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Aug 6, 2011

The "Mermaid" gown - oui ou non?



Greeting, friends!  We're in rest mode here at MPB this weekend -- and cleaning mode.  As you might imagine, after a visit from Cathy, the place is an absolute mess, with the living room looking like backstage at "La Cage Aux Folles."

But just because we're resting doesn't mean we're not planning.  Look what I just picked up on Etsy!



The seller is in Canada, so it should definitely get here by Christmas.  Of course, what interests me is Version 1, the red mermaid gown on the left.  What do you think?

Here's a similar gown, a genuine vintage Vogue pattern. 



And here's model Lisa Fonssagrives in a famous Irving Penn photo:



To be honest, I didn't even know what this silhouette was called until I did a little online research.  I found a whole website devoted to the mermaid gown, with lots of wonderful pics.

Remember that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy thinks Ricky is paying too much attention to her cousin Diana (played by a very young Barbara Eden), so Lucy dolls herself to look like Jayne Mansfield to win him back?  Sure enough, she wears a mermaid gown (and I think the joke was that she couldn't sit down in it); it was definitely THE va va voom look of the period.   It's basically just a long sheath with a big flounce at the bottom, but it was the sexiest silhouette of the Fifties, and it didn't last much beyond it.

Here's Jayne (getting married) in one, and Marilyn in another:





Too many curves and you risk riding this look right off the road, do you know what I mean?

Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga designed quite a few mermaid-style gowns, many of which show a strong Flamenco dance costume influence.







The mermaid gown came back in the Eighties, primarily as bridal wear, and it hasn't really gone away, though it lost the poofy sleeves.









With the mania for old-time red carpet glamour today, it's no surprise that the mermaid gown is popular again.

Here's Nicole Kidman at the Grammys, looking a little "meh" if you ask me:



Rihanna's could use an underlining, but I'm old fashioned that way.



Fashion-forward friends, what do you think?  Is the mermaid gown just plain tacky, a parody of Fifties Hollywood cheesecake, and simply too over-the-top costume-y?

Do you think someone like my demure cousin could make this work without looking like a stripper?



Would you ever be caught dead -- or alive -- in this silhouette?  Have you ever?

The mermaid gown -- oui ou non? (yea or nay)

60 comments:

  1. I'm afraid that the mermaid skirt would not flatter my short stature. I mean, even Marilyn looked frumpy! However, when the look flatters, it's quite appealing. I think Cathy would look dashing in a mermaid gown!

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  2. I find the the mermaid gown a little bit dangerous, fashion wise, but there's nothing wrong with living dangerously. In my (oh so important) opinion, it comes down to where the flounce starts. Too far above the kneecap isn't flattering, but the lower it gets the less able Cathy will be to walk. Unless you sew it from a stretch fabric. And then yes, she would look just a bit like a stripper. I love the Balenciaga with the pink ruffles.

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  3. I think it needs a tall lean silhouette to look its best; and the flounce needs to work with the model's legs to emphasize their subtle curves like a flourish. So yes, I think Cathy could carry one off. I'd start the front of the flounce at or just below her knee and I'd include a flounce like the black one with the pink flounce. The inner flounce just gives it a tang of moxie that suits her.

    When you think about it, this dress is all about the legs, and Cathy has magnificent legs.

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  4. I agree that this would work on Cathy, but the fabric you choose will make all the difference between chic and stripper. With Cathy's beautiful legs, the gown in the photograph of the three ladies in black-- the lady holding the cigarette holder for the other lady-- with the pink ruffled lining, showing her legs from the knee down-- that's the one I'd like to see her in.

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  5. Ohh, the Marilyn version . . . there are no words. My eyes hurt. It's beyond the pale, and does her no favors at all. The modern incarnations aren't so hot, either.

    The vintage versions, for mermaids: Perfection. For humans, not so much. Cathy? She might be able to carry it off -- as long as she doesn't have to walk or sit.

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  6. I would don a mermaid gown in a heartbeat! I think Cathy would look fabulous in one but agree with lw that the fabric will make all the difference!

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  7. mmmm... the mermaid! I love a hint of it, just like the Vogue pattern 3rd image down, I like how it trails at the back rather than frills all the ways round. Balenciagas dress with the gold tail gets it right too. I like the pattern you have chosen and I do believe Cathy can carry this off. I, on the other hand would look more puffer fish than mermaid! x

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  8. The mermaid gown is tricky, it really emphasizes the hips! I think Cathy would look good in one, and obviously you've been doing your homework. But for the average woman it's not a good look :/

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  9. When I found out my daughter-in-law was going to wear a Mermaid style for the wedding, I was a bit apprehensive since she is not even 5 feet tall. But she pulled it off like a pro...and was stunning...as you well know. :)

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2068067471233&set=a.2068040230552.123495.1531219804&type=1&theater

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  10. It's a good silhouette for an elongated curvy figure. It makes a short & curvy woman look heavy, even if she isn't. Anyway it always reminds me of Ethyl Merman, and I have placed her in my top 10 "NEVER dress like HER" list.

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  11. I made that Butterick 4415 gown for my best friend to wear as her wedding gown, in 1992, I think. Ivory dotted lace and satin. She's still married fwiw.

    As for yea or nay, it depends on your interpretation.

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  12. Might Cathy venture into stretch velvet?

    Could the fishtail be done in organdy over tulle over net, to give that 45-ish degree angle some sway and flounce?

    What about mid-bicept gloves in the same stretch velvet - a "glove-in-all-the-wrong-places sew-along" could be the order of the day.

    Cathy Lane could stun us with an up-doo, giving the world a glimpse of the rarely seen stately lady. Of course, she could opt for spit curls and mascara in that thicker "man-trap width", and showcase her inner-minx. One woman, 1,000 possiblities!

    This dress has to happen, if for no other reason than autumn in New York.

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  13. Truthfully - they look best on men! :)

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  14. Being so slender, I'm sure Cathy could pull it off. The rest of us? No way, Jose, worst silhouette EVER. Just look how unflattering it is on Marilyn and Jayne! Anything that makes Marilyn look bad makes most women look bad.

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  15. I was going to suggest that Jessica Rabbit wore a fishtail gown but, no, hers was slit up to the hip! I'm inclined to agree with Phyllis though I don't think Marilyn looks that bad in her gown. My god, that woman had curves!

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  16. She looks like "Bride of the Tin Woodsman."

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  17. Testosterone hit the nail on the head. We need a GLOVE-SEW-ALONG!!!! Yes! Yes! Yes!

    For Cathy to pull off a mermaid dress she might consider a corset? The dress seems to be all about the tiny waist and curvy hips. Catherine overcame this problem when she married Prince William with padded hips under her wedding gown.

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  18. I think mermaids look fabulous on athletic builds too as they add curves - you should make one for Cathy!
    I'm not so fond of the mermaid on a large bust/small waist curvaceous figure, it's a bit too overt for my taste.
    I do love the modified mermaid - sort of a cross between a mermaid and A-line - I think it combines the best of both and is a more wearable for most figures.

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  19. non. Too hard to walk/sit/breathe--never mind stairs, wcs, taxis, or other realities. This is a runway design for stick people, not a wearable dress. Even for Cathy! K.

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  20. Oh yes!!! A mermaid would be fabulous for Cathy!!! The great man... ( well to me anyway.... Love love love anything by )... Oscar De La Renta has done some wonderful mermaids.... Including some in his most recent Bridal Collection... That I have been wondering if they are making a comeback??
    They also made a resurgence in the late 80s and early 90s here in Australia in Bridal Couture... Were very popular!!
    Definitly think that Cathy could pull this off with Va Va Voom!!! Can't wait tO see what fabric you choose! Will need to be gorgeous and seductive....:) soo looking forward to seeing this creation... And all the finery that make an outfit rock! Guess you will get to practice your boning again....:) and love the pattern you chose....:) Check out Oscars site / images if you need any more inspiration! Absolutely stunning!

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  21. I think it is definitely one of those styles where you have to have a particular body shape for it to look good, but when it does... wow! I will, sadly, never look good in one b/c i'm too short. I think also you have to be very mindful of where the sheath ends and the mermaid starts - too high & it looks costumy, too low & it loses the drama that this style is meant for.

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  22. Non. I hate mermaid dresses, I don't think they look good on any body type. Just say no. Did I mention that I hate them hate hate hate hate.

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  23. you better be tall, skinny and gorgeous!

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  24. Personally, I like the lines of the Vera-Ellen mermaid gown (the top pic) the best, even if she does look a bit like a toilet brush.

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  25. I made and wore the full length Vogue Designer Original you have listed there for my 21st birthday. In Australia, my birthday(in June)is mid-winter, so I made a little bolero jacket with a hidden wool lining to wear with it. I still have the dress, although it's now several sizes too small. I made it in blue moire taffeta, with a gorgeous black lace train, and I thought I was the bees knees in it at the time.

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  26. Mermaid gown .... more flattering than what I'd always heard them called : "Fish tail" gown :-)

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  27. Personally, I don't quite get that look. But it would be a statement outfit for some over the top gala(Night of a Thousand Gowns).
    I could see Cathy in the simplicity number with the flounce at the knee. She
    looks good in a flirty number.
    But you never know until she tries it on. The hair might have to be higher to balance out the silhouette and definitely long drop earrings.

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  28. Oui!

    I think the success of this silhouette has to do with the execution.

    The things that determine how awesome a mermaid can be:

    -The drape of the fabric
    - The amount the skirt tapers before the flare
    - Where the skirt tapers to before the flare
    - The amount fullness of the gathers or ruffles

    I think the super stiff bodied fabrics paired with a extremely close fitting taper that terminates too high on the skirt into a gigantic pouf or collection of gatheredness is difficult to pull off awesomely. But the opposite is so doable! And might I add, fun!

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  29. I think to wear a Mermaid Gown successfully you have to have a tiny waist, big hips and not need to walk anywhere. Note also the *lovely* posture of the woman in the Irving Penn photo and two of the the three women with the cigarette holder - you'd need to be prepared and able to stand that way all day.
    I also note in the Vogue pattern with the ruffle at the back (second last photo) that the bodice does NOT fit well at the top edge. I'm kind of surprised at seeing that poor a fit in a Vogue photo, but maybe it's because she wasn't standing "right" for a Mermaid dress? (Did Princess Di ever wear a dress like this? It's ringing faint bells for me.)

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  30. I don't like mermaid dresses/gowns/whatever. I never have. And these days, I think they're over-used.

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  31. Cathy looked so severe in her last photo shoot. So this dress style would give her something to laugh about. Don't do it, Cathy! Even Divine couldn't make it seem right.

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  32. Mermaids have never been for dear little teapots like me, but Cathy can carry off anything (and she now has the corset if one is needed). Re wearing a long narrow mermaid and being able to walk- the Balenciaga black with pink crinoline is the way to go. Or if the low tail were made of tulle or net, perhaps it could have a side seam left open? (In which case, the dress fabric would need to be stretchy). Alternatively, go for the leg rope solution adopted by some wearers of the original hobble skirt (circa 1910) and later by punks – though somehow I don’t think this fits with wholesome Cathy.

    I’ve just seen yesterday’s post and, as ever, Cathy and the dress both look wonderful!

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  33. Did 2tango call Cathy a toilet brush? Non, non, non!!

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  34. Takes me back to my Barbie Doll days in the early 60's. Barbie had a black mermaid gown with a net skirt. God, I hated that Barbie dress, even then. Gave it to my sister. If, God forbid, Barbie can't even carry it off, who could?

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  35. The Vogue pattern looks so wonderfully elegant. I can see doing that in something fabulously plain, if you know what I mean.
    But, don't you have to have really bad posture to wear the thing?

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  36. For every no there'd be 10 yes-s so oui! Tu dois faire ca pour Cathy! It will make her feminity stand out, definitely, looking forward to that!

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  37. Yes I've worn the mermaid and have had some well executed dresses and one - well - tacky, trashy and dreadful. The ones that worked were well cut and the fabric suited to the specific design, the dress of disaster simply tried too hard and failed on every level - except, failure!. I can't believe I left the house in it.

    With that being said, the rose blossom gown has been to date, my favorite on Cathy. Even though the mermaid is down a very different flower scattered path, I think she could carry it off. Another poster recommended the Balenciaga version with pink under skirt/flounce. This I'm liking for Cathy. It is structured, not shiny, and with the controlled explosion of fabric at the hem is both outrageous and elegant - love it! I'd love to see some hem action on Cathy that has unexpected movement when she walks.

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  38. I wore a mermaid gown to a college formal in the 90s. To be fair, it was a much more subtle iteration of the general shape. It didn't come in quite as much at the knees and the flare was less obvious. I thought it was sexy and felt very attractive in it.

    Today? I think the silhouette looks dated, but it's still quite pretty if not taken to extremes. I do think it requires hips though so perhaps not for Cathy.

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  39. yes! Yes! i have been alive and kicking in a 'mermaid cut'Lehenga (means skirt in hindi) which i wore with pride at my cousin's wedding, why with pride, because i made it, initially i wasn't sure if i could carry off the look, as i had never ever worn it previously! I also did sew it for first time the mermaid cut, but bravely wore it and must say i won a lot of glances and hope a few fluttering hearts too!

    Yes the cut is one which only fits just about curvy people, one without much curves as well as one with too many curves may not be as exotic in it. However it all depends on the attitude to carry it off. Here is the link to my 'Mermaid Cut Lehenga Choli'for which i had a separate photoshoot with a 'Duplicate Taj Mahal'at an exhibition as backdrop! Please visit and give your feedback and whether it did suit me and the fabric i had chosen was Organza with satin lining and a silver trim at hemline, the yoke portion of skirt or the upper part of skirt which hugs snugly at my hips till mid-thighs has single line sequin trim which i sew to the fabric as per whims and fancy! glad the end design was nice! check the link and tell what you have to say! Thanks
    Purple Princess Lehenga Choli - Mermaid Cut Indian Skirt'

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  40. My first prom dress was a slight mermaid, and I thought I was sooo sexy in it! And hell at 20 pounds lighter, yeah I was pretty smokin'. It was black satin strapless fitted all the way down to mid-thigh, ending with a small flare to the floor. The only thing that made it terrible in retrospect (though so fashionable for 2003) was the light pink stripe down each side.

    Anyway, I love the pattern you got for Cathy! Though, maybe altering the straps to be a wide halter (similar to the first image) would be prettier.

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  41. Cathy definitely has the body and pizzaz to wear a mermaid dress with style and sophistication. I'm saying YES to this idea!

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  42. Cathy could start with more of a 'day dress' style with a bit of flounce at the bottom to see if she likes it.

    I have a few fun dresses I have made that are halter neck with a sweetheart bust line that are semi fitted with a frill/ruffle at the bottom that I just love to wear :)

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  43. I think in the right fabric (love that red) and with a hint of mermaid, Cathy with her slender figure would absolutely lovely in that dress. I have seen them on women who really don't suit them, but on the right body shape and not too overdone, really flattering.

    Josette

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  44. I've also got a Nina Ricci Vogue Pattern evening gown from the 80's that is a fabulous example of this silhouette. I always regret not having made it when I had the occasions to wear it.

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  45. I like them, as long as they're not too tight around the knees. I look good in them, and I have always had a larger-than-average difference between waist and hips.

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  46. The green and black Vogue--I've worn that gown. Mine was cherry-red taffeta with black tulle and black lace studded with rhinestones, and oh it was Fabulous. I'd wear that gown again in a heartbeat; it can work for any height and weight if the pattern is proportioned properly. This style takes some confidence to pull off, but I'd say Cathy has plenty of that, so I say take that mermaid for a swim!

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  47. I kind of have Marilyn's silhouette (don't laugh!), so I wouldn't be caught dead in a mermaid dress. It might work for Cathy, though, with her slender hips and tall figure. Can't wait to see your version!

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  48. I wanted that strapless Belleville Sassoon vogue pattern for my prom dress so badly and my mother would have none of it! sigh....

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  49. No, no and NO! I wouldn't be caught dead or alive in this style. Please don't make Cathy wear it - I guess unless she really wants to. (I really hope not). This style just looks costume-y to me. Definitely not for real life even if you are a Hollywood star!

    Just my opinion, though, and you know what "they" say about opinions...

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  50. So am I the only one that thinks a mermaid gown on a non-curvy figure would look awful? The whole point is to emphasize the curves. A tiny waist--corset needed and likely some waist training, too--and full hips. The reason Nicole Kidman looks "meh" is that she is *not* curvy enough for the style.

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  51. I realize I'm in the minority here but: non! I think mermaid styles are absolutely freakish. How can you walk in that thing? Can you even cross your legs when you sit down (assuming you can sit down)? I just don't see how anyone can be what they should be in gown like that: graceful.

    However, I do like a nice fishtail dress. I've never worn one but I remember a lovely Vera Wang pattern.

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  52. I far prefer the gowns with the mermaid tail that's NOT straight across. Either lower in back/higher in front, or the reverse. (For me that's the problem with Ms. Kidman's gown: too many straight lines in a style that should be all about sinuous curves.)

    Cathy would look lovely in the right design and fabric.

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  53. I don't believe crossing your legs IS graceful. A lot of commenters have said the mermaid is not for "real life" and suggested a trumpet shape (basically, a subdued mermaid), but since Cathy mostly seems to don these lovely custom-made dresses mostly for photo shoots (not for, say, her wedding or work or walking around a gala or Italy), I think Peter should definitely make her one. And I would look forward to a "one glove around the world" sew-along :)

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  54. Maybe for next summer's Mermaid Parade in Coney Island? Cathy would be so cute as a mermaid!

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  55. I vote for the vintage vogue with the high front and low back! Gorgeous.

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  56. I remember the mermaid gown being fairly popular when I went to prom from 200-2002, and also popular when I worked at David's Bridal a few years later.

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  57. This is a fun style, but I wonder if Lucy's experience might be typical--is it hard to move in? The Balenciaga dresses are stunning.

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  58. No, no and thrice No! There just no need for fish inspired dresses LOL!

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  59. If you ever see the film version of Guys and Dolls, the "Take Back Your Mink"dresses are incroyable! I love that the girls all wore them to be maids of honour at the huge wedding at the end too. It is a glorious look, and one which my drag charcter Constance pulls off with great panache and not inconsiderable camouflaging of my real silhouette :) Mermaid skirts are very sheshe still too.

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