Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Purple personalities

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

Update: Voting closed

After our discussions about makers & wearers with the last few dresses, I thought it might be interesting to see a dress where we know the wearer, and the designer, as well as a great deal about the actual makers of the dress.

Last Week: an 1880s velvet and satin frock

The brown velvet and satin dress was a smash hit, with a well-deserved round of applause for the maker. It lost a point here and there because of the bustle or the colour (and a couple of points for something that I think was a misunderstanding in construction 🙁 ), but overall you deemed it practically perfect in every way.

The Total: 9.7 out of 10

Fully three-quarters of the ratings for last week’s dress were perfect 10s!

This week: a 1912 evening dress by Lucile

I thought we needed a pop of colour after a few weeks of predominantly dark or white dresses, and this Lucile gown fit the bill perfectly, while also being a great example of a gown where the designer, makers, and wearers are all (more or less) known.

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net,
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

This very purple evening dress was designed by Lucile (Lady Duff-Gordon) for socialite Heather Firbank. Firbank was the daughter of a wealthy politician. She was in her early 20s when she commissioned this dress, and like much of her wardrobe it comes in a shade of purple to complement her name.

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net,
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

Firbank must have been a confident young woman: in addition to her distinct dress sense, she chose never to marry, at a time when that was an extremely unconventional choice for a woman.

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

Firbank commissioned her dress from an equally confident and distinctive woman. Lucile started making dresses when she needed to support herself and her daughter after divorcing her drunken, philandering first husband. Although she wasn’t a self made woman in the true sense (she came from the upper classes and had family support as she started out), she always approached Lucile Inc as a business which was intended to make money, rather than as a hobby.

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

As part of her businesslike approach to fashion, once Lucile got popular she didn’t design all her frocks: merely signed off on designs by assistants and sketch artists that fit her aesthetic. It’s possible this dress was one of those designs: a creation by an artist, perhaps with input from the client, that was merely looked over by the couturier at the end. Or perhaps it was entirely by Lucile!

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

The business and making end of Lucile’s couture house is well documented, so we have a good idea of the craftspeople behind the dresses. For a number of them, particularly the fitters and sketch artists, working for a house like Lucile was a launchpad to their own atelier. Even for the lowest thread sweeper, a position at a couture house was enviable: eminently respectable, well paid by the standards of the time, and one of the few places a woman could build a career.

Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 - 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net, ©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960
Evening dress, London, 1912, Lucile (1863 – 1935), Silk, embroidered & appliqued metal thread, glass beads, sequins (gelatin?), metal hooks & eyes, silk net
©Victoria & Albert Museum T.35-1960

Economic and social history aside, what do you think of the aesthetics of this dress?

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.

53 Comments

  1. PatW says

    I’m not really a fan of Lucille’s work, but this dress is brilliant. All the shades of purple and violet, the touches of beaded trim, the cut, I love it. 10/10

    • Pam says

      I really like that the dress is of simple design, but carries understated elegance.
      I can imagine a tall slim lady coming into room and all eyes drawn to her. The candlelight mixing w/variations of color playing
      Off of each other along with the ease
      Of movement of both dress & lovely lady.
      9+

  2. Kathy Hanyok says

    This is a pretty thing! I like the shots of blue that keep it from being too too sweet. It has touches of the exotic in the beading and the almost macrame of the belt tassel, but no element is over the top. It is dress, not costume, and I love it. Totally wearable. 9/10

  3. Trish says

    I love this, both the color and design. I would love to wear it. Thanks for including this one 10/10

  4. Vicki Jane says

    Really lovely. My favorite period of women’s clothing. I actually love the purple and blue together. And I did a quick study of the designer. So very interesting. I had heard of her but I didnt know she was a Titanic survivor which just goes to prove that often the story behind the clothing is even more interesting than the garment itself.

    9/10

  5. Juliet Braidwood says

    I really like it! I really like 1910s dresses, especially the more elegant feeling ones that don’t carry too much of the fussy bodice over from the 1900s. The two shades of purple work really nicely in the skirt, with the blue at the waist and the hem, and the sequins make it sparkly without being too much. I really want to make a 1910s dress one day – maybe I could try replicating this one…

    10/10

  6. Diana Pedersen says

    This is lovely, I would wear this. 9.5/10

  7. Mardi Wetterau says

    I love purple, and I love this style. I would wear something like this, with just the upper tier of skirt, in real life / mundanely, not sure what phrase is applicable here. (Around Muggles?)
    10/10

  8. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    I actually have a personal connection with this dress. While I was working at the V&A I noticed that this dress, which is unlabelled, had a handwritten tag with Heather’s name on it, and I actually made the connection between that tag and other garments with Lucile labels – therefore identifying the dress as a Lucile. This was later confirmed by Randy Bigham and linked to design sketches etc. So basically, I’m the person who first said “hey, I think this is a Lucile.”

    I think it’s a lovely dress too, and I would give it 10/10 because I like that it is quite restrained and bold with the right balance between the colours and the accents. Sometimes Lucile can be a bit too elaborate for my liking, but I love this dress.

  9. kathy in KY says

    As a lover of purple, I want to love this dress but can’t quite get there. I love the silhouette and the collar/bosom area is so well cut. But the blue seems to be the wrong color (maybe if it went a bit more toward the purple side of blue instead of clear blue?).

    The two elaborate trims seem to clash with one another — the blue/lavender detailing on the blue sash, and the purple-to-red-violet beading on the cuffs and band above the bosom. I wish the two trims shared more of their character as well as their color palette. (The beaded band seems so much more sophisticated than the military cord-and-tassels.) And the two bands at the bottom of the tunic and skirt seem to be sewed on a bit too tight — they seem to constrain the drape of the beautiful floaty silk.

    Maybe I’m just feeling coronavirus crabby, but I can’t get this one above an 8.

    • Susan says

      I pretty much have to agree with Kathy in KY. There is something “costumey” about it. Even though it is a pretty color & very well made, it’s harsh & stiff looking. I even understand that the blue is supposed to be a contrast, from keeping it all too monochromatic, & that there a little “callbacks” in the satin trim around the neck & cuffs, it still seems to pull the eye too much. That said, I’d totally wear it anyway.

      8/10

  10. Lynne says

    The dress is beautiful. All that lovely trim, and that sash! Takes a simple dress to another level. Very sleek and wearable.

    I am not, however, keen on purple. Works in the garden, but I would rather not wear it. And I would not have put that thin blue bit around the bottom of the hem. No point in dragging the eye down there (spoils the flow) when there is so much excitement going on round the top.

    9 out of 10.

  11. Marjo Wheat says

    I think it is completely lovely! The varying shades of purple with the blue is totally eye-catching and I love the Egyptian-style sash. It adds just the right touch of the exotic without overdoing it.
    10/10

  12. Claire Payne says

    I like how the paler shade balances out the deep purple, I like the neckline detail but I am not keen on the decorative ribbon hanging down at the side. I do like Lucille so it is lovely to see one of her dresses. I would wear this if the occasion a rose.

    9 out of 10 from me thank you!

  13. Elaine says

    I love the colors, the embroidery and the simple but elegant lines. Like Kathy in KY, I thought the band at the hem seems too tight. Even if it didn’t seem to be pulling a bit, I’m not sure I like that bit of blue there. 9/10.

  14. Vivien Dwyer says

    Love the dress. Don’t like the ribbon around the bottom. 9/10

  15. Cirina says

    This one is splendid.
    I adore the colors.

    10/10

    (I might be the “misunderstanding in construction” person. Construction or not, I didn’t like the look of the part and I didn’t explain it well. English is not my first language.)

  16. Susan says

    10/10, for a really lovely dress. I would have worn it in my 20’s

  17. Kerry says

    It’s a 10 for me. I love that from far away it looks simple because of the coordinating colors and silhouettes, but as you look closer you can see all the detail in the textures, the beading, and fabulous tassels.

  18. Agate says

    10/10 for everything. Also thank you for purple this week, Christchurch lost a good friend who loved this colour and would have had to copy this dress.

  19. Truly an aggregation of loveliness. The details are lovely by themselves, but they are well combined.
    10 of 10

  20. Pal K says

    I want this dress
    I covet this dress

    There are so many wonderful things about this dress so I will point out one subtle thing
    Looking closely, you can see the bias grainline of the bodice which would create a lovely fit

    10/10

  21. I think it is absolutely gorgeous it is in my favourite colour the design is timeless. I would love to see this in person.

    10/10

  22. Laurie Taylor says

    I love this so much, I’m already thinking about a pattern and where to find appropriate silks. 10/10

    Hi Leimomi!

  23. I mostly like it, but I wish the overlay was a bit shorter or a lot longer, because at the length it is it seems rather awkward and unbalanced. Though perhaps it’s displayed on a mannequin that’s too tall? I don’t know, the skirt length just looks a bit weird.
    I quite like the purple, and the tassels are AMAZING!

    8/10

  24. nofixedstars says

    SQUEEEEEEEEE!

    a dress from my very favourite period, in a gorgeous shade, with perfection of everything about it…

    i love the colour. i love the colour combinations. i love the shape. i love the trims. i would wear this any time if it were in my wardrobe. SO beautiful. i have the correct undergarments to wear this. it should be mine… i’m already mentally matching jewellery and shoes and florals to it…

    a resounding 10/10 from me.

  25. Toxicpotato says

    Perfect. The colours, silhouette and materials are eminently desirable and wearing it to a 21st C social event would be a dream. 10/10

  26. Emma Louise says

    I really like this, it’s soft and simple. I am particularly fond of the blue tassels, they look like they have a nice weight to them. I was hesitant about the colour at first, but then I realised that it was only because purple doesn’t suit me, not because this is actually a bad choice of colours.
    9/10

  27. Casey says

    I prefer the more faded shade of purple but love the belt and the beading and the story behind it.

    9/10

  28. wendy says

    after all the flounces and poufs of recent dresses, i’m glad to see the simple lines of this dress.

    10/10

  29. elOmbu says

    FABULOUS!! I would put money down that the top has faded from its original color and used to match the skirt. You can see a darker ring below the sash and on the bodice cross piece, and the blue would have liked more of a piece. This gets my first ever
    10

  30. Robin says

    A beautiful and balanced representation of the fashion of the time. Yet also very personal, obviously made for a specific person.

    10 of 10

  31. I fell in love with this dress the minute I saw it. I am definitely using it as inspiration for a 1912 evening gown, both for the style and color because purple is my favorite too!! 10 / 10

  32. I love the color scheme and the general design of the dress. What I don’t like is the large beaded ridge at the center of the bodice and the heavy cords and tassel heads on the sash. If it were not for those elements, I’d go with a 10. As it is, however….

    8.5 out of 10.

  33. Claire Irvine says

    This is one of my favourite 1910’s dresses. I love the geometric design of the tassels, the colour, the bodice, everything.

    10/10

  34. Heather M says

    I love this. Its absolutely fantastic. 10. Many 10s.

  35. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    It’s purple perfection …
    The simple form, unadorned skirt and bodice with that intricate glittering trim and sash. I want it!

    10

  36. Lucy says

    What a wonderful colour scheme! I’d wear it today.
    10/10

  37. Gorgeous! I love the purple and blue mix. The embellishments! I want to wear this dress 🙂
    10

  38. GLee says

    Lovely combination of colors and what intricate bead work.

    9/10

  39. Katheryn Gallant says

    A wonderful 1910s dress in my favorite color range. I like many of Lucile’s designs, but this is probably the one I most adore. Alas, the fashions of 1910-1914 would not flatter my figure, even with the correct undergarments. (If Lucile had designed and made the dress in 1915-1917, with the fuller skirt revealing the ankles, I think it would have looked good on me.)
    9.5 for the right person (I hope Heather Firbank loved this dress very much)
    8 for me

  40. Katheryn Gallant says

    Sorry that I did more than one rating, so please ignore the “8 for me”. Stupid of me not to read the directions first 🙁

  41. Ahna says

    6
    The whole is less than the sum of the parts. The gauzy silk and vivid blue satin are gorgeous. But the overall dress is just so much ho-hum, a waste of the materials. Surely something more sublime than ruler lines could have been executed. Layers with asymmetry, some flourish, anything!

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