Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Doucet does lashings of lace

This week’s rate the dress is a little delayed because I read the comments on last week’s Rate the Dress  and thought ‘uh oh…’

I owe you guys an apology for last week’s post.  I was in a hurry when I wrote it, and while I thought I indicated  that Fannie’s outfit, while rarely seen in paintings or photographs, was a common, and totally proper and unexceptionably, outfit, I obviously didn’t make it clear enough.    So Fanny copped a lot of  criticism which assumed  that what she was wearing was  scandalous, or intentionally rebellious, because the sheer blouse showed her corset cover.  From a modern perspective, this makes sense – we’re not that far off from an era when a peep of petticoat was naughty or slovenly, and even today exposed bra straps are forbidden in many school dress codes.

However, Fanny’s corset cover would not have been considered an undergarment in the same way a bra is.  It’s much more like a camisole under a sheer shirt: totally appropriate under any circumstances that matched the formality of the rest of the outfit.  Fanny and her portraitist weren’t trying to deliberately flaunt authority – they were merely showing an upper class young lady in an outfit that was perfectly acceptable for her social class and age.

The perception that  undergarments in and of themselves are ‘naughty’, or even the way in which we classify undergarments, is quite modern.  Throughout the 18th c there were situations in which women of all social classes could show parts or all of items that we think of as undergarments (chemises, stays, etc).  There were also garments, such as petticoats/skirt, which could be layered as undergarments on cold days, or appear as outerwear on warmer.  More recently, there are numerous decades and fashions in the 19th and early 20th century when showing certain undergarments was totally acceptable.  Among them is the use of beautifully decorated corset covers under sheer blouses and swiss waists, as we see on Fannie.

Because of the confusion I am not going to count  the rating for Frances Adeline, as I don’t feel she got a fair and accurate viewing.  We’re always going to judge with a modern eye, but I try to provide context so we can at least have an idea of how an outfit was perceived at the time, and this time I didn’t.  I do apologise for that: it’s entirely my fault  for not presenting the painting with enough background or social history about the outfit, and  it’s something I’ll try to avoid in the future.  Rate the Dress is meant to educate as well as entertain!

This week I’m presenting another outfit with a bit of misinformation – this one coming from the museum itself.  This lace confection by Doucet is labelled a ball gown, but it’s clearly an afternoon reception dress.  If it were a ball gown, it would have a low, exposed neckline, and would be significantly less likely to have a train (they aren’t that easy to dance in, after all).

The date on the gown is also off by at least 5 years – by 1910 the puffed sleeves, very high Alexandra neckline, and full pigeon breast had disappeared, and the fuller trumpet skirt had become a slimmer column.

So, as a early 1900s afternoon reception dress, how do you like this confection in elarborate, and expensive tape lace?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. MayravB says

    My very first thought was “OMG love 10/10” because I’m a sucker for lace and chiffon and I do like the general silhouette…but on second thought I don’t actually like it that much. It’s SO much texture! Not just a puffed sleeve, but a puffed sleeve with a ribbon and three frills; not just a pigeon breast, but one with additional drapey swathes of lace. Pair that with the lower half, and it’s quite heavy-looking. I don’t think the visual weight of the lace (is it guipure?) helps, either. Less “lovely confection” and more “dammit who forgot to put the eclairs back in the fridge?”


  2. Kelley Gaston says

    I don’t like the hat. The dress is lovely-9/10.

  3. I have to admire the luxury of the materials, but the overall effect of dribbly candle is not an attractive one. On a pale mannequin, it’s a bit too “Meltdown at Madame Tussauds” for my liking. And that headpiece/shower cap/loofah is not doing anything for the outfit, though since I don’t know if it was originally part of the outfit or added by the museum for display purposes, I’ll try not to take it into account. 4/10
    Also – I’ve just noticed – the lace on the lower part of the skirt looks (possibly intentionally?) as though it has come loose from the lace on the upper part, dragged down by its own weight.

  4. Rachel says

    The dress is lovely – especially the skirt – but the unrelieved off-whiteness plus overwhelming lace effect feels a little boring to me. Plus, I’m not a fan of the lacy floppy bib, though I can’t say it’s ugly or not fitting or anything like that. The skirt’s shape and the way the lace is layered works really nicely, I like the high neckline and the wide belt. It’s elegant and beautiful, but, for me, that’s about it.


  5. Emma says

    Unfortunately we can never really leave our modern sensibilities behind. I do find it interesting that it was a Victorian dress that was seen as immodest by 21st century eyes. Kind of a reversal to our the usual way we think of Victorian dress and manners!

    As to today’s dress, I really like it. I don’t like the part (probably around the knees) that is bare of lace, it looks a little weird to me, or the hat (but that’s not really part of the dress) but the rest of it is lovely. It’s fancy without being excessive. The tone on tone lace is really pretty and elegant. The sleeves are a nice puff without being the enormous ones too often seen in this time period, the bodice is pretty as well. 9.5/10

  6. As far as I’m concerned, no apology for your Fanny post is necessary, and I’d like to explain briefly why I feel that way. 1) I didn’t think the visible corset cover was a big deal (though I may well have been wrong in assuming it would have been in period), but I did think that the Victorians would not be amused at the display of shoulders and so much of the upper torso in what appeared to be a day dress. 2) I saw the perceived (by me) hint of exposure in Fanny’s outfit was one of its GOOD points; I admired that evidence of her spirit. Unfortunately, I thought, and still think, the half-lace bodice looked tacky, and I would not change my rating.

    On to Doucet! I think the color is fine, and the shapes (the neckline, silhouette, the tiered skirt, the tiered sleeves, and the waterfall effect of the lace on the bodice) are lovely. I don’t like the particular lace he used very much (it looks too much like tablecloth lace to me), but other than that it is an excellent piece of work. An 8.

  7. Lisa W says

    Beautifully intricate lace but all I can think of is Miss Havisham… To my eyes the heavy lace bordering the skirt of the dress drags the chiffon down, physically and aesthetically, removing any of the swishiness and whispering movement you’d expect it to possess. Three-tiered lace ruffles on the sleeves are far too much of a good thing, as is the full lace draping on the bodice. 3/10 from me I’m afraid.

  8. It is lovely because of the restrained colour which stops all the texture and embellishment becoming overwhelming. The lace is just beautiful, and the light chiffon allows the lace to complement while also being showcased. It’s a gracious dress, but perhaps not outstanding or exciting enough to have the Wow Factor to distinguish it from other similar dresses, perhaps with the right accessories it would be raised to a perfect 10, but as a dress by itself, 8/10 – it needs a touch of colour and accessories and presentation pizzazz.

  9. sewcharacteristicallyyou.comI like the lace, but the general picture presented just seams a little busy to my eye, although I will admit that this period is generally not my favorite. I could do without some of the embellishment on the bodice. 7/10


  10. Gillian Stapleton says

    Beautiful. I love a restrained colour palette and the Edwardians did that so well. The simple lines with an elaborate and detailed fabric are a winner every time (at least in my eyes!) 10/10

  11. I do love this, since I’ve always been fond of the silhouette and ornamentation expressed tone-on-tone. I can easily imagine it being worn by Jane Seymour is a lavish movie.
    9 of 10

    • Grace Darling says

      “Somewhere in Time” (1980) – it does look a lot like a dress Jane wore in that movie.
      Also reminds me of the wedding dress from ‘Camelot’ and Star Wars IV.

      7/10 for its bridal appeal

  12. Julia Ergane says

    Gorgeous! I love this dress. 10/10 from me.

  13. Deanna says

    This is a very pretty dress. I like the soft, frothy look of the bodice. The upper and lower portions of the skirt look slightly unbalanced to me, although I wonder if viewing from a slightly different angle, and perhaps the mannequin’s arms in a different position would affect the overall impression of the dress.

    Forgive me for being the one to point out that there does not appear to be any tape lace in this dress. There seems to be bobbin lace (or a machine imitation) at the neck, jabot, and sleeve edges. But the majority of the lace appears to be of the Irish Crochet type. Which I absolutely love. The skill to work so beautifully with tiny size 100, or 150, or even finer, thread is always amazing to me. The application of the crochet motifs to the sleeves is slightly out of the ordinary, and keeps them from looking too insubstantial in comparison to the rest of the dress.

    I rate it at 8.5.

  14. Etta says

    I’ve been working Irish crochet lace for some time, and although the motifs are quite simple and not as finely done as some period examples, the time involvement for anyone to make into an entire dress is astonishing! I love the way the lace is arranged on the skirt, but the bodice and silhouette are kind of sad and droopy. 8/10 for lace execution, 10/10 for the patience of the maker, but only 5/10 for the actual dress.

  15. I had to think about this dress to give it a rating. It’s the period I love and I think it fits in with the aesthetic of the time very well, which generally leads me to a high rating, and so I wasn’t sure why this wasn’t doing it for me. I thought it might the color turning me off, but I quite like eggshell, as it is not as trying to most complexions. I hid the head with its silly 1980’s fascinator effect, and I still didn’t like it that much.

    I think the issue is that the dress has no defining feature. Even though the lace is gorgeous and the workmanship perfect, the actual design has nothing to speak for itself. It’s just lace and swags and “well, this is a good dress that will look well in the background.” I prefer more personality. So, I think a C grade of 7/10 is where this one settles.

  16. I absolutely love this dress!!! Edwardians made the most gorgeous lace dresses, including this one! I give it 9/10, only because the hat/bonnet thing looks odd and I’m still not used to the pigeon breast look… otherwise it’s perfect!

  17. I absolutely love this dress!!! Edwardians made the most gorgeous lace dresses, including this one! I give it 9/10, only because the hat/bonnet thing looks odd and I’m still not used to the pigeon breast look… otherwise it’s perfect!

  18. JessieRoo says

    Never my favorite fashion era-just seeing fashion illustration from that time makes my back ache!- but this dress is rather nice. I appreciate that there is a plainer area on the skirt to help break up the business of the lace, and the relatively restrained flounces and sleeves. A little splash of color wouldn’t hurt this dress, but compared to modern monochromatic beige clothing, this is ever so much better. 8/10

  19. Lyn Swan says

    Weighing in a bit late on this one. I do love this dress and can see it on a raven haired beauty (or, a lovely red head) so 9/10 just because nothing is perfect. As I read these critiques it occurs to me that extant garments are at a huge disadvantage while being judged. First, they were created in a different time and often in a different place. So, the sensibilities that went into creating that particular garment may be unknown or misunderstood. Secondly, the garment is old. Time takes a toll on most things, and clothing is no exception. Material may begin to break down which leaves it with less body. Colors fade, dirt and dust diminish the appeal. I do try to imagine a bit beyond just what is seen.

  20. Lori Watk says

    Tablecloth, bride, etc… I keep going UGH! I can’t help it. I’m trying to look past the fact that we don’t live in this time period. So with that in mind… 7 out of 10.
    I can’t get past that lace. I love lace but this just is not doing it for me.

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