Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1720s late Baroque browns

Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14

This week I’ve been a bit daring for Rate the Dress, by picking something that’s a bit hard to rate, because it’s mostly fabric. Hopefully I’ve given enough context, and a even a bonus painting as an illustration, to give you something to consider!

Last Week: a mid 1920s evening gown by Callot Soeurs

I don’t feel too bad about this week’s simple but tricky in its simplicity pick, because last week’s Callot Soeurs evening dress was so fun and easy to rate. Beautifully and cleanly presented, and easy to imagine on a wearer. It clearly struck a chord with many of you, and was very popular, though most of you thought it was almost perfect (9) rather than absolutely sublime (10)

The Total: 9.1 out of 10

Almost, almost perfect!

This week: a 1720s dress

I think the 1720s & 30s were a fascinating period in fashion history, but unfortunately I rarely get the chance to feature them on Rate the Dress. There are few surviving examples of garments from this period, and even fewer that weren’t heavily altered in the subsequent decades.

Additionally, women’s fashions of this era were all about the fabric. Further impact was achieved through accessories, but unless an extant garment has been fully styled when photographed, that leaves us with little to rate but the fabric, and very subtle design details.

So this era isn’t the best choice for Rate the Dress…

…but sometimes I still think it’s interesting enough to warrant a look, even if we are almost rating the fabric, not rating the dress!

Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14
Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14

Case in point: this mid 1720s gown made up in a striking bizarre silk.

Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14
Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14

The gown is a transition from the mantua of the first quarter of the 18th century, just beginning to take the distinctive form of the robe a la anglaise, with pleats extending down the back of the dress from bodice to skirt, and a distinct waist seam at the sides. The skirts are closely pleated into the waist seam to create the classic bell shape of the 1720s and 30s.

Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14
Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14

Unlike later ‘Anglaise, which have open skirts that reveal an (often matching) petticoat, this early example still has a closed skirt.

Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14
Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14

Like the cut of the dress, transitioning between the mantua and the ‘Anglaise, the fabric also marks a moment of change. The large scale patterning and fantastical floral shapes are typical of the bizarre silks of the 1710s and 20s. The symmetrical arrangement of the pattern is very baroque. However, the fabric also has some moments that anticipate rococo design. Although the colours are dark, the more restrained colour scheme, all in complementary shades, is a break from the clashing hues seen in many earlier bizarre silks. The inclusion of a few recognisable naturalistic florals also breaks with the more abstract shapes of 1710s fabrics.

Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14

The symmetrical fabric is certainly used to full effect across the dress, the florals and lace-like motifs carefully balance across the pleating and down the sleeves.

Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14
Gown, ca. 1725, British, silk, Purchase Irene Lewisohn Bequest 1964 Metropolitan Museum of Art C.I.64.14

To give you a sense of what the dress would have looked like in-period, and how it would have been accessorised, the ladies of Hogarth’s ‘Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox’ wear very similar transitional dresses, with domed skirts with closed fronts and visible stomachers. Their dresses are worn with wide lace tuckers around the neck, and short engageantes (or the ruffled cuffs of their shifts) peeking out from the ends of their sleeves.

The Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox, William Hogarth, 1729,
Metropolitan Museum of Art

What do you think of this week’s dress? Does the fabric look weird and wacky compared to the plainer silks of Hogarth’s painting, or is it wonderful in its wild way?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

A reminder about rating – feel free to be critical if you don’t like a thing, but make sure that your comments aren’t actually insulting to those who do like a garment.  Phrase criticism as your opinion, rather than a flat fact. Our different tastes are what make Rate the Dress so interesting.  It’s no fun when a comment implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with it, or who would wear a garment, is totally lacking in taste. 

(as usual, nothing more complicated than a .5.  I also hugely appreciate it if you only do one rating, and set it on a line at the very end of your comment, so I can find it!  And 0 is not on a scale of 1 to 10.  Thanks in advance!)

44 Comments

  1. Cyranetta says

    For me it’s not at all wacky. I find the fabric beautifully rich and so skillfully handled.

    10 of 10

  2. Some lovely placement of motif effects on the back and down the sleeves. I also like the autumnal (it *is* the first day of autumn here, though not where you are) palette of the print.

    I don’t see the print as “wacky” at all. It is dignified, and just manages to avoid looking drab. I agree that this kind of dress reaches its peak with a few well-chosen accessories (perhaps a muted gold stomacher, for example), but I prefer this kind of gentle print to the muted plain colors shown in the Hobarth painting. Once again, though, I find it too modest a gown in its design to merit a perfect rating. However, it is a garment that would make the right woman more beautiful. I would wear this gown myself in a heartbeat, were it sized correctly for me.

    9.5 out of 10.

  3. The pleating and fabric are exquisite. While I am not always a fan of browns, this looks like the delicate patternings of an evening moth. Beautiful craftsmanship.

    10 out of 10

  4. I love love love the fabric just the idea of the way that it was woven the intricacies and the detail in the craftsmanship is just incredible you couldn’t get fabric that beautiful today it’s of this reason I’m giving this dress a 10 out of 10 if I could give it higher I would lovely lovely choice

  5. Christine F Gregory says

    The pattern matching on the back is fantastic work. I also really love the general lines of the entire dress.

    9 out of 10.

  6. Valeria Kondratiev says

    I love the fabric, not wacky, but wild in the way plants grow wild, yes. I love that style of floral, and the color scheme is perfect for the first day of autumn, which it is here. I love the style of dress too, and the way the fabric is carefully tailored in the back, so the designs are centered and line up well. I would LOVE to wear a dress like this and I give it 10.

  7. The fabric is fantastic. The skill in the alignment of the pattern to enhance the folds is superb. Stunning dress.
    10 out of 10.

  8. Elaine says

    I think the fabric is beautiful, and the placement of the design is impressive. The shape is very graceful. 9/10.

    • It is lovely. A refined, wonderful pattern, carefully matched symmetry. I love it,

      10

  9. Kathy Hanyok says

    This gown is breath-taking. The sheer forethought and mathematics involved in piecing the pattern are astonishing. It reminds me of a butterfly’s wings. 10

  10. Amy Sakovich says

    This fabric is scrumptious! I now what to find a similar silk and add one to my wardrobe. 10/10 for sure

  11. Helene says

    I find it beautiful. I do think another stomacher would lift it to even higher ratings from me.
    I love the fabric and would love to have some for a semi modern skirt, longish with pleats and a lot of width to it. But back to the dress (I have also made pillowcases of the fabric in my head, so I should finish this quickly before my entire home is redecorated in the style of this dress.) the way the pattern is perfectly aligned is so pleasing to my eyes. This is not an era I’m generally very interested in, but I’d wear this dress in a heartbeat, I think it’s the loveliest I’ve seen here on rate the dress.
    I give it a 10/10

  12. 10 out of 10!

    I think it is beautiful! I really love the colours and the pattern of the fabric. The style of the dress is one I really like – so balanced and in human proportions. And what really clinches it for me is the way the pattern of the fabric has been matched and balanced in the dress. That back!! Just so pleasing.

  13. JessieRoo says

    This gown has a lovely silhouette and was clearly very carefully made. I don’t love the color scheme of the fabric. It’s just too 1720’s does 1970’s for me. In fact, my childhood home had furniture with closely matched upholstry. However, I like the pattern of the fabric quite well. In greens, blues, and touches of red or pink it would look like the most wonderfully wild garden!
    7/10

  14. JessieRoo says

    This gown has a lovely silhouette and was clearly very carefully made. I don’t love the color scheme of the fabric. It’s just too 1720’s does 1970’s for me. In fact, my childhood home had furniture with closely matched upholstry. However, I like the pattern of the fabric quite well. In greens, blues, and touches of red or pink it would look like the most wonderfully wild garden!
    7/10

    • Jessie Grasso says

      After looking at the photos again, I have to say the fabric in the right shades of blue and blue-green would look like the loveliest of seaweed gardens. If one just glances at it, it already has plenty of sea creature-like designs. All it needs is a pretty mermaid to splash about across the skirt!

  15. Brenna says

    I almost want to dislike it, because, as lovely as brown can be, the idea of a fabric made up of browns, tans, and orange sounds dangerous. (I once knew a house which had been decorated with that colour scheme, and it got old fast.)
    And yet, it’s lovely! The symmetric fabric placement is simply beautiful, and the floral patterns in the fabric fall very gracefully down the skirt. I think the lighter colours are balanced perfectly to avoid looking too sombre.
    The only issue is that it might be hard to wear with some hair colors and complexions. I think it might look a bit too monochromatic on me, and it might wash out a paler complexion. My aunt, however (red hair), would look stunning in it.
    9/10

  16. It’s beautiful! Are the designs printed or embroidered? I have a special place for the open skirts with the petticoats showing through though, so 8/10.

  17. Merrie Hightower says

    The fabric is beautiful as is the dress. I agree that the right stomacher would make it amazing. I will assume it was so decorative that it was used again with another beautiful dress. 10

  18. Claire Irvine says

    I adore this dress, and have done ever since I saw it for the first time. I especially like the pattern matching down the centre back pleat.
    10/10

  19. History Rose says

    Lovely colours! So beautiful, wish this brocade was still around.10\10

  20. Christina Kinsey says

    Love it full stop. The fabric is gorgeous, the skirt doesn’t stick out the way later decades fashions do
    A sold 10

  21. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I absolutely LOVE the teaser photos you have been using for Rate the Dress. On my monitor I usually see just part of the picture, so it’s a wonderful guessing game for me.

  22. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    My irreverent brain thought “Oh, a Pumpkin Spice dress”

    The colors are lovely, nice balance of tones with the cream and chocolate and orange.

    The tailoring and use of balanced design motifs is perfection.
    I would definitely wear this! Accessories: orange stockings clocked with cream and chocolate kid leather shoes. A glazed chocolate straw hat with floofy cream and orange feathers, creamy silk fichu, cream gloves with orange embroidery.

    10

  23. Nannynorfolk says

    Lovely fabric and so well made and my favourite colours just right for the beginning of autumn here.
    10

  24. Olivia Sanders says

    A lot of people like this dress, it seems. And yet. I’ve got to say that it’s disagreeable to my eyes. The pattern looks like a couch my grandmother used to have, which while not bad, I never liked that couch. The whole thing seems over done and, well, baroque, which is not at all my favorite era of art or dress. I won’t post a rating so as to not bring down the nearly-perfect score, but I definitely don’t like it.

  25. One of my all-time favorite gowns. I’m obsessed with 1690-1730s bizarre silk as it’s possibly one of the rarest of all textiles to locate these days, but I finally found enough to possibly do a gown like this and it makes my heart go pitter-pat to see those gooorgeous back pleats. This gown, to me, is a mastery of tailoring. Everything is so symmetrically placed, right down to the pattern on the back of the sleeves.

    10/10

  26. Perfection. The fabric is exquisite, even in colours I’m not drawn to, and the precision of the cutting and tailoring make it a show stopper for me.

    10/10

  27. I love it! The styling is feminine, and while the fabric is a bit ‘busy’, it still works beautifully. I would definitely wear that! I love the fact that there was much care taken to match the pattern in the fabric, and the entire ensemble is just GORGEOUS!

    I would rate the dress a 9.0.

  28. If the colors were anything but all those browns it would be a 10 for me. I love the design and pattern of the fabric, but those browns, they make me think of 70s home dec fabric, and not in a good way.
    The design is gourgeous, and I super love it.

    For the fabric: 4/10
    For the design: 10/10

    Total rating: 7

  29. Elizabeth says

    I have a soft spot for transitional styles, and I think that this is a lovely gown. Plus, I like a well designed brown fabric. Would wear any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
    10/10

  30. dropping stitches says

    I like the fabric here. I might not have chosen it myself, but all sewn up, it gives off a gold and bronze glow. The details are evenly placed – sleeves mirror each other, the back features a particular floral design. The shape is gorgeous. It’s in such beautiful condition. Can I borrow it for a fall day?

    9/10

  31. S. A. Cox says

    I’m SUCH a sucker for a brown dress. I think this would be lovely, and, in the right context, would make the wearer look elegant without drawing undue attention. I reserve a full 10 for a showstopper, but this would be in my “I wonder if I could get get away with wearing it to work every week…” part of my wardrobe, if my work wardrobe could have garments like this. (I work in a middle school, so, no, this wouldn’t work at all in real life except maybe on one of the dress-up days.) (But man, it makes me want to make something inspired by it.)

    9.5

  32. Susan Pestell says

    10, Glorious fabric beautifully made up into a stunning dress!

  33. This fabric reminds me of the curtains my grandparents had and which I could look at for hours when I was sleeping over. Nevertheless, the colour combination is not at all my taste (too 1970’s).
    The tailoring is exquisite, though.

    with proper styling, 7/10

  34. Sam B says

    Love the line of this gown! I couldn’t personally wear this “autumn” fabric, but the colors would have looked great on my mom, so I won’t take any points off for that. It is a touch busy, with the stark contrasts and little background showing, tho, and I could wish the MET had offered one high-res shot of the full front. The 3/4 view almost looks as tho’ the front has open skirts that were slip-stitched together; that and the narrow, longer sleeves make this dress feel more 1770’s than 20’s to me, although the fabric could well be from the 20’s ( the V&A Museum has several gowns listed as 20’s or 30’s weaving but mid- to late- century sewing…interesting to think of women back then getting hold of older fabrics and saying, “hey, this fabric is so retro, it’s cool again!” in whatever parlance they would have used). The 70’s and 80’s also saw a drop in trimmings, so who knows?
    Anyhoo, I give it 9/10, on account of the fabric being just a bit too busy for my tastes.

  35. Connie Bosch says

    The amount of time and effort that went into making that dress is unfathomable. The fabric is beautiful, the colors earthy. I give it 10/10.

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