typical weekend day that I entirely forgot that it was Monday, and didn’t finish my Rate the Dress post.

Last week I showed you a WWI era dress in muted stripes, with quirky tassels & buttons.   Alas, Kathryn was the only one to my private opinion  that the buttons are just the bit of unexpected not-matchiness that the dress needed: most of the rest of you took points off for the buttons not matching, or simply for the buttons overall.  While there were a few scores in the middle, in general it was quite a divisive dress: you either really loved it, or really didn’t (and one of the middle scores was from Hana, who loved the front and hated the back – those buttons! 😉 ) So the dress came in at a perfectly round 8.0 out 10.  Still not bad!

To provide balance for anyone who thought the colours of last week’s frock too drab, this week, I present Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia, Hungary, Croatia, & Serbia, Archduke of Austria etc.  (etc. is literally what Wikipedia says about his titles too).

As emperor, Charles was foolish and shortsighted.  He spent the majority of his rule desperately working to ensure that his daughter, Maria Theresa, would succeed him as ruler, despite the fact that he had promised his father that his older brother’s daughters would take precedence over his own if there were no male heirs.

In the process of making sure that his daughters were heirs, Charles bankrupted his treasure and country, agreed to compromises that were not to Austria’s benefit (such as abolishing their overseas trading company, the Austrian equivalent of the British East India Company)  from other countries in exchange for their support of Maria Theresa’s rule, and left his army in shambles.

All of this might have been forgiven if his reason for wanting Maria Theresa to be ruler was a firm conviction that she was more able and would do a better job than his nieces, or if he had taken care to educate her and train her to be a capable monarch.  Unfortunately Maria Theresa was given the standard training of a princess who was being raised to be a Queen Consort (heavy on the decorative arts, light on politics, language, writing, military strategy etc.), and came to the throne woefully unprepared.  Charles lived till the end in the desperate hope that he would have a male heir after all, and did not care if Austria had a good monarch, as long as they were his direct descenant.  While Maria Theresa eventually became a capable monarch, the fact that she survived the first decade as monarch with any land is almost as much due to luck as any clever political manoeuvring on her part.

Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor by Johann Gottfried Auerbach,1735

Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor by Johann Gottfried Auerbach,1735

Today, however, we aren’t worried about that.  We’re concentrating on Charles’ gloriously yellow ensemble.  From his lavishly feather trimmed chapeaux to his red-tongued and red-heeled shoes, his outfit  aims to create an impact.  He is almost luminous  against the dark  drapery, all other accoutrements in the room reduced to insignificance.

What do you think?  The epitome of early-mid 18th c sartorial splendour?  Or a trumped up canary?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.


  1. I’m not sure what to say to this. Excepting for the color, the matching overrobe and the odd hat with blue feathers on it, it looks a lot like the typical gentleman’s clothing of the period.

    But the color is *everything*. I had no idea any Western monarch had run with the Chinese idea that the imperial color should be bright yellow…. until now.

    The effect, though not exactly imposing, is certainly eye-catching. In that suit of clothes, Charles could be mistaken for no one else, since no other Western man would have been likely to wear such a conspicuous outfit. I can’t decide if it’s a handsome costume or not; it’s just so conspicuous all other considerations are tough for me to judge. I do think that, judging by the portrait, yellow was not an especially flattering color for Charles, but I think that he got the effect he wanted by commissioning the outfit.

    So overall, I’ll say 8/10. (The 2 point deduction is for the hat. It would otherwise have been dignified and fine, but the blue feathers sticking out in all directions turn it into a monstrosity worthy of a lunatic.)

  2. It’s very… yellow. Lovely yellow, but on him, it makes him look really jaundiced and sickly. The blue bits are slightly incoherent and weird. The white satin linings are lovely, but not quite contrasty/complementy enough. It’s a bit of a glorious mess. The breeches seem to fit a bit loosely around the knees, making them look like frowsty ill-fitting shorts – I do like a breech to fit properly. The hat is just ridiculous. The outfit is incredible, but it looks dreadful on him, and he looks dreadful in it, whereas on someone else it would be gorgeous.

    5/10. Could be much better, but the overall effect is just not that good.

  3. Lynne says

    I love the yellow. Great colour. But I just don’t feel the outfit is right for Charles. He has the face of a stubborn, tight-lipped, haughty-nosed old bloke, but he is tricked out in yellow lace. The lace on the suit works reasonably well, because it is well-fastened to the under-layers, but the lace on the cloak is floating! All sweet and diaphanous. Like Winston Churchill dressed as Tinkerbell. Just not right. Take the cloak away, and I’d cope.

    So. Very well cut suit. Great jabot. Very snazzy shoes. Points for consistently pinging the yellow with the blue and a smidgin of red. The hat would suit him if it were not for those lateral feathers in pale blue. 7 out of 10.

    • Though I see what you mean by “yellow lace”, Lynne, I think that perception is kind of an optical illusion. I think the suit is actually an odd brocade, with an old gold design on bright yellow. My view of this is colored by my recollection (possibly faulty) that the dyeing of lace in colors other than black was not practiced until the 20th century sometime. I don’t think that the overrobe is meant to look translucent and lacey, though it kind of does here.

      • Lynne says

        Thank you, Catherine. It possibly is an illusion. I thought I could see the lining through the yellow round the hem, and there seemed to be bits sticking up on the body of the cloak. Most odd.

      • Lori Watk says

        Thank you Catherine, I thought it was “yellow lace”. I actually sat and even turned my head sideways at it.

  4. It really does look more like glorious mess than just glorious. I think those symmetrical blue bits on the hat top off that impression: that’s just too much like… I have a mental image of a bird with “ears”? Just sending all sorts of wrong signals for me.
    Still, it’s a glorious mess, not just a mess, so… 5/10, I guess?

    And nice history lesson there. In all my history lessons, or the popular books I’ve read that covered it, I’ve never been told that he had promised that to his father. We’re just too focused on Maria Theresa herself as a nation, I suspect: after all, some of the things she introduced are still used today (such as compulsory education, house numbers and surnames.)

  5. The clothes are great but they don’t do him any favors… And Catherine is right. This looks so much like Chinese imperial yellow. I don’t think there was a tradition around that colour in the Holy Roman Empire, but you would think there was, seeing this painting…
    Hmmm… 6/10

    P.S. Many princesses who were raised to be Queens Consort were actually well-trained in languages, writing and politics in the hope that they would be able to do their country of birth some good in that way too. Of course, many others were not. And, as you mentioned, Maria Theresa rose above those poor beginnings and became a very capable ruler.

  6. Grace Darling says

    For a minute there, I thought you were describing an episode of “Coronation Street”.

    Flags of the Holy Roman Empire featured an eagle in a yellow (golden) background and
    Charles could be flipping the bird to his critics.

    3/10 bilious get-up.

  7. By the way, have you ever done Maria Theresia as a RTD? She’s a perfect example of 18th century royal dressing so perfect it might be bland – it might actually lead to some interesting disagreements. 😀

  8. Oh how fun…I must agree laughingly and wholeheartedly with Daniel. Though the outfit seems appropriate for the period my I inital thought was, “why would anyone choose to look like a banana?”

    If just the coat were yellow or just the breeches … but again, that color is all wrong for him.

  9. I think he looks like a trumped up canary. The outfit itself may be typical of the time period, and yellow may not be a completely bad color. However, the two in this case do not combine well at all. A little yellow might have been fine, but the complete outfit is too much. 4/10

  10. I would say for an emperor, the ensemble is quite appropriate. It reminds me of the sun in the sky, with the dashes of blue and hints of red. I do think the whole ensemble is a bit… I don’t know… too loud for his apparent age, but I will give it a 6 out of 10.

  11. The overall effect is Early Big Bird, and his expression indicates “This is NOT what I had in mind!” The royal stylist (if there was such a position) may have needed to beat a hasty retreat. Or it might have indicated a competitive spirit vis-à-vis another monarch, “take THAT, Sun King!”

    The hat is downright silly, but the rest of the outfit does seem to be suitably done for the period.

    7 of 10, just because it’s cheery to see on an otherwise dreary day.

    • Not having grown up on a diet of Sesame Street, it took me a while to decipher it, and at first I was thinking in terms of “The early bird gets the worm.” 😀

  12. For what it is (i.e. 18th C menswear) it works surprisingly well in yellow. I like the small touches of blue to contrast, although feel that the shoes with their red heels (and yes, I know that they were highly fashionable) don’t set it off to best effect.


    Also, a small request. I was wondering if we might have some non-Western historical costumes for this at some point, e.g. Japanese, Chinese, Indian, S. American, African. Either clothes of the colonising West that have provenance to those areas and have, perhaps, been adapted for the climate/fashion/whatever or (much better!) some from the native cultures. I’m curious!

    • I don’t (or very rarely – there have been a couple of Hawaiian outfits over the years) feature non-Western historical costumes on RTD for two reasons.

      The first is that I am not particularly knowledgable about any non-Western clothing style other than post-contact Hawaiian dress, and similar Pacific styles. RTD is supposed to educate as well as entertain, and I cannot teach what I don’t know. Showcasing non-Western garments to an audience that largely won’t know anything about them, when I myself cannot even explain what the garment would symbolise, how it would fit into the cultural aesthetic, who would likely have worn it, etc, would essentially amount to cultural appropriation. Even for styles of non-Western dress where I have some basic general knowledge (18th, 19th & early 20th c Japanese & Chinese garments, for example), I would need to provide so much historical and cultural context in order to create a fair discussion platform that it would not be practical.

      The second is that RTD attracts a certain amount of presentism – people judging period dress by the standards of today, without stopping to consider the role the garment would have played, how it fit into the aesthetic of the time. I try to provide context, encourage a consideration of garments that extends beyond “Eww I hate the 1820s, so 2”, and discourage examples of the previous quote, but…they still annoy me, and if presentism annoys me, Westernism would infuriate me (whether negative or positive, because cloying patronism is just as unpleasant). Ultimately, RTD does have to be something that I enjoy doing, and that doesn’t make me hate my readers. 😉

      I do provide reasonably frequent example of garments where Western dress is borrowing from other cultures – because that is something I’ve done a lot of research on. But it is unlikely at any point that I’ll begin showing non-Western dress. I’ve also shown dress from a number of different cultures and climates within the scope of Western dress – the latter of which essentially encompasses what you have asked for in terms of ‘the colonising West.’

  13. Well, it’s very… Vibrant. I definitely can see how he’d stand out, all eyes in the room drawn to this fantastic concoction. I suppose that’s a kind of power. However unfair it may be, I cannot stand the hat. Dyed ostrich feathers just read a little too vaudeville (I know I’m being a modernist, but it cannot be unseen.
    5/10, for the rather grand ridiculousness.

  14. I love the outfit. On a blank dummy, it would be amazing. But yellow is a difficult color to wear and even more so if you’re a middle-aged white man. I can’t deduct points for that because we are rating the dress, not the model or the “stylist”. So in the light of the fact that on other people this would have looked fantastic it gets 10/10.

  15. I love the colour, especially with the touches of blue and bits of red. On him, not so much.

  16. HoiLei says

    Fantastic outfit, wrong wearer! I want to take it off him and make myself something instead. A skirt out of that cape, maybe… a dress out of his waistcoat! I love the color, though I can’t help but wonder whether the paint has changed over time… it looks so fluorescent! How would they have dyed such a color in the 1700’s? Was it originally a more traditional gold, and somebody accidentally removed the darker tones while cleaning the painting?

    It’s hard to rate the dress independent of wearer… this seems like a perfectly ordinary men’s suit of the time, made in extraordinary fabric, for an un-discerning customer. There are more flattering ways to look royal… he’d have been better advised to wear a blue suit with touches of gold, or gold britches with other colors closer to his face.


  17. bovine queen says

    Dude is appropriately dressed for the time and position…the hat would be better exchanged for the crown that is sitting on the table. I have a difficult time liking the bows on the shoes, but otherwise all looks pretty regal….8/10 (minus 2 points for hat and shoe bows).

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