19th Century, Rate the dress
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Rate the Dress: Sparkly Ballgowns ca. 1820

Rate the Dress for last week was a ’20s frock in avante garde red and lilac.  The colours were a little too out-there for some of you, and there was a bit of discussion about whether you liked the totally different backs to fronts (though it did win points for thinking through the ‘glass beads imprinting into your thighs all evening if you have to sit down really aren’t that fun’ thing and leaving them off). Thanks to the unmatched front to back, and the not-to-everyones taste colour scheme, the dress managed a respectable but not stellar 8.4 out of 10.

I seem to be stuck on red and sparkles, though this week’s dress features metal embroidery rather than beading, and is mainly white with a soft, muted, coral red accent – much more restrained than last week.

Woman's Ball Gown, England, circa 1820, Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels, LACMA, M.2007.211.734

Woman’s Ball Gown, England, circa 1820, Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels, LACMA, M.2007.211.734

Like last week’s frock, this dress looks both forward and backward. The lowered waistline, stiff, ornamented hem, and cone shaped skirt are typical of the 1820s, but the light cotton dress fabric with its metallic embroidery (almost certainly a product of India) is much more typical of earlier, softer Regency frocks.  It’s almost as if the wearer of this dress had done what we seamstresses still do: hoarded a precious fabric in wait of the ‘perfect’ frock, and then had it made up in a hurry when she realised that it was shortly going to be entirely demodé!

Woman's Ball Gown, England, circa 1820, Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels, LACMA, M.2007.211.734

Woman’s Ball Gown, England, circa 1820, Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels, LACMA, M.2007.211.734

The bar shaped passementerie trim on the bodice also nods to the military inspired trims that appeared on women’s pelisses during the Napoleonic wars.  On this dress it has been softened and modified to cleverly create the illusion of a narrowing bodice, as fashions moved towards a mid-century nipped waist.

Woman's Ball Gown, England, circa 1820, Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels, LACMA, M.2007.211.734

Woman’s Ball Gown, England, circa 1820, Cotton plain weave with metallic thread embroidery and silk ribbons with metallic passementerie and tassels, LACMA, M.2007.211.734

What do you think of this creation and its mix of fabrics and styles?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

24 Comments

  1. I like the basic fabric, but I do not like the coral trim (especially at the hem — looks like an attack of Caterpillars of Unusual Size) or whatever is wandering across the bodice. The hem strikes me as overly bunch, trimmed or not.

    Can’t give it more than 6 of 10

  2. Lynne says

    I think it’s lovely. The first photo of the front was interesting and pleasant, then I saw the back, and the interest level perked right up. Having that extra fabric really looks better than the flatter front where the fabric looks a little flimsy for the style, especially with the heavier, puffier, decorative hem section. The strips of silver across the bodice, much as I like a ‘let’s be an artillery officer’ look, really seem a bit much for the fabric, too. But the fabric is lovely – I’d have horded that for a special occasion, too. Delicate, yet rich, and the pinky-red works well with it.

    8.5 out of 10 (I know, I’m sorry about the .5, but some days a woman has to be a little indecisive!)

  3. The fabric, and the embroidery pattern wrought upon it, are beautiful (and must have been more so before the embroidery tarnished with age). I like the coral accents too; more would have been too much; this amount is about right (though the ribbons on the sleeves look a bit odd if you look at them close-up). Even the silhouette is fine. 1820s dresses often look awkward and cone-like, but this one seems graceful and has a particularly nice view.

    Unfortunately, this dress also has the “puffy” type of hem decoration that is characteristic of the 1820s (though it’s done in an uncharacteristically restrained manner). For that, and the awkwardly placed ribbon bits on the sleeves, I feel impelled to dock this dress a half a point. 9.5 from me.

  4. Oh I adore this one! It’s so graceful and ladylike, I love the fabric and the military touches stopping it from being saccharine. The only thing that gives me pause is the puffy hem.
    9/10

  5. The bars of trim on the bodice look random and unnecessary, and I’m not a big fan of the sleeves from this era. That said, I love the skirt and it’s trim. I think the bunched fabric was done to just the right degree, and I love the circling coral trim. The fabric itself is amazing.

    Overall 7/10

  6. Laura D says

    my first thought was “ooohhh, pretty!” when I saw this, though I find the hem treatment a bit weird. It is, however, a nice way to bring in the coral from the sash and sleeves. So 9.5/10…

  7. I admired it, and then scrolled down and cringed at the hem. I think that sums up my relationship with 1820s fashions in general very succinctly…
    I’ve seen much more cringeworthy 1820s dresses and this is more in the “don’t subjectively love it but objectively it’s very good for its era” category; but that hem is way too puffed up and stiff for that fabric, you can’t talk me out of that, so just 8/10.

  8. I love it. This is combining two eras that I’m not very fond of, but combining them makes a perfect compromise that is just exquisite. There is still the light, airey feeling from the the regency, but the waist has dipped down a bit and the skirt is fuller, but not into the , in my point of view, silly 1820s/30s. It’s a 10/10 from me.

  9. I love it! I’ve been liking 1820s stuff more and more lately – even the puffy hems! (bit of a trend going on with me – I’m really into transition periods now: late 1780s-early 1790s, Natural Form, 1820s, early 1890s, you get the picture). I think this one is particularly beautifully done and I just like everything about it.

    So I’m going to go ahead and give it a full 10/10!

  10. It’s beautiful. I think the fabric would have worked better in a less fussy format, all the puffs and decoration kind of conflict with the lovely embroidery, but it is very pretty. Love the coral against the white and silver. For me, I would prefer to see this soft, flowing fabric in a more gathered and draped style rather than a stiff conical effect as in the skirt, but the back is beautiful, and it is one of my generally favoured periods. 8.5/10.

  11. Julia Ergane says

    Short, puffed sleeves have never been my thing; but that is really my only major druther. I love the fabric and it can use almost any other colour to accent it, so the coral is quite nice in my opinion. I don’t mind the hem, though I do love the really drapey look of the earlier part of the century. My rating: 9/10

  12. I really like this dress – the fabric is beautifully detailed (how it must have twinkled under candlelight!), the coral trim is delightfully unexpected; and I so enjoy seeing 1820s and 30s dresses, with their quirky sleeves and wadded hemlines. The last burst of exuberance before Victorian gentility sets in. Just lovely.
    10/10

  13. Sixer says

    How sweet and elegant! Of course I don’t like puffed sleeves on myself, but with a hem like that you would need to balance things out and bring symmetry (it’s my first time seeing a puffed hem, so perhaps that is why I like it so much. Novelty has it’s own charms). The coral ribbon is wonderful, adding just enough interest without being loud or detracting from the embroidery – an, “across the ball-room” trim, if you will. The back has just enough interest, with the extra fabric and bow. My only real concern is that you can see the hem below the puffed trim – is that normal? It looks a little sloppy.

    Over all lovely, solid 9/10.

  14. holly says

    points on for the spectacular fabric, point off for the ho-hum styling of the dress.

    5/10

  15. I’m growing partial to the 1820’s, so I like this a lot. I think the gorgeous, but too drapery fabric would have suited a soft Empire/Regency style better, but it manage to work with this style too. The silhouette is elegant and pleasing, I love the coral accents, but am not sure about the military inspired trim on the bodice – they should have used it in some sort of true V-shape from shoulder to waist instead. The sleeves are darling, with some reservation on the vertical coral strips – no, changed my mind, I like those too. The hem is fabulous – it’s nice they found a way to trim it that is both so right for the era *and* works with that particular fabric!
    The bodice trim lower my points, so it’ll be 9,5 from me.

  16. The fabric is gorgeous, and I quite like the style. It’s very elegant. I’m not sure if I like the coral colour as a colour, but I think it was a good choice in this context. It goes well with the main fabric. I feel the same about the sleeves. Puffed sleeves don’t generally do it for me, but these are well-executed and balance out the skirt nicely. 9/10

  17. Susan says

    I really like this, and would wear it if I could. The puffy, angled hem-trim would add to the skirt’s attractive swirl while dancing, while the slight addition of weight would keep things proper. This dress would be both comfortable and fun to wear while dancing.

    Imagine how that silvery trim would look under candlelight: combine it with the wearer’s movement while dancing, and the trim itself would glimmer and appear to dance!

    This is a very well-thought out ball gown, so 9.5 from me. The bodice trim is a little clunky – but only a very little clunky, and the rest is wonderful.

  18. It’s hard for me to appreciate the conical shape and off-the-wall hem decorations of the 1820’s – just not my thing. Having said that, for its time and purpose I think it would have gotten a 10/10 had it been judged then. I think it would have been pretty spectacular in candlelight.

    The fabrics and colors are fine, but not extraordinarily exciting. In the here and now I give it 8/10, docking 2 points for the fussy hem frou-frou malarkey.

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