Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: mid-century ‘Drumbeats’

Well, last week’s dress was proof that not everything Worth did was perfection.  Due to a bit of un-subtle trimming, the dress had to bow out of the top ranks (pun totally intended) with a paltry 6.4 out of 10 – low by any standard, and terrible by the standard of Worth garments featured in Rate the Dress.

I just can’t keep track of the day/time differences between NZ and CA, and when I’m supposed to  do Rate the Dress, so once again you’re getting it a little late.  Next week should be right on time though – I’ll be back home (yay! and sniff  at the same time)

This week’s Rate the Dress is California inspired – and what could be more California than a mid-century playsuit by a Los Angeles designers collaborating with Jantzen, now in the collection of LACMA?

While the artist is Californian, the inspiration for this playsuit’s design comes from much further afield, with motifs probably taken from African textiles, and a name that reflects the mid-century obsession with all things ‘exotic’ and jungle-y.

The playsuit’s accompanying skirt is even more exotic, giving a restrained nod to pareu and the ‘sarong’ dress that Edith Head created for Dorothy Lamour’s Jungle Princess in 1936, a look that became iconically associated with tropical-inspired fashions – whether they were from Africa or the South Pacific.

What do you think?  Does this look like a chic way to keep cool in the California heat?  Do you like the mix of modernism and exoticism?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10



  1. Lynne says

    Wow! 10 out of 10.

    Jantzen made some fine things over the years, and this playsuit is one of them. Okay, you need legs a mile long to carry it off, but that is true of so many fashion garments. I love the simple lines of the playsuit and skirt, and the rich swaying lines of the fabric – and its Greek key/jungle print band.

    The uptight nittpicker in me might wish that they had matched the pattern on the bottom of the top and the top of the bottom (!), but I’ll forgive it that for its other charms.

  2. Sadie says

    I’m in love! Another 10 out of 10. So many prints don’t work with the human body, but these would enhance it. The dark colours even make me think of New Zealand and how we dress here today.

  3. Rebecca says

    Love, love, love this! I also wish the prints we’re matched on the bodice & shorts. I do a lot of personal fashion sewing & would have made sure they matched
    This is very “in style” now.

  4. Baa says

    The stripes aren’t even so it isn’t easy to get a good “match” with this particular fabric on the bodice & shorts. This style though is timeless & looks as good today as it did in 1947.
    Love, love, love this I would wear it today! 10/10

  5. Tegan says

    It seems cute enough – play suits aren’t usually my thing, but this seems to be a solid example of one, and would stand apart from other ones.

    8/10 seems nice but it’s not too world shakingly gorgeous

  6. SueAnne says

    I adore this outfit, which is saying something considering I’m not always a fan of playsuits. The patterned fabric is rather appealingly different, as well. I sort of wish this one had a belt, though, to break up the top from the bottom and hide the mismatched stripes (because lining those up looks nearly impossible!). 9/10!

  7. Claire Payne says

    I’m all for play suits, especially with bonus wrap around skirts, I love the 1940’s and the style of this outfit. Alas, it is the fabric which spoils it for me. I just don’t like the print, the jungle theme or the colours. 6 out of 10 from me. I do appreciate you sharing this particular rate the dress despite my rather low score as I love beach wear from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. One of these days I will get around to making myself a little vintage beach ensemble…but not in black jungle print.

  8. I’m also not a fan of playsuits, and I’m not a fan of strapless garments (I blame the fashion for them that has been going on for what, fifteen years now? BLEGH) – but this looks great.


    • I feel almost the same way about strapless. I have nothing against the concept, but it’s been far too ubiquitous for far too long, and it rather puts you off the look.

      When I was wedding dress shopping 12ish years ago (before I gave up and made it) a bridal consultant actually said, in response to my ‘it can’t be strapless’ demand, that people wouldn’t know I was the bride if it wasn’t strapless. I was so gobsmacked I just stood there gaping at her instead of answering “Gosh, hadn’t thought of that, there are going to be so many people who won’t know me at our 40 guest wedding and might confuse me with all the other young ladies running around in fancy white dresses, only with STRAPS, so clearly aren’t the bride!”

      I regret not saying that to this day!

  9. Katie says

    10/10 – I love the shape and the print and the skirt is amazing. Things like this make me sad to be short 🙁

  10. It’s an elegant garment, and I like the geometric motifs (not the stripes, so much, though). It’s not the type of thing I’d be comfortable wearing, but that’s a body issue, not a fashion issue. 8 of 10.

  11. By no means something I would wear, but I love the combination of fabrics and the architectural look of the cut. I wasn’t bothered by the lack of exact matching of the bodice and lower half, because of the irregular nature of the pattern, and the fact that the way it was joined did for me visually draw in the waist. 9 of 10

  12. Florence says

    I like the print but I’m not a fan of the strapless top. Or playsuits in general

  13. Like others, I’m a bit of a fan of the playsuit, but I also noted the mismatch of the bodice to the shorts. To match the pieces would take vast amounts of fabric and patience. I agree with SueAnne – a belt would hide that, but how that would work with the sarong is a question for better brains than mine. If I were to make something like this for myself, I’d add straps.

    Love the styling (1940’s is one of my many favourites), love the fabric. Also love how the patterns were used on the sarong.

    That’s a whole lotta love from me. 9/10.

  14. I love the playsuit and the matching skirt. The color, the pattern, the style, almost everthing. And it is wearable today, of course. 10 of 10

  15. I adore how the print suggests pleated, rippling, curving fabric around the figure. The fabric really makes the outfit. It adds a lot of movement to what is essentially a very simple dress, and makes it elegant and restrained. While the design motifs do show an ‘exotic’ influence, the cool blue, black and white colour scheme comes across as very firmly Western. I think it is a great outfit, very well thought out and considered.

    Of course, in the current climate we need to (by default) consider questions of appropriation and whether or not this is appropriate appropriation, but I tend to think that unless the imagery is really sacred or if it is really overdone stereotyping that crosses a boundary, then it’s simply inspiration. To me, the most problematic thing about this is that the designer called the outfit “Drumbeats” and therefore forced us to consider these questions straight off the bat – without knowing this, it would come off as a cool, summery outfit made in an African-influenced print, with nods towards ethnic styles and dressing, but done quite tastefully and not in a blatant way. And then we find out it’s called “Drumbeats” and it makes us think about these issues, and question whether or not this is problematic. I don’t think it is problematic as an object at first glance, but the choice of a title makes us think about this and question it in a way that we probably wouldn’t as quickly if this were an untitled piece or if it had a more ambiguous name.

    Curatorially speaking, it’s a very interesting piece because it opens up all these subjects for discussion and consideration, and the biggest trigger for discussion is actually something that we only know because we were TOLD it – the garment name. Without the name, we probably wouldn’t be as quick to contemplate these points.

    I think as a garment, looked at through Western eyes and aesthetics, and perhaps without picking up on things that another person might do, this is a 9/10 for me – the waist of the romper isn’t perfect, but that’s a tiny quibble. As a curatorial object for discussion, it’s also a 9/10 because it’s one of those things that starts out deceptively simple and then escalates into all these interesting questions and points for consideration.

  16. nanny norfolk says

    Like others I think this a really good design & it doesn’t date. however I’m a knitpicker too as the pattern on the bodice doesn’t match the skirt which makes it look cheap. It was the first thing I noticed. If you’re going to make something whatever it is it should be as good as you can make it. So because of the mismatch it’s 7/10.

  17. Emma says

    I dislike playsuits, especially strapless ones. I also don’t like the fabric. And the lack of pattern matching bugs me. I think the skirt is a lot better (Even the fabric is better, the black and white geometric print helps a lot.) I wouldn’t give it anything without the skirt – with it I give:


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