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!
Case in point: this mid 1720s gown made up in a striking bizarre silk.
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.
Unlike later ‘Anglaise, which have open skirts that reveal an (often matching) petticoat, this early example still has a closed skirt.
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.
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.
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.
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!)