Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1920s embroidered chintz

This week’s Rate the Dress moves away from the fitted bodices with fabric poofs of the last two, to a sleek silhouette, with visual interest provided by embroidery.

It’s an interesting garment from both a design perspective, and as a historical artefact.  I hope you enjoy discussing it!

Last week:  a 1780s gown in buttercup yellow

Reactions to last week’s yellow Italian gown were a distinct improvement on the week before.  It was described as “delightful and “a  lovely summery garment”.  A few people didn’t like it though, either for the colour, or too much poof.    And almost everyone felt that the ruffle placements on the petticoat was rather odd.

The Total: 8.1 out of 10

Good, but not brilliant.

This week: a 1920s dress with pink peonies.

This 1920s dress was worn by Australian socialite Molly Fink, whose 1915 marriage to Martanda Bhairava Tondaiman, the Raja of  Pudukkottai, caused social scandal and political censure.

The marriage challenged the British Government’s attempts to keep Indian and European colonists in India socially separate.  They refused to recongise the marriage and acknowledge Molly as Rani.  The Tondmain’s settled in Australia, and then France, and the Raja was eventually forced to renounce his position in favour of his brother.

This dress dates from the Tondmain’s time in France.  Despite being essentially forced into exile by the British government, they remained friends with a wide circle of British nobility, artists, and literary figures.  They were received by George V and Queen Mary, and socialised with siblings Cecil and Nancy Beaton as well as Elsa Maxwell and William Locke.

Molly was noted for her elegant dress, and this frock, by eminent French couturier’s Callot Soeurs, reflects her interest in fashion.

Evening dress, Callot Soeurs, ca 1925, silk satin with metal embroidery, Worn by Molly Tondaiman, the Rani of Pudukkottai, Fashion Museum Bath

Evening dress, Callot Soeurs, ca 1925, silk satin with metal embroidery, Worn by Molly Tondaiman, the Rani of Pudukkottai, Fashion Museum Bath

The dress is one of a series of frocks featuring embroidery and beading based on Chinese export garments that Callot Soeurs did in the mid-1920s.

Evening dress, Callot Soeurs, ca 1925, silk satin with metal embroidery, Worn by Molly Tondaiman, the Rani of Pudukkottai, Fashion Museum Bath

Evening dress, Callot Soeurs, ca 1925, silk satin with metal embroidery, Worn by Molly Tondaiman, the Rani of Pudukkottai, Fashion Museum Bath

While Callot Soeurs probably did not intend it, and Molly herself may not have made the link, the dress also references Indian design.  The trade in fabrics from China through India from the 16th century onward influence motifs in Indian palampore.  Motifs from  Chinese painted silks were incorporated into Indian chintzes, and both made their way to Europe Note the stylised rocky ground with lush flowers springing from it in both Molly’s dress and this 16th century palampore and the one linked above.

What do you think?  A worthy dress for a noted fashionista, with a small but subtle not to the country she was forever linked with, but could never call home?

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.


  1. Pal K says

    I am predisposed to love anything 20s and anything Callot Soeurs
    I love the green color blocking and how the green leaves and pink stylized flowers pull it together
    My only issue is the random carnation on either shoulder seems disconnected with the whole


    • Theresa Diaz says

      Me too! The Callot sisters are my favorite designers of that era. There are other dresses that I love more, but this is lovely. I like how the embroidery goes across the seam where the two fabrics join.


  2. Buttercup says

    It’s gorgeous. I love everything about this dress and I’d wear it today. 10/10

  3. Marjo Wheat says

    I love this era and this dress is amazing! The embroidery so cleverly brings top and bottom together and I love the little cape. 10/10.

  4. Penny says

    I love it. The embroidery is stunning. I love the long drapey sleeve/wings too. You can really imagine her swanning around a Paris salon with a coupe of champagne. Very fashion forward, while being effortlessly elegant. 10/10.

  5. Christina Kinsey says

    Not my era, but a beautiful dress. The line of the skirt and sleeves and the embroidery gives real interest to the plain style of the time. The embroidery is gorgeous, my only quibble is that I would like to have seen a less stark contrast between bodice and skirt . Either carrying up the embroidery a bit further or a sash , maybe?
    I give it a 9

  6. Anaterka says

    Not a big fan of a twenties silhouette, but the fabric is absolutely gorgeous 9/10

  7. nofixedstars says

    the 20s fashions are very hit-or-miss for me, and this is one of the hits. i think it’s a beautiful dress, and the story of its owner is romantic value added, too.

    i should very much like to see the dress being worn, so i could see the sleeves extended and moving. i feel it would show much better on a person, or at least a model-style display stand with articulated arms.

    rating: 8/10

  8. My first reaction was, “I crave this dress!” The embroidery is amazing, and make a wonderful balance with the simplicity of the lines.
    My only quibble is that I would prefer the bodice to be either the same dark green or just a few shades lighter.

    9.5 of 10

  9. I have mixed feelings about this dress. The embroidery is beautiful, as is the fabric itself. But the really long draping sleeves look odd to me, and I dislike the boatneck neckline and the greenish-yellow color of the bodice. More a curiosity than a masterpiece, or a beautiful dress.

    7 out of 10, again.

  10. Absolutely stunning! I love 1920’s beaded and embroidered gowns. I wouldn’t personally wear that yellowish shade of green, but that doesn’t affect my rating at all!

  11. Izzy says

    I loooooove this dress! I love the colors, the embroidery, and the sleeves. And the neckline. The abrupt line where the color changes in the middle of the embroidery is a little weird to me. But I can forgive that.

  12. Elizabeth says

    This isn’t a favorite era of mine so I’m struggling to look at it objectively. The greens and embroidery are lovely, but the proportions feel clunky. The embroidery and color blocking divide the dress right in half, and I’d rather see thirds or … something else? I’d also like to see this from the back and on a body to get a better sense of the sleeves/cape, but I’m intrigued by that part of it. It looks like the fabric would flow when the wearer walked.


  13. Emma says

    I like this one a lot. I’d love to see a photo or painting of it worn, I think it would have been stunning.


  14. Crumpled Rag says

    I’m not a great fan of the silhouette, but I love the green and the embroidery, I just don’t like the 2-part yellow and green, it’s too much of a contrast for my taste. If it had perhaps been a pale green section in the front, it might be better.

  15. Kathy Hanyok says

    The dress is lovely but I am even more interested in the history. Thank you for sharing the back story.
    I do love the Twenties, although it doesn’t love me. Green is my favorite and the embroidery is delicious!

  16. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I would really like to see the back of this. Is it sleeveless with a cape?

    A bit clunky and chunky for the sisters – the color blocking doesn’t enhance the design.


  17. India says

    I’m not sure about this one; it’s a fashion period I normally love and there are individual elements of the dress I really like and admire (the colour, the embroidery, the silhouette, etc.) but somehow, for me, it’s one of those cases where the whole is so much less than the sum of its parts.
    A shaky 6

  18. Emma Louise says

    Thanks for the bit of history about Molly Fink, it was really interesting.
    I like how the dress looks both relaxed and decadent, and I think it would move nicely when worn. Although there is nothing really wrong with it I’m still not in love with it.

  19. Katie says

    I want to put this on and waft around feeling fabulous. Totally not what I would consider my style but for this I would make an exception 10/10

  20. Stephanie says

    I really like this dress even though I am practically allergic to chartreuse. I love the flowers and how they cross between the darker skirt and lighter bodice. I love the cape. I love dresses that leave my shoulders bare, but am usually chilly and this cape is both elegant and would stop the draughts. And it looks like it would swish and flutter wonderfully. 8.5/10

  21. Marie Curious says

    I love everything about this, and I second everyone who really wishes they could see it in motion, or at least on a mannequin with arms. 10/10

  22. AnnaKareninaHerself says

    This dress has a beautiful quality but it screams for very long, extravagant, jazz-age necklaces. It almost seems to me, like it was designed with this in mind, since the blank part at the front of the bodice is so spacious. So there is some unused potential in this. Without anything I just feel like it’s missing something 7/10

  23. Charlotte says

    Wow wow wow all day long it’s divine, a very easy


  24. Cirina says

    I just cant get behind the colourblocking. Not the idea, but the execution. As a piece of art ok, but as a dress, it strikes me as unflattering.


  25. Julia says

    I would love to see this dress on a live model. Walking around, talking dancing, It’s hard for me to picture as an actual garment and not just art on a mannequin.

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