It’s interesting how much certain silhouettes and colour schemes evoke certain associations. Last week’s dress was one a style that always makes me think of Winterhalter paintings, and also the antebellum South. Many of you had the same reaction. The latter association always makes looking at this style of dress fraught: we can’t help but be reminded of the amount of human suffering that supported a lifestyle that allowed such garments.
For me as a fashion historian it’s important to remember that, while it’s not always as obvious, almost all extravagant fashions (including those today) are built on exploitation. Most of the garments I’ve featured in Rate the Dress depended on seamstresses, and the occasional tailor, working long hours for poor or no pay. Behind every couturier who became rich and famous there were an army of ‘little hands’, making at best a decent wage that provided a modest living, but certainly not one that could afford the garments they laboured over.
Rate the Dress is a chance to imagine a dress when worn, but also to acknowledge and honour the people who made these garments, the often unknown artists who we can’t compensate, but whose skill we can admire.
Last Fortnight: 1860s white with blue
It was a childhood dream dress, albeit one with problematic associations. You thought it the perfect frock for the extremely youthful – although Winterhalter’s portraits show women well into their 30s in similar dresses in the 1850s and 60s!
The Total: 8.3 out of 10
Technically the rating should be a bit higher, as many of you knocked of points for the Extremely Enormous Butt Bow as shown on the museum website – which I’m not entirely convinced is original, and this didn’t include any photographs of!
This week: an 1880s velvet and satin frock
As a balance to last weeks very young, very summery, dress, here’s a rich, dark, winter-y dress that, if not explicitly for an older woman, is much more mature in its cut and colours. It’s also an excellent example of a dress for honouring the maker. While the designers and seamstresses are unknown, and while the overall effect may not be to your taste, it’s hard to refute the skill that went in to the making of the dress. The draping of the overskirt in particular is masterful.
The museum describes this as a ‘carriage dress’, which, in the 1880s, was an elegant dress worn for visiting (they were more commonly known as ‘visiting dresses’) that was too lavish in materials or cut for street wear, and thus was only worn if one was conducting one’s visits in a carriage, instead of walking.
One can certainly imagine a society woman descending from a carriage and proceeding into a reception room in this dress, its overall sense of impracticality declaring her wealth and status. How did her life compare to the women who made her dress, and who dressed her in it?
This dress actually has a rather restrained train for a carriage dress. It’s possible it’s been shortened. There’s certainly nothing restrained about the materials used, from the elaborate metal, bead and braid embellishment on the bodice, to the lush satin of the bustled overskirt, to the velvet main gown.
What do you think?
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.