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Image showing the front view of the bodice of an 1890s reception gown with sheer white sleeves gathered into 7 rows of puffs, a lace jabot, wine red satin bodice, and heavily beaded darkest red velvet skirt, collar and sleeves

Rate the Dress: 1890s jet, velvet, lace and historicism

This week’s 1890s Rate the Dress is inspired by last weeks, in that it feels like it was made for someone with very much the same taste – albeit at a different time in their life.

It’s extravagant, and over-the-top, and oh-so-Victorian (by which I mean it’s channelling at least four other timeperiods and using five different kinds of trim or fabric manipulation).  Will you like it?

Last week: a tiered and feathered New Zealand wedding dress from 1920

I’m not surprised that last week’s dress was a bit of a marmite option (and since it’s NZ, it definitely has to be marmite, not vegemite!).  I actually thought that less people would like it than did.  So I’m quite tickled that so many people were taken with its wacky, quirky, charm, and willingness to try all the things on one dress!

I definitely anticipated the two things that were least popular: the appliquéd flowers tucked under the sheer over-layer, and the ostrich feathers.  Marmite indeed!

The Total: 8.0 out of 10

Neat and tidy, if not overwhelmingly popular.

This week: a historically inspired 1890s reception gown

I feel like this week’s dress is the gown that last week’s bride’s 60-something great-grandmother might have worn in 1890 if she had the exact same dress taste as her future great-grandaughter.  Will her taste inspire a better rating?

Like last week’s dress this reception gown has a distinctly whimsical air.  It both enthusiastically embraces the latest fashion trends, and pushes the boundaries of the current modé.

This reception gown is also not afraid of grand gestures, or embellishment.  Note the detachable collar, lavishly beaded with jet.  The standing medici collar with dagged edges.  The sheer silk mameluke sleeves, with their six rows of puffs caught by velvet banding.  The lace cuffs.  The velvet oversleeves.

Dress, 1890, American, silk and linen, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009 Gift of Mrs. Roland A. Goodman 1964 2009.300.874a-b

Dress, 1890, American, silk and linen, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009 Gift of Mrs. Roland A. Goodman 1964 2009.300.874a-b

It borrows lavishly from different historical periods.  The standing Medici collar is early 17th century.  The falling jabot from the end of that century, or the early 18th century.  The sleeves are 15th century seen through the eyes of the 1820s, and reinterpreted for the 1890s.  The large under-collar hints at 1780s redingotes.

It’s a smorgasbord of costume history, mashed together and re-assembled in high late-Victorian taste.

The only element that shows restraint is the colour scheme: wine red satin for the bodice, paired with velvet of such dark red it almost reads as black.  Ivory lace and sleeves and jet beading provide matte light and shiny dark counterpoints.

What do you think of this 1890s dress?  Sure, it’s over the top – but that’s very of its era.  Would it be a fabulous and memorable outfit for a woman who wanted to make an impact?  Or noted for all the wrong reasons?

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.

Ettie Rout: War Hero, Journalist, Health Campaigner, and the “wickedest woman in Britain”

The Ettie Petticoat didn’t get its name just because it makes for a cute hashtag (#ettiepettie), (although that did help!).  It’s named for Ettie Rout: war hero, journalist and author, health campaigner, and the “wickedest woman in Britain”.  She’s a fascinating figure whose modern legacy is as complicated as society’s reception of her was in her own time.

The front page of the Scroop Patterns Ettie Petticoat

Ettie Rout was born in Tasmania in 1877.  Her family moved to New Zealand in 1884, when she was almost 8.  Her father worked as a plumber, and the family struggled financially.

Rout excelled at school, and later in shorthand and typing classes.  In 1902 these skills landed her a position as a shorthand writer for the New Zealand Supreme Court (now the High Court).  Here she was exposed to court cases covering a whole range of social issues: an unusual experience for an educated young woman at the dawn of the Edwardian era.  In 1904 she became a journalist.  She used her court experience to cover stories that went far beyond the fashion column and household tips articles that most women journalists were confined to.

Rout came of age at an amazing time.  She was 16 when New Zealand women gained the vote.  A variety of campaigns for social reform were linked the suffrage movement: worker’s rights, rational dress, temperance and prohibition, even health issues like diet and exercise.

The cycling costume & dress reform

Rout embraced many of these.  She was an active socialist.  She used her journalism skills to found and edit a newspaper for the New Zealand Shearers’ Union.  She took up cycling and ‘physical culture’.  She wrote impassioned letters about women’s rights to earn equal wages to men.  She stopped wearing corsets (maybe – there’s contradictory evidence), and even wore trousers when she could get away with it.  At some point she became a vegetarian.  She became friends with the radical intellectuals of New Zealand, and was exposed to the newest in political, feminist, and sexual-health theories.

The Press, 13 June 1904

The Press, 13 June 1904

Not all of Rout’s convictions were so counter-culture for her time, or so acceptable in ours.  She became a firm believer in eugenics: a doctrine that was wildly popular in the early 20th century (embraced by everyone from New Zealand’s Sir Truby King to Winston Churchill, to Theodore Roosevelt, to Henry Fairfield Osborn, the president of the American Museum of Natural History for a quarter of a century), but which is now, thankfully, well out of favour.

Also typical of her time, Rout also saw herself as a patriotic member of the British Empire.  When WWI started she wanted to contribute to the war effort.  To this end, Rout organised volunteer nurses to help out in the service camps in New Zealand, and later to go overseas.

Members of the VNS were between the ages of 30 & 50.  The uniform of the Volunteer Nursing Sisterhood was:

“a blue print dress, blue lustre cloak, white panama hats, with white aprons and “Sister Dora” caps for indoor wear.”

You can see Ettie Rout and some VNS members here.

In 1916 Rout went to Egypt to serve with the VNS herself.

The Sun (Christchurch), January 3rd, 1916

Ettie Rout’s Departure, The Sun (Christchurch), January 3rd, 1916

She quickly realised that there was one major gap in the soldier’s medical and social care that could not be addressed by serving tea at the YMCA and changing sheets at the hospitals.  The overseas forces were rife with venereal disease.

If the Olympics have taught us anything it’s that if you put a lot of fit young people in one place, you’re going to need a lot of condoms.  New Zealand and Australia has sent thousands of young men into a situation where they were free of their normal social constraints and the expectations of their community.  They were alternately extremely bored and extremely terrified.  They wanted something to do, realised they could die at any minute, and were in a country where they had significantly more money than the average women.  They also, by and large, had very little sex education.  VDs were the result.

Rout realised what scientific research has since backed up time and time again: education and prophylactics are much more effective at preventing STDs and unwanted pregnancy than moral strictures and draconian laws.

Rout began campaigning the New Zealand Medical Corp to issue prophylactic kits, and inspec brothels so they could recommend ‘hygenic’ ones.

When the NZMC ignored her, she took matters into her own hands.  She assembled her own kit, set up a social club near the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital outside of London, and began selling the kit at the club.  She continued to campaign for the kits to be official military issue, writing letters to New Zealand newspapers about the need for them.  One of these letters so incensed the the Women’s Christian Temperance Union so much that they officially condemned Rout’s suggestion

Grey River Argus, 20 March 1918, WCTU object to Ettie Rout's suggestion that NZ troops should be supplied with prophylactic kits

Grey River Argus, 20 March 1918

Despite opposition in New Zealand, the letter had the desired effect.  In 1917 the NZMC adopted Rout’s exact kit and made it compulsory issue for any solider going on leave.  Not only did Rout get no credit or recognition, but the New Zealand government was so anxious to avoid any suggestion that their armed forces might be slack in moral fibre and self control that they forbid New Zealand papers from publishing Rout’s name, with a £100 fine for infractions.

Although the kits helped, Rout still felt that it was necessary to direct soldiers to clean brothels.  So, just as she had with the kits, she decided she’d have to do it herself.  She moved to Paris and began meeting trains of NZ soldiers, welcoming each soldier with a kiss on the cheek – and the business card of a safe brothel!

Rout continued her work until the end of the war, and then ran a Red Cross outpost as the war wound down.  The NZ Returned Servicemen’s Association sent her a post-war tribute of £100 (how apropos!), but there was no official recognition of her service from New Zealand.  Her own country may have snubbed her, but the French government awarded her the Médaille de la Reconnaissance française for her work inspecting brothels.

After the war Rout returned to writing, this time as an author.  She published an exercise manual, a vegetarian cookbook, a wildly inaccurate book on Maori culture which was really just an excuse for her to promote eugenics (she claimed that Maori practiced eugenics by killing weak babies (did I mention wildly inaccurate?) – which was why they had been strong and healthy – not that eugenics should be practiced against them), and, most famously, 1923’s Safe Marriage: A Return to Sanity.

The latter was a best-seller in Britain and Australia, but banned in New Zealand.  Its frank discussion on reproduction and sexual health so infuriated the Anglican church that one Bishop called her “the wickedest woman in Britain.”

Safe Marriage is an interesting read as an illustration of the information on reproduction and prophylactics that was available in the ‘teens and 20s.  It also demonstrates towards sexual responsibility, and sexual health, prevalent even among the most liberal elements of society.  Or perhaps Ettie adapted the book to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience? (although church and medical responses suggest not).

Ettie Rout was married (to Mr Hornibrook, for those of you with extremely juvenile senses of humour) by this time, but the marriage didn’t last.  She returned to New Zealand briefly in 1935-6, and then travelled on to Rarotonga, where she died of an overdose (probably intentionally).

Obituaries of Rout in New Zealand delicately skirted her work, referring to her as ‘humanitarian’ or as a campaigner for ‘welfare methods’

Poverty Bay Herald, 23 September 1936, Mrs. F. A. Hornibrook (Miss Ettie Rout), in Paris, where she conducted a hostel for colonial troops during the Great War, as well as inaugurating a campaign for welfare methods for the troops. Inset, Mrs. Hornibrook. who died at Rarotonga last Thursday.

IN PARIS IN THE WAR YEARS.—Mrs. F. A. Hornibrook (Miss Ettie Rout), in Paris, where she conducted a hostel for colonial troops during the Great War, as well as inaugurating a campaign for welfare methods for the troops. Inset, Mrs. Hornibrook. who died at Rarotonga last Thursday.

It wasn’t until 1939 that any New Zealand newspaper actually addressed her work:

The Press, 6 December 1939, Letter to the Editor about Ettie Rout

The Press, 6 December 1939, Letter to the Editor about Ettie Rout

Even then, the focused remained entirely on the men Ettie Rout helped.  I’m also interested in all the woman that she helped, directly, and indirectly.  How many thousands of women were not infected with VD’s spread by soldiers during and after the war because of her work?

Aesthetically, the Ettie Petticoat isn’t a clear match to its namesake.  Rout preferred extremely practical ‘mannish’ dress, and a ruffly petticoat that is not.  Instead, I was thinking of all those women who did wear ruffly petticoats, and were helped, whether they knew it or not, by Ettie.  The link is also metaphorical: a petticoat pattern named for a woman who attempted to force her country to acknowledge and care for what went on under society’s skirts.

Wedding dress, Drapery Supply Association, 1920, Dunedin, Silk with feather and metallic thread trims and metal fastenings, PC003279, Gift of Mrs Tui Preston, 1984

Rate the Dress: Sheer Tiers in 1920

I’m having computer issue, which are a most inconvenient thing to happen during a strict lockdown (first world problems,  I know!).  So I’m stuck doing a lot of work from a very old, slow laptop…but that comes with a perk.  I’m finding a forgotten cache of Rate the Dress possibilities.  Such fun!  My one problem is making sure I don’t pick one that I’ve already run before.

I’m pretty sure this tiered confection is new to Rate the Dress.  It’s certainly novel for its era: embracing all the latest trends of its era, and venturing out in to a bit of quirkiness all of its own.  What will you make of it?

Last week: an 1840s day dress in printed silk

You all agreed that the fabric for last week’s dress was absolutely gorgeous.  Opinions on the rest of the dress elements were more mixed.  Some of you loved the lace, some of you felt it didn’t match the rest of the dress.  There was also a lot of criticism of the shoulder slope, which seems a little unfair: 1840s dresses will always have slopey shoulders, and I did ask you to rate the garment as an example of an 1840s dress!

The Total: 8.5 out of 10

Down a smidge on the week before.

This week: a tiered and feathered New Zealand wedding dress from 1920

This layered, ruffled, feathered, embroidered, appliqued and lace trimmed wedding dress was worn by a New Zealand bride, 26 year old Tui McKinnon, to her June 1920 wedding.  Sixty-four years later she donated her beautifully preserved wedding dress to the national museum.

The dress was made by the Dunedin department store Drapery Supply Association.  In addition to ready-made garments, the store made custom items, like this dress, which bears their ‘Drapery Supply Association / Costumiers / Dunedin’ label

(How happy does this make me, as a Costume Construction teacher training a new generation of costumiers?  Very!)

As this was a custom piece, Tui probably had a lot of say in its design.  It’s a fascinating mix of Edwardian detailing, texture and layering, with the sweetness we so often see in early ’20s dress, and a willingness to experiment with materials and silhouette that characterised more avant garde ‘teens and ’20s fashion.

One very interesting feature to point out is the raised waistline.  The fashionable waist level in the late 1910s was all over the place: at the natural waist, dropped, very dropped, and raised.  There was even was a brief return of the fashion for empire waistlines in the early 20s, as this dress demonstrates.

It’s quite a distinctive dress, and you may be wondering what it looked like on.  We don’t have to imagine what Tui looked like in her dress: there’s a photo!  And here’s a couture version of a similarly be-ruffled dress from the 1919 film ‘ A Sporting Chance’.  You might find it interesting to know that Anna is playing Ethel’s stepmother – the ruffled dress is a perfectly appropriate choice for an older woman.

Anna Q. Nilsson and Ethel Clayton – 1919

Anna Q. Nilsson and Ethel Clayton – 1919

Getting back to Tui’s wedding dress, what do you think?  Is this a fun and fabulous example of a once-in-a-lifetime dress?  Or should this tiered and feathered dress be tarred and feathered?

(I’m sorry.  I couldn’t resist.   I did manage to hold off on naming the whole post ‘Tiered and Feathered’ though!

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.