Historical Sew Fortnightly
comments 46

Rate the Dress: green on green on green in the 1860s

AN IMPORTANT NOTE: Please feel free to not like today’s selection, or any other garment that I present, but make sure that expressing your dislike doesn’t become an excuse to insult other people.  You can tear it to shreds sartorially speaking, but please take care that your comments do not attack any of the other commenters, and do not cast aspersions on any group that may choose such garments.  It’s fine to not like something, but make sure that you respect other people’s choice to feel differently.

We’ve had some very amusing take-downs of garments over the years, and that’s not an issue (and even better, hilarious – the “I’m pretty sure that Worth’s cat stepped in a puddle of ink and walked across this sketch and then the seamstresses did their best to interpret those splodges as an actual design” is still my favourite), but lately there have been a lot of “Ugh, what sort of colour-blind cretin would like that?” comments (which you haven’t seen, because I’ve deleted them), and that is NOT OK.

Right.  Last week.  Yellow Liberty of London Aesthetic gown.  Divisive.  Some lovers: warm yellow, relaxed, cosy.  All very good!  Some not-so-sure-ers: too-plain T-shirt-y interior, weird collar.  Some total dislike-ers: the 1960s & 70s ruined these colours and silhouettes for us forever.  Funny how something that happened later can totally change how you perceive the original, isn’t it?

Despite the all-over-the-place scores, the outfit still managed a respectable 7.4 out of 10.  Not too bad!

For this week’s Rate the Dress we’re going from yellow to green, and from counter-culture to conventional.

This 1860s day dress from the Musées départementaux de la Haute-Saône has some age damage, and definitely hasn’t been displayed to its best advantage, but please look past those in your judgement, and consider the garment as it would have been on a woman 148 years ago.

This day dress features the typical silhouette and ornamentations of the late 1860s, worked in green silk with a tone-on-tone floral pattern, with trims of plain or moire silk in the same apple-green shade, as well as in a darker pine green, with darker green buttons to match, and lace collars and cuffs.

The dress is just beginning to foreshadow the back-heavy silhouette of the 1870s, but the trimmings of the dress are very much moving away from the simpler lines of the 1860s to the elaborate decorations that would be paired with the 1870s bustle.

In an earlier 1860s dress the dagged crenelated trim would probably have been flat surface trim on the expanse of skirt: here it is a separate ruffle, adding three dimensional interest to the design.  The side bow in the same plain or moire silk as the band holding on the ruffle is another element that moves away from the strict symmetry of mid-decade styles.

While the dress, with its wide crinoline, constricting bodice, and lavish use of fabric, is impractical from a modern standpoint, its lack of train indicates that it was actually meant to be a reasonably practical dress.  You can imagine it worn with a hat (perhaps one of the new tilted bonnets) and a parasol, out for a stroll along the promenade.

What do you think?  Will you like all-green better than all-yellow?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

46 Comments

  1. What a pretty shade of grass-green! That’s a strong point in this dress’s favor. I like the stand collar also.

    The pentagonal crenelations in the trim are lively, but there’s something about the way they are laid out (maybe the fact that there’s a second row of them, in the middle of the skirt) and the print design that gives this dress a dowdy feel despite its pretty color. That drags the dress down to a 6 out of 10 for me.

  2. Unlike many current fashion critics who shudder at a designer’s line as being too “matchy-matchy” I love the use of the various shades of green (besides having a partiality for green in any era).

    The one thing I don’t care for is the heavier scale of the bottom row of trim on both skirt and sleeve hems. I’d prefer them to be the same scale as the upper rows, but the cording outlining the bow and sashes is lovely.

    8 of 10

  3. MayravB says

    I usually love the sihouettes of the 1860s, and I like the shape and most of the ornamentation, but that shade of green really puts me off. Somehow it gives me the same feeling you get when your foot makes a squeaky noise while walking on artificial turf. Shudder. I’d love it if it were higher contrast–cream and brown, for example.

    6/10

  4. I like the play of symmetry vs asymmetry here–the asymmetrical side-bow is in really delightful contrast to the almost regimented skirt trim (with its nearly mirror-image cut-outs and piping–and it repeats on the sleeves! Squee!). It’s one of those times that a blend of extreme conventions works really beautifully together. And the shades of green–I love tone-on-tone, LOVE pattern and solid together, and especially in fresh color like this one.

    My only meh bit is the cuffs and collar–perhaps they’re faded with age, but I feel a crisper white would work better with the fresh green than this kind of tired ecru.

    9/10

  5. I definitely love green better than yellow, though yellow does have its place. I think the dress has a pleasing amount of embellishment. Not over seasoned, but not bland. Personally, I don’t like some of it, but I appreciate the symmetry. 7/10

  6. Emilia says

    This is the rare 1860s dress I’m not feeling. Maybe it’s the in-between-ness of the ornamentation/trim, ending up neither fish nor fowl. I feel like the hoop should be bigger, like the line of the skirt is off. But maybe that’s my preference for earlier 1860s showing rather than this transitional phase. The bottom dagged hem is absolutely delightful, though. Overall, it’s a dress that I suspect would have a great deal of charm on the right woman, but as a static display, it falls a little flat. 7/10 for me, mostly for the hem and the colour.

  7. swuuj says

    Without being in the know about textile history, I normally try to imagine the woman wo was wearing the presented dress. Although I do like the shades of green, the constricting bodice and the fact that it was meant to be a reasonably practical dress:

    This garment strongly reminds me either of a non-ingestible fortress or a medieval show horses in their suit of armor. This, of course, may be influenced by my domicile near the Rhine with its many castles and my fondness of historc novels.

    Maybe a saleswoman did want to make her on-her-own-status very clear? Or the husband loved his horses more than his wife, and she tried to compete by dressing up in a somehow mocking way? In every case, both colour and trims would have been very appropriate. And as said saleswoman, I would have loved to wear this dress. Only the white cuffs seem unhandy, so 9/10.

    (I really do hope that this kind of comment comes up to your expecations.)

  8. My first impression was “finally a working class dress. Cool.” I think it is the saggy shape of the bodice in the front view. It makes it look ill-fitting and sloppy. The color reminds me of arsenic dye in its shrill glory. I imagine having to touch it and get the creeps.

    The side view and the back view show its beautiful shape but that’s not enough to make up for the color, the bodice and the uninspired trim. 6/10

  9. Emily says

    It’s not really my preferred period, but I would wear the heck out of this color combination any day. 8.5.

  10. What a delight! I’d love to wear this. A feminine silhouette, interesting trim, and one of my favourite colours too. The only thing that jars is the mis-matched decoration at the bottom of the button placket (not sure if this may be a later alteration or damage? I’ve seen slightly misaligned bodice trim on other 19th century dresses and it always leaps out at me). Nevertheless, this lovely dress gets 9/10 from me!

  11. I saw the small Icon in my blog feed and thought it would be easy to go in and give it a low score, since big green dresses are definitely not my thing. Then I read the post and saw the bigger images, and the more I see it, the more I like it. I really like the silhouette, it’s a clever use of trim, without being too overburdening, and even the green is actually quite a nice shade. I really would like to wear it, while in town for some business, so it’s a solid 9/10 from me.

  12. Sonja says

    I love the side view and the dagged trim, but the color and the front view are uninspiring to me. I’ll give it a 6/10.

  13. Natalie says

    I love reading your blog and this is my first time posting!
    I am going to assume that the ruffled trim on the neck and sleeves was originally white, which I think would just look stunning next to the green color. I’m not the biggest fan of the chest area of the bodice (it’s not even the bust but the underbust that looks quite generous) but I am guessing that’s a common style of the period? I mean, the wearer would still be wearing a corset, right? It seems so cruel to have to wear a corset when the chest area is so blouse-y anyway! Or were corsets more forgiving to the bosom back then? I am neither seamstress nor historian (do I still get to vote? 8/10!) but I am curious!

    • Elise says

      Of course you can vote! Even better because your opinion means that you get a first opinion unweighed by previous opinions!

      I ask lots of questions, too. I love this blog.

    • Everybody is welcome and everybody gets a vote!* Delighted to have you!

      I think this dress is simply displayed on a mannequin that doesn’t fit it properly, and on the original wearer the bodice would have been smooth and fitted.

      * Except mean people. Mean people get their comments deleted and a VERY disappointed look from me 😉

  14. I think it is beyond adorable. That side silhouette is just so elegant, although the way the skirt is lifting at the back makes me wonder if they’ve over bustled it for how it was originally worn?
    The colour scheme reminds me of chilled avocado soup with spinach shreds, which is appealing as I like those flavours. It is cool and summery.
    I LOVE the crenellated details and how they are 3d. A different feel to van dyking. It reminds me of the dove tailing that holds furniture together, and I quite like that aspect – maybe she was in the furniture trade and this was tongue in cheek? Or maybe because it has a lightly stylised lettuce leaf or kale vibe. Unlikely but there is something a little playful about this dress – it is conservative but with a bit of a wink and a nod to my eye.
    8/10 for capturing some of the best aspects of the fashion receding and the one coming in, all in one dress.

  15. Rachel says

    The green is delicious. I’m itching to draw this one, especially with all those sharp-edged embellishments. The skirt’s shape is lovely, and the side bow is my favorite part.

    I only wish the top half had a bit more interest. My dislike of droopy shoulders aside, it just doesn’t hold its own against the skirt. Even a little bit more structure up there would make the dress.

    I’m really sorry to hear there are some visitors bringing ugliness like that to the comments. I have a lot of fun reading over the comments for rate the dress. While I don’t always agree with them, many are smart and/or funny, and it’s helped me look more critically at clothing designs in general – and I’m learning to like design elements I wasn’t crazy about before. But I’m sorry that some people are making it unpleasant.

    8.5/10 for the dress. I just love looking at that color.

  16. Laura says

    I Love the greens in this dress- especially together, and I love the crenelated trim at the bottom– imagine how grand she’d be sailing along a nice bit of parkway with a stiff breeze beneath her! For myself I could probably do without the middle bit of trim but only if I’m being fussy. This green does make me feel a little like any suitor might get the vapours leaning in to close from arsenic fumes but it would be worth it especially if you had bonny auburn hair to complement it!

  17. Somehow this dress feels terribly plain, but I wouldn’t mind wearing it as an everyday, casual dress(at least as casual as an 1868 dress could be ^^). Even a well-bred lady needed a few plainer outfits, especially when in country. But if I was to imagine an owner of this garment, I would say it belonged to a wife of a doctor or perhaps an officer. decent 7/10

  18. I like the main color, but I’m not a fan of the darker green contrast; it’s too boring. Brown, cream, black, or some other color would have been more interesting.

    Love the sleeves! That dagged trim is awesome, especially with the sleeves. I like the bow-thing at the back, and I like the sideback sash…until I realized it only had it on one side. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind asymetric bustle skirts, but the whole other than that is symmetric which doesn’t balance out the idea of it.

    However….aside from the dagged trim, the overall design is a little blah. It feels like it’s missing a layer of skirt, and I would have preferred to see more of the dagged trim along the bottom of the basque. Plus only one side back sash.

    6.5/10

  19. I love the late 1860’s/early 1870’s dresses. The only issue I see with this one is the waistline looks too pinched. It’s like the dress sucked on a sour lime and is making a face at us. It needs a bit more of a flow – which we see a couple of years later- from the bodice to the basque waist. Because it’s a transition gown and they are clearly still learning, I’m giving it a 7/10.

  20. There are no aspects of this dress that I dislike, so it gets a 10/10. I think it would be quite elegant for a promenade and would feel suitably embellished for that activity.

    Best,
    Quinn

  21. That dress is to die for. No literally. Wouldn’t they have used copper and arsenic to create that pretty shade of green? It’s lovely though.

  22. I’m rather fond of this one- it’s precisely my favorite shade of green (and you all know how hard that is to find), so high marks and a bit of bias for that. I like the geometric trim in contrast to the florals. The proportions are a little wonky, though- not a fan of betwixt-and-between styles. By the by, I really loved last week’s gown- cool steampunk retro Renaissance cosplay in the most gloriously golden fabric- I just forgot to hit submit. Womp womp…

    Anyway, 7/10 for this week

  23. I love the colour, but there’s something about the shape that’s just off for me, probably why it’s not an era I desperately want to sew for. 6/10

  24. I just can’t be inspired to love it; just like I can’t be inspired to love the 1860s in general, I guess. I agree with Rachel that the top is just too meh in comparison to the detailed skirt; I like the skirt part more when I forget about the bodice.
    6/10?

    And pfff, stupid comments. Go cuddle with Fiss when it gets too much; that’ll make at least two people happy. Although I guess I don’t have to remind you of that. 😉

  25. Elise says

    I love it. I like things that play with a single color along the tones. Since I typically find mid 19th century too fussy, this is exactly the dress I would have worn. I agree with the others that it is lacking in some grace, but I’ll give it an 8/10.

    Per last week-it looked warm, and it was freezing in my part of the world. So I wanted to cuddle up in all that velvet and watch movies. I would have been biased and given it a 10!

    And one of the reasons I like this blog so much is its sheer positive point of view–while allowing the odd snark so that it doesn’t get too pedantic.

  26. India says

    There’s a lot I like about this dress despite once again coming smack up against one of my least favourite silhouettes. I can’t help it but i can never quite get rid of the feeling that someone is trying to smuggle a small person out of the room under her skirts. And then that thought leads to an image of a pantomime donkey so all hope of the dress making a serious fashion statement is gone for me. But I do like the green on green and don’t find it boring at all. With such a geometric design I think a contrast could easily have been overpowering. To my surprise I also love the arrangement of the bow and the draping at the back. It’s beautifully done. The sleeve trim too is
    well handled and is perfectly in proportion while still echoing the much larger design on the skirt. But the bodice! Oh dear, the bodice. So dowdy and frumpy and boring in comparison to the rest of the dress. So once more a 7/10 from me.

  27. No expertise to share on the dress rating end (although I do love all the details and greens) but here in the US we are in the middle of a huge demonstration of the importance of keeping a civil tone in discussions; can only salute all of the well reasoned and opinionated politeness on display here and wish that it would leak over into other arenas.

    • Thank you! And yes, I am hugely disappointed in the terrible displays of childish rudeness that are allowed and encouraged in politics. I feel like courtesy and politeness are the barest minimum we should expect of our ‘leaders’.

  28. Kirri says

    Oh I love it! I would really like to write something clever about it but all I can think is pretty colours, nice variations within a tone, just lovely on many levels. My lack of descriptiveness is a poor response to such a pretty dress! 10/10

  29. It is a bit disfigured by the way it is displayed and I have to say I find that a bit distracting. As a further distraction, I keep wondering if this green was achieved using the arsenic dyes popular in the 19th century which would have made the dress a hazard to wear and even to be around (although this shade of green is fairly muted so it may not contain arsenic).
    Looking past all of that, I still don’t really care for this dress. The combination of decoration and shape just feels overly fussy and a bit crude to me. 6/10

  30. Actually I really like the pentagons, it has a kind of humorous, floating feel to it, like there’s a helium balloon underneath there and the wearer is just skipping, bouncing along. I don’t think it drags it down – if anything, it serves a purpose of implying that if it wasn’t there, the wearer would just go floating away! I’m also rather enchanted by the side streaming sash, and by the light floral sprig on the taffeta. I can imagine the wearer of this dress, and I REALLY like her in my mind’s eye – she’s sprightly, saucy, and light on her toes, and ready to laugh and smile.

    As a rule green isn’t one of my immediate favourite colours but I quite like this, even if it is probably deadly arsenical green. I think it all works together very well. So, I’m going to give it a 8.5/10.

    And if anyone makes comments that need to be deleted, may I suggest they lick the lovely arsenical green dress? 😉 Or will that get me deleted?

    Daniel

  31. I like the color, the fabric and all the decorative details. Although this was described as a “practical day dress” because of the lack of train, my modern sensibilities can’t get past the huge bustle!
    7/10

  32. Kathryn says

    Hahah! my Mr. peeked over my shoulder and said, ‘so you’re giving that one a 10, then?’ This isn’t my favourite era, I don’t like high necklines or slopey shoulders, and that lace bugs me. But he’s close to right anyway, because this is my absolute favourite colour (that cross between pistachio and apple green) paired with my second-favourite colour (deep forest green). I have a number if clothes in my own closet and fabrics in my own stash in these colours, a fact that he never passes up an opportunity to tease me about. Or help me shop for, because he’s a pretty great guy.

    I really try to offer concrete reasons, some analysis, and specific critiques of construction and fabric choice when I rate dresses, but this rating will be purely emotional, because it has brought up all the same nice feelings of love and fun companionship with my partner that Leimomi mentioned in her post about the cemetary walk. Also, that contrast-binding diamond-shaped hem at the bottom is just breathtaking. The craftsmanship!

    9.5, because I can’t bring myself to prove him entirely right. Beautiful dress!

  33. Alexandra says

    What a lovely dress! As I would wear it with no hesitation at all I give it an 8.5.

    The color is gorgeous, but I have a thing for green I guess. In my historical (sadly non-existant) closet it would not be the uber-loved dress, but something that I’d stumple upon from time to time and be happy to rediscover it. Maybe cringing a bit over the slightly weird pointy seam, but still enjoying it.

  34. I think I made my daughter a doll dress with this same print in a cotton……. So I’m naturally disposed to like it. Mine did not have anywhere near as much fancy trim.

    As to the dress itself, the contrasting band of green feels like it oddly pulls the skirt in and that distracts me quite a lot.

  35. I like the colour and the large bows at the back and side. I think I like what they’ve tried to do with the trim, but I really don’t think it works very well. There’s something clunky about the trim, and it seems like a fun idea that didn’t translate well into reality. Unfortunately, it overpowers the dress’s good points. 3/10

  36. bovine queen says

    Beautiful. I love the color and style and time period. 10/10

  37. Mary says

    This one makes me wonder how wealthy was the wearer? It clearly took a lot of time to make. I love tone on tone, and as a seamstress myself, appreciate that this type and amount of embellishment was no small feat.
    Doesn’t make the jaw drop, but is an excellent piece.
    9/10

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