12 out of 100 Dresses

2 March 2011

Some more gorgeous dresses that have caught my eye while looking through the 100 Dresses book. All of these dresses belong to the collections of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the pictures come from their site.

Let’s start at the beginning…

A beautiful mustard yellow silk robe à la polonaise from around 1780. Polonaise dresses are my favourite eighteenth century style – I love how flouncy and frivolous the skirts are!

This dress was made from handpainted Chinese silk and the skirts were held up thanks to an elaborate system of cords.

A French cotton evening gown from 1804. This is the style that would have been worn by the Empress Joséphine and ladies at her court. In fact this particular gown was long reputed to be the dress worn by Joséphine’s American sister in law Elizabeth Patterson at her wedding to Jerome Bonaparte.

Although originally thought to have been Patterson’s wedding dress, the formal gown illustrated here probably dates from 1804, when this type of vertical white embroidery became fashionable. The very sheer cotton mull from which the dress is made was probably imported from India already embroidered with heavy white cotton thread in transparent mull. Only a daring few had briefly abandoned these items of clothing, in imitation of “Grecian” drapery—the first of many fanciful nineteenth-century allusions to details of costume in earlier historic periods.‘ – Met.

A fascinating ‘ensemble’ silk organza gown from 1855. It has interchangable bodices so you can wear it out and about during the day and then voila! The evening version of this dress is particularly gorgeous don’t you think? I love the soft sage green of the ribbons.

Also beautiful is this silk taffeta ballgown from around 1861 – it’s the sort of style that the Empress Eugénie or Scarlett O’Hara would have worn. It’s an incredibly feminine and romantic dress.

I’m fascinated by the exaggerated drapery of this yellow Liberty of London dress from the early 1880s. It really is reminiscent of a piece of ancient sculpture isn’t it and you can just imagine the stir when the wearer walked into the room!

This American cotton walking dress from 1902-04 is heavenly isn’t it? I really adore the soft white flounces and it reminds me of the beautiful muslin gowns worn by Marie Antoinette and her friends in the 1780s.

The 1913 Théatre des Champs Elysées dress by Paul Poiret is a great contrast. It’s both elegant and also fanciful. It was worn by the designer’s wife Denise to the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring in Paris.

What about this beatiful but fragile court presentation dress from 1928? It was created by the Boué Sisters for the presentation at St James’ of Mrs George Henry O’ Neil. It’s interesting how much court presentation gowns have changed over the centuries and this incarnation is fascinating to study – the basic elements of a court gown are there: the train, headdress, fan and slight panniered silhouette but style has clearly moved on. I think it’s gorgeous, almost fairy like even.

Moving on a few decades, I think I am a bit in love with the Junon dress from the Christian Dior Fall/Winter 1949-50 collection. It’s frosted in heavy embroidery, sequins and beads and must look absolutely gorgeous in the flesh.

The magnificent skirt of forty five petals, like abstractions of peacock feathers without their ‘eyes’, obliquely references the bird associated with the queen of the gods.‘ – 100 Dresses, Met.

The Junon has a sister dress called the Venus, which is perhaps even more sumptuously beautiful. What do you think?

Feather sequins. How beautiful.

The Christian Lacroix ‘Careme’ dress from Fall/Winter 1987-88. It’s a bit goth isn’t it? I love the eighteenth century style – it’s almost full circle from the first dress in this post.

And finally:

Vivienne Westwood’s Propaganda dress, Fall/Winter 2005-06.

An aesthetic marvel, the ‘Propaganda’ dress has been draped, fitted, and spiraled around the body in one unbroken length. While the gown evokes French haute couture of the 1950s, Westwood imbues it with an element of subversion in her break with prior conventions of draping and dressmaking.‘ – 100 Dresses, Met.


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