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Rate the Dress: Crinoline Era Stripes

Stripes are a classic pattern which appear in almost every era of dress. Some fashion historians have claimed that they are most common and fashionable in eras where there has been upheaval and unrest, and there is a general desire for order and simplicity. My life certainly feels very busy and chaotic at the moment (in a good way), and this week’s striped frock, in a cool and relaxing blue and white colour scheme, just jumped out at me as the right pick for rate the dress. Maybe there is something in the claim!

Last week: an 1890s wedding dress is muted purple with cream and mouse-brown

Everyone loves a bride, but not everyone loves a wedding dress…

Most of you felt there was a lot that was positive to say about the dress as a picture of restrained elegance and practicality. But there was also something not-quite-right about the trim, whether it was an unappealing resemblance to wasps nests, or the suspicion that it was a later add-on that wasn’t up to the general sewing and design standards of the original dress.

The Total: 7.9 out of 10

We’re dropping just a few points each week…

This week: an 1860s day dress (part of a robe a transformation) in blue and white stripes.

This dress, from the collection of Les Arts Décoratifs, is a robe à transformation: a dress with multiple bodices, or alterable bodices, which allows it to be suitable for wearing at different times of day, or at a range of different events. Unfortunately there are no images of the other bodice to this dress available online, so we are rating the day bodice only:

Robe à transformation (day bodice only), 1868-72, Les Arts Décoratifs

Both bodice and skirt are made from a thin, lightweight (probably cotton, judging by how visible the hem is) fabric, in a rather bold blue and white stripe.

Robe à transformation (day bodice only), 1868-72, Les Arts Décoratifs
Robe à transformation (day bodice only), 1868-72, Les Arts Décoratifs

The stripe of the fabric is used to create visual interest and additional patterning, with a V drawing they eye up the back peplum to the curved back bodice panels which flow up the back like wing lines. The same Vs are repeated on the front of the peplum, drawing the eye to the bust darts. On the skirt the stripes show the exact grain of each skirt panel.

Robe à transformation (day bodice only), 1868-72, Les Arts Décoratifs

The stripes and the overall design play tricks with your eye, and your mind. From one angle the dress is almost clownishly playful, from another quite severe and restrained. Is it full of little design details, or austere in its simplicity?

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.  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, so I can find it!  And 0 is not on a scale of 1 to 10.  Thanks in advance!)

A ca. 1799 inspired regency dress thedreamstress.com

A Regency Gown Re-make

Remember the ca. 1799 gown I wore at Old Government House in Parramatta? The one I wasn’t that happy with?

If you are a very keen reader with an excellent memory and a good eye for detail, you may have realised that the dress re-appeared, now with a wrap front, at the Sew & Eat Historical Retreat, and at the picnic where I debuted my new Regency bonnet.

A ca. 1799 inspired regency dress thedreamstress.com

As I wasn’t happy with the dress as I first wore it in Australia, I had a go at re-styling it.

First, I fixed the fit issues: unpicking the sleeves, giving them a little more room, and re-setting them.

A ca. 1799 inspired regency dress thedreamstress.com

They are definitely more comfortable now. In their first iteration they cut into the front of my arm rather painfully: I had great posture, but couldn’t reach anything in front of me! Now I have full range of movement. First part of the re-make? Total success!

A ca. 1799 inspired regency dress thedreamstress.com

I’m significantly less thrilled with the second part of the remake. I decided to try a wrap front, instead of the gathered front the dress had had before. I used the few scrap of fabric I had left to create a wrap bodice, sliced the skirt up the centre front, and moved fullness from the back gathers, to create a new shape.

Unfortunately the wrap flaps open in the skirt, and refuses to stay sitting nicely on my bust. It’s most annoying, and I don’t like it.

A ca. 1799 inspired regency dress thedreamstress.com

I am, however, very happy with the back view:

A ca. 1799 inspired regency dress thedreamstress.com

The reduction in fullness is just what the dress needed. I absolutely love the effect of the new back view.

A ca. 1799 inspired regency dress thedreamstress.com

But I’d really like to get this dress right, so it’s headed into remake #3 (third time had better be the charm!)

For remake #3, I’ve unpicked the two panels that formed the wrap, and will turn one of them into a new front panel for the dress. I’ll split the other one in half, and re-sew it on each side, two form two narrow side panels, so the skirt won’t loose any fullness, but won’t have a big seam down the centre front.

I’m still working out what exactly I’m going to do with the front bodice. Either a bib front with sewn-down gathers, or a return to a drawstring front.

I also plan to add darts to the under-bodice. With my small bust, I really need all the help I can get in keeping the under-bodice under my bust – right now it likes to creep upwards.

If I do switch to a bib front I’m considering adding lacing (instead of the current overlap-and-pin situation) to the underbodice.

And I may shorten those sleeves to a bit above the elbow, and add a lace edge, as you see in so many portraits of the early 19th century.

But before I have to decide all of that I have lots and lots of skirt seaming to do!

A ca. 1799 inspired regency dress thedreamstress.com


Rate the Dress: a not-white 1890s Wedding Dress

This week’s Rate the Dress, in contrast to the three that proceeded it, is quite muted and restrained, and not just one colour (though the primary fabric is admittedly equally monochromatic)

Last week: a very green 1810s dress

Some of you really loved last week’s dress, mostly because of the picture it brought into your mind of the young lady who would wear it, and how she would look dancing.

Others, not so much, either because you didn’t like the colour, are opposed to small puffed sleeves on principle, or felt the hem treatment made it odd and bottom heavy. A number of people on instagram observed that if it was displayed as it would have been worn, with better petticoats, and the hem a good few inches off the ground, it would look less awkward and bottom heavy.

The Total: 8.2 out of 10

Quite good, but not a patch on the week before it!

This week: an 1890s wedding dress is muted purple with cream and mouse-brown

After three weeks of very bright dresses, I wanted something a bit more muted this week. At first I thought I’d choose something with no colour (well, technically, all the colours), like a white frock. And what’s more white than a wedding dress? But then I found this not-white wedding dress, and thought it was just the right mix of of-its-era, while having different and interesting details for us to comment on:

Wedding dress, A. B. Coady Department Store-Frederick Loeser & Company, 1893, American, silk, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.910a, b
Wedding dress, A. B. Coady Department Store-Frederick Loeser & Company, 1893, American, silk, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.910a, b

This dress, with its leg-o-mutton sleeves, and stiff A-line skirt (which could easily be made from the Fantail skirt pattern), is very 1893. Without a provenance identifying it as wedding dress, it would just be a well made, but not unusual, afternoon ensemble of the era.

Wedding dress, A. B. Coady Department Store-Frederick Loeser & Company, 1893, American, silk, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.910a, b

It’s also not unusual as a wedding dress of its time. While white wedding dresses were fashionable and widely recognised, many brides still chose to be married in other colours, for a variety of reasons: personal preference, economy, style of wedding, and family mourning.

Wedding dress, A. B. Coady Department Store-Frederick Loeser & Company, 1893, American, silk, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.910a, b

The muted grey-purple ribbed silk that forms the main body of this outfit is more plausible as a very-end-stage-of-mourning colour than the definitely-not-mourning purple Victorian dress I posted a few weeks, but there are no other details in the design that would clearly indicate this.

It’s possible that the bride opted for a colour and design that would be unexceptional for a bride who had lost a member of her more extended family, but would also be wearable and fashionable as a non-mourning garment, but without more details of the provenance, we can’t know for sure.

Wedding dress, A. B. Coady Department Store-Frederick Loeser & Company, 1893, American, silk, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.910a, b

It’s more likely that the bride was simply following a general fashion for more muted, restrained colours for wedding dresses, if the bride chose not to wear white. These darker colours were more suited to afternoon wear, when most weddings were held, and also allowed the garment to be more wearable after the wedding, which was one of the main reasons for choosing a coloured gown (and, of course, there are always exceptions to most trends: Te Papa holds an electric blue afternoon wedding dress from the 1890s)

Wedding dress, A. B. Coady Department Store-Frederick Loeser & Company, 1893, American, silk, metal, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.910a, b

Whether it was half-mourning, or simply general fashion, the style, maker, and materials suggest the bride who chose this dress wanted an elegant, well made item, that would look good on her wedding day, and for many events after that, without every demanding to be the centre of attention. It’s the epitome of Victorian ideals of retiring womanhood and restrained modesty: the dress the plainer older sister would wear to her simple wedding to a minister, while the flashier younger sister who nabbed the local lord got the big white wedding dress (and in numerous 19th c & Victorian novels, starting with Sense & Sensibility, the plainer older sister is definitely portrayed as the more admirable character).

Does it play the part well? Would it tempt you from the big frothy white 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.  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, so I can find it!  And 0 is not on a scale of 1 to 10.  Thanks in advance!)