19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: mid-century plaid

Last week I showed you a ca. 1890 high-society half-mourning dress.  Some of you were totally behind the dress, until you saw the behind of the dress (yes, I have been waiting a whole week to use that!).  Some of you loved it, stripey ‘I backed into a fireplace and did the world’s most awkward mend’ and all.  And some of you disliked the whole thing: stripey back panel, lace sleeves, ribbon trim, velvet bow and all.  It frequently got points for ‘entertainment value’ if nothing else, coming in at

I’ve been drooling over 1840s frocks recently (helped by Sarah’s amazing 1840s paisley maternity dress), so thought I should post something along those lines.  This one isn’t paisley, but it is an even more classically 1840s pattern: plaid.  The colour schemes of muted blues, ambers and browns is also classically 1840s.

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

The dress is associated with the wedding of Laura Phillips nee Battle, to Charles Phillips, held at Chapel Hill, Orange County, North Carolina on Dec 8th 1847.  Laura is believed to have worn the dress as a ‘second day’ dress, for a reception or events held the day after her wedding.  The NC Museum of History also hold Laura’s wedding dress: a lovely confection in white organdy and lace, shoes and stockings, and various other articles associated with her wedding (search ‘Laura Phillips’ to see them).

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

While her wedding dress is gorgeous, I thought this one was more interesting for being wearable for events afterwards.  To make it even more versatile, the dress came with a matching pelerine cape.  In a number of other 1830s and 40s dresses I have seen with matching capes, the cape hides a lower neckline, and makes an evening dress suitable for daytime wear.  In this case the neckline is already suitable high (and would have been worn with a collar), but the cape gives it a different look.

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

The dress is a tiny bit too small for the dressform, but that does at least give us a rather nice look at the tidy row of hooks that fasten the back!

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

Day dress of silk taffeta worn by Laura Phillips, Chapel Hill NC, 1847. Made in Philadelphia, North Carolina Museum of History, 1923.5.5

What do you think?  Is this classically 1840s dress classic and interesting?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

22 Comments

  1. It’s a bit flat as presented, but I rather like the muted sheen of the fabric, and the 1840s silhouette is a pleasing shape. I don’t like the pelerine; it drags down the silhouette and makes the outfit look dowdy, but over all a surprisingly pleasant dress. An 8.

  2. The fabric is a beautifully subtle pattern that invites the eye to linger and discover more, and it looks like it has been masterfully matched at the seam lines.

    9 of 10

  3. Michaela says

    This isn’t my favorite 1840’s dress, but I do like the fabric and the lines. I always compare it to ‘would I wear it, and if I wouldn’t, what would I change?’
    The only thing I would change is probably the fringe. I have a strong dislike for fringe on dresses. So 7/10

    • Elise says

      The fringe does drag it down, doesn’t it?

      I like the colors, wish that the front pleats matched better, but loved the effect of the plaid overall. Hm…7/10

  4. Aw. It’s cute! And very, very tiny. I think the proportions kind of exaggerate the tininess a bit. The colours all kind of merge together a bit rather than being really clearly defined, so you kind of get this vague goldy blur with a faint idea that there might be some lilac there and some fringe and tassels down the front, but you can’t quite pick out any of the detail as it’s all so subtle and merging together in a sort of delicate puddle of delicate hues which kinda winds me up as I just want SOMETHING to jump out at me. Like a lime green and dayglo pink petticoat in six-inch wide stripes with festoons of yellow cellophane fastened with mousetraps around the hem. The visual equivalent of suddenly screaming out loud in a very quiet meeting.

    It’s cute, super-cute, and very well done, but it’s also kinda wishy washy, so I’ll say 6/10.

  5. I love it, I’d wear it in a heartbeat. The fabric is beautiful (just my colours) with several things going on without being too busy. I do believe the fabric is at advantage up close though, it may look a wee bit too bland from a few feet away… The style is very 1840’s, one of my favourite eras. I like the bodice treatment and the sleeves. The fringe is good, but the tassels and buttons could have been absent without me missing them.

    The pelerine isn’t the prettiest I’ve seen, but I’d wear it anyway if it was cold enough 😉 9/10

  6. Julia Ergane says

    Wishy-washy is just the term for which I was looking. Even though the material is satin, the dress is just dull, dull, dull. I’ve never been too keen on the Victorian Era on either side of the pond. I think it is too much treacle pudding.
    Score: 4/10

  7. I like the fabric and the way it’s been matched up. It’s very subtle and elegant, I think. I do like the silhouette, especially the elongated pointy front bit.
    The fringe and the pelerine I could do without – but then it must have been dernier cri in the 1840s.

    This is a dress that a quiet and respectable young matron could have worn, or Emily Dickinson, or Laura Ingalls’s Ma – understated and toned-down and giving its wearer the magical superpower of blending in with the wallpaper.

  8. In many ways I quite like it. The colours are beautiful and work well together. The front pleats are really cool. I’m not completely sure about the sleeves, but I don’t dislike them. Unfortunately the cape totally spoils it and makes the whole thing look frumpy and depressing. 7/10

  9. holly says

    I find it a bit dreary, but I like the close up photo showing the seaming of the fabric pieces. Rather unfortunate placement!

    4/10

  10. anna fink says

    Far too demure. Definitly needs a focal point, some wow factor !
    The colour in the close up looks more interesting but realise the true colour is as in the full length photos. Always wondered how comfortable that dropped shoulder line would be ; looks quite restrictive ?

    Score 6 / 10

  11. Rachel says

    I love little capes but this dress isn’t doing it for me. I like how the plaid is angled on the sleeves (and how the sleeves are in two layers), and I really like the narrow bands of blue floral print, but the rest leaves me cold. I tend not to like deeply sloped shoulders, the colors don’t interest me, and the fringe feels drab. On the other hand, I do like the skirt’s shape.

    3.5/10

  12. Lyn Swan says

    7/10 I love the fabric and believe that the colors may have been a bit stronger when this dress was created. The bodice is a lovely shape; pleating a plaid is a feat I am not ready to attempt, so marks for the skill displayed. The seaming on the bodice is indeed unfortunate, especially given the quality of the workmanship on the rest of the dress. I wondered if this might have been a mending. I tend to not like fringe on clothing, but it was a much desired embellishment of the time and was used here with a bit of restraint. This is a very appropriate dress with a touch of luxury in the fabric. Suitable to the time and purpose. The cape again, appropriate for the day.

  13. I love the cape, I like the overall style, I like the colours, and I don’t mind the size of the check – but somehow they just don’t work all together. Perhaps the check is too big for what is so determinedly a restrained dress? I dunno. 6/10
    By the way, the total for last week isn’t showing – on my computer at least. It just says “coming in at”

  14. Lynne says

    I’m not a fan of fringing, so strike one, and I don’t feel the lace on the cape really works with the plaid.

    The pleating is beautifully done on the front, but then they had that issue right at the top, where the gold stripey bit wasn’t long enough to have the proportions right, so they carefully pieced in a section on the right hand side. That would have driven me bonkers, right under my nose. It would be like looking at a crooked picture!

    If you have to piece, make both sides the same!

    That said, I like the plaid, and what with Christmas and all, there is enough colourful hullabaloo going on – so it is something of a relief for me to look at these charming muted shades.

    7 out of 10.

  15. I love it in the first photo, the lighting was better, in the one with the pelerine it looks washed out which makes it harder to get a good impression of the pelerine. I’d look awful in those colours, but can see it on a wee blond lass and it’d look pretty darned good on her. It’s subtle which is nice as well and the shape is flattering
    8/10

  16. Nice but nothing special :/ Also I don’t like the pleated berthe on the bodice, because on the left the broken plaide stripes go horizontal and on the right vertical… Spliting apart the torso 🙁 6/10

  17. I like the fabric itself, I love the details (that trim is lovely!) – but the size of the plaid works against the pleats in the front in this size, and drags it down optically, as Melinda above me also mentions…
    8/10

  18. Frances says

    I like it a lot, even though the colours are far more muted that what usually attracts me. I like the buttons and the tufty bits and I like the Pelerine. I think it would look really nice outdoors on a chilly day.
    I think I just like the 1840s
    8/10

  19. Lylassandra says

    I can’t quite figure out how to rate this, because I can’t quite figure out which picture has the correct colors! The first photo I love, the rest are all meh– I might not even have bothered to vote if I’d seen them first.

    I’d vote high if the colors are as I imagine them– but how high does a dress deserve to be rated if just the tiniest color shift would knock 5 points off? I guess I’ll split the difference. 6.5/10

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