Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1930s Lame Glamour

Last week I showed a smocked 1890s Liberty of London dress in black china silk.  Half of  you loved, loved, loved it, the other half of you thought it incredibly blah.

However, even those who loved it  had small reservations.  The display wasn’t ideal (granted, not the dresses fault), and you couldn’t decide if the back asymmetry was real or an illusion created by the display.  Some of you thought that while good, it wasn’t as good as most other Liberty dresses made from the same basic pattern.  And quite a few of you didn’t like the sleeves (which, ironically, were my favourite part, as I felt they made the dress more interesting  than other similar Liberty gowns, and kept it from twee-ness).

Despite potential blah-ness and not-quite-perfection ratings, it managed an  overall rating of 8.3 out of 10.  Pretty good!

(Though it ought to win bonus points for inspiring only two #.5 ratings, making my tallying up much easier 😉 )

This week, I’m celebrating the launch of the Ngaio Blouse with a 1930s pick for  Rate the Dress.

I’ve gone for a slinky, body conscious evening gown along the lines of something one of Ngaio Marshes’ glamorous actress femme maybe-fatales might have worn:

This Jessie Franklin Turner number in gold lame uses bias cutting which flows  and clings about the body.  The unusual arm treatment blurs the line between sleeves and gauntlet-gloves, drawing attention to the glimpses of skin seen at the upper arms.  The gold lame has faded and tarnished slightly with time, but you can still clearly see how the gown would have shimmered and glowed and caught the light as it moved.

What do you think?  Is the overall effect dramatic and alluring (as per the Met’s object description), or just a bit gimmicky?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10.

(next week I think I need to pick something with pattern!)


  1. Wendy says

    Everything I love about the 30’s in one slinky lame package. Love the material, bias cut, the sleeve design. I’m going to have to rethink my current abhorrence of cold shoulder tops, or not because they don’t exude this glamour. 9 because I am sure something Jean Harlow wore would outshine this.

  2. Claire Payne says

    I thought I would love this but looking at it in more detail, there aren’t many elements which rock my boat. The sleeves are probably my biggest gripe and the rest is a tad dull for me despite the lame. 4 out of 10 from me sorry. I love the 1930’s too.

  3. SueAnne says

    It’s a bit gimmicky, but it totally owns it. I feel like if this dress was any other color, I’d secretly wish it were gold. Also, I love the bunched (?) look of the sleeves, and the sudden transition in the lower portion of the body of the dress from smooth to folds is quite fun looking.

    …And then there’s the dangly shoulder bit, which brought to mind shredded fabric on the wings of an old airplane, or maybe a weather beaten kite… Minus two points for that from me, since they ruin what would’ve been a nicely done “cold shoulder” dress.

  4. My initial response to this was very much no, I don’t like the shredded sleeves. But as I look at it some more I find they’re growing on me. Maybe. The concept is interesting, but I’m not wholly convinced it wouldn’t look silly on an actual person. In general it’s a lovely slinky dress that would have shimmered beautifully when the wearer moved, and it’s interesting, and it’s innovative for its time, so I suspect it’s the kind of thing that would work on the right person. 7/10

  5. Sorry. Glamor on this dress died when Star Wars: TFA came out. It is too obviously Rey’s desert outfit spray-painted gold by accident 😀

  6. Elise says

    I want to rate the mannequin. 10 out of 10! I love the cheeky strutting, and the languid lounging–especially how it sparks personality in the dress’s wearer!

    • LoriWatk says

      If we were rating the mannequin I’d give it a 10 as well. Its so cheeky and flirtatious all at the same time. LOVE IT! But that’s just the mannequin and not the rating of the dress. Who ever decided on the pose of it was having a very good day!

      • Elise says

        Right?! It feels so good to see a museum professional have fun and imagine the sorts of people who purchased and used the artifacts.

  7. apricots says

    The drape, the ruching, the gold – this dress would be beautiful to swan around in. Cold shoulder sleeves look like they’re designed for sweeping gestures, and I’m super curious how they would move with someone wearing the dress. Love the seaming on the skirt. 8/10.

  8. I love it! I guess it’s gimmicky but I feel like it owns that and works with it well. Also it makes me think of Harriet Vane’s wedding dress so it gets extra points for that. The only detractor is that I can’t work out the sleeves -are they attached to anything? I feel like after a couple of cocktails they’d be sliding all over the place. Maybe that’s the idea? Sounds annoying to wear though. 8/10 for me.

  9. Rachel says

    You picked one of my favorite gowns. I’m gonna rhapsodize a bit.

    I can see what you mean by gimmicky, and it took me a while to like this gown as much as I do now. While I’m not crazy about modern attempts to capture this look – those prom gowns that come with matching sleevelet things – I find this gown very sexy and imposing, without being over the top. Granted, there’s something a little Bride of Frankenstienish about it too.

    With all that movement in the arms and the skirt, you’d think it’d be very wafty and romantic. But I don’t see it that way. It’s feminine, definitely, but an assertive feminine – not domineering, but in control. A less-ethereal take on all those wispy lace layers from earlier decades. Almost like electricity flickering around the wearer’s arms and heels.


  10. It’s certainly dramatic, but I’m not sure whether I find it alluring. In some positions, the quirky treatment of the sleeves almost makes the dress look damaged. Normally, I like the body-hugging fit featured in so many 30s gowns, including this one, but the skirt looks a bit too short for the gown to have the proper slinky grace (that could be a bad mannequin choice, though).

    I’m surprisingly uncharmed, but there’s actually little to hold against this gown so I’ll say 7 out of 10.

  11. Lynne says

    Just lovely! You are right – something I can see Marta Halyard (have I got that right? no books, still!!) wearing, all tall and elegant and madly glam!

    10 out of 10.

  12. Emma says

    I think that in the first photo the mannequin is standing strangely and making the bodice hang in a weird way which doesn’t help but even the second photo I really don’t like this dress. It doesn’t seem like something anyone could actually wear and it look attractive, it’s more a mash-up of design features.


  13. Nanny Norfolk says

    I love 1930’s shapes & all that bias cutting, the dress reminds me of 1960s – 70s London Biba dresses. Most of you won’t remember or even know about it, they had designs like this too.
    However I don’t like glittery dresses & I don’t like the gloves, all runched & wrinkly. Otherwise a typical 1930s glamour dress to wear if you were thin!
    I’ll give it 7/10, because of the gloves & it’s not very innovative.

  14. Belinda says

    I love it. Nowhere to hide a figure flaw! So I’ll never wear it! But assuming a goddess were available, it would look stunning. 10 out of 10

  15. I never vote but this dress is calling out to me. I give it a 9. I like the interesting sleeve/mitts, the ruching on the body. I am a sucker for the 30s glamour and draping.

    Gold lame is tricky, it is either super elegant or trashy. I think the dress pulls it off.

  16. I really like it. I would like to see the back and what’s going on behind the dress and how the design is done behind. It’s nice to see a posey mannequin in the dress, especially a sitting one, because then you can see how the fabric behaves and drapes, and it’s rather fabulous. On the right person, what a show-stopper! For pure glamour, 9/10.

    • I wish there were more back views too! The posey mannequin is very Vreeland. I wonder if it’s from an exhibition she did.

      • Elise says

        The pose-y mannequin makes the movement make sense. Especially in a shiny fabric like lame. But yes, not back views make it hard to rate.

        Ok, now who is Vreeland? Diana Vreeland?

        • Yes, she was ‘special consultant’ to the Costume Institute at the Met for years, and did a bunch of really splashy, conceptual exhibitions with them. The photo does look a bit more recent than her work, but she did influence displays for a while after her tenure.

  17. 8. I love the fabric and cut of the dress – so glamourous! I seriously dislike armpit vents in modern dresses, though, and I can’t say I like the 1930s version much better. Be either drapey sleeves or gauntlets, you can’t be both!

  18. Julia Ergane says

    I LOVE this. Some of my favourite evening designs come from the 20s and the 30s. Rating: 9/10

  19. Love the basic dress and can almost feel how it would move.

    The “gleeves” are a definite no-no for me, since the only thing I can think of when looking at them is how it would be impossible to keep them from getting dragged in the soup or other bothersome substances, and I’ve always found the open-shoulder look irritating.

    7 of 10

  20. While I can appreciate the showstop-i-ness of this dress with the lame and the classic 1930’s cut, I’m not a big fan. To be honest, I thought the dress was damaged when I first saw it because of the ‘sleeve’ treatment.

    7/10 from me. While I’ll never wear it (even all those years ago when I had the figure to pull it off) and I really don’t do bling, it’s a classic of it’s time and would look stunning on the right person.

  21. Very interesting bodycon elements. I kind of love the torso and the skirt, but the sleeves… meh. 8/10

  22. Lylassandra says

    I really admire the art-y-ness of this piece! 9/10

  23. CR says

    Those sleeves are intriguing and it looks like they are removable, so 2 dresses in 1 package. On the mannequin the dress is stunning, on the right person it would be a showstopper for sure. 10/10 for me.

  24. I’ll add my voice to the sevens. 7/10 It’s a nice example of its time, but the sleeves are too meh for the rating to be higher.

  25. Ari says

    I love it! I can just picture it shimmering away at some gala. It kinda looks like there’s a piece connecting the sleeves to the center back which would tie it all together nicely. 10/10 if that bit isn’t an armpit.

  26. LoriWatk says

    I’ve looked at this dress all week just to make sure that my rating wasn’t tainted by the display which I really do think is FANTASTIC!! I can see this at some gala (easily), I can see this at some glitzy ball, I can see this just about every where… What I can’t see disturbs me. So with all that, I’ll add my 7 to the fray. I don’t like that whole armpit thing, it really doesn’t do it for me. I can see it at a ball and flowing like the movement. I can see the lights reflecting off it beautifully but that whole armpit thing just disturbs me. Maybe that’s just a matter of taste but I don’t like the way the front looks standing. I love it in the sitting pose but the standing one is horrible (to my eye). I’ve read on this website about “body-image” and I really am amazed at the human body, especially the female body (it really can do miraculous things). As a mother of a young lady, mother-in-law, sister, aunt and daughter (and hopefully one day grandmother) WE all know that the female body comes in all shapes and sizes to which I am grateful and in awe of… however that little bit in the front just makes it odd if not just weird to me. I’d love to see this dress on someone with some truly spectacular hips but that mannequin does not do it for me (no matter how cheeky), except in that sitting pose. I’d love to see the back of this. I dislike bows but on the back of this I might just love a bow. There are so many ifs and buts to this that I’m going to stick with my rating of 7 simply because I can not bring myself to like it more then that. ON SECOND thought make that a 5 out of 10. I really don’t like the front and the armpit thing and since I can’t see the back there is just not enough of this for me to justify (in my small mind) anything except a 5 for being pure cheeky, craftsmanship and for someone being brave enough to wear this. I’d look sick if not down right dying of jaundice to even consider wearing this.

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