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Rate the Dress: Mid-1880s ochre and gold

Last week’s 1850s homage to the 18th century attracted a few ardent admirers, a few vehement naysayers, and a lot of people who thought it was soooooo close to great….but not there (mostly because of the blue-green trim).  So it balanced out at 7.8 out of 10, which isn’t bad for a dress trying to carry SO many colours and design ideas.

I found I loved the dress if I just looked at it, but the minute I tried to inspect and analyse I found dozens of things I thought were awful.  I suspect that if I saw it at a party I still would have gone away remembering it as fabulous and lovely, because the overall impression of delight would outbalance all the little niggles.

Since last week’s dress was so very, very sweet, I felt that we need a palette cleanser: something entirely free of florals and frills and pastels.

I’d already settled on this ensemble when I realised the base colour was actually quite similar to that of last weeks dress.  Despite this, the overall feel, at least to me, is very different:

According to the Met, this day ensemble was worn by Amelia Beard Hollenback (1844-1918), wife of a wealthy New York financier, and may have been inspired by Amelia’s travels in the American Southwest.

The dress certainly features a colour scheme and design aesthetic that sets it just outside the general oeuvre of 1880s fashion, without making it conspicuously eccentric, or fitting it into any standard counter-culture of the period, such as the Aesthetic movement.

The Met believes that this dress would have been made by a very skilled, but unknown, high class Brooklyn dressmaker.

Certainly the fabric handling, cut, and finishing are all exceptionally well done.

One wonders how much input Amelia had into the dress, and how much was dictated by the dressmaker.

What do you think?  Just right for a middle aged society woman to showcase a little individuality?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

47 Comments

  1. MayravB says

    I LOVE the fabric and the way it’s used. That little brooch-thing on the side! The wee pleats around the hem! The collar–oh the colllar! Yes, this is winner to me. Minus the beady-ball trim. Not a fan, especially of how it goes on the front bodice.

    9.5/10

    • Me too! I want to marry this dress. I’m an Arizonan. I love Mission-style. The fabric of this dress reminds me a lot of that style.
      10/10

    • Emily Sturgeon says

      You took the words right out of my mouth. The bead trim on the bodice would draw too much attention to the bust for my liking, but the lines of it are stunning.

  2. Agree with MayravB pretty much all the way.

    I also love the colors and the echoes of the southwest. I do like how the bead trim emphasizes seamlines and hem edges, and had it been a heavy soutache I would have given it a 10, but the beads just make me think of them falling off at inconvenient moments.

    9 of 10

  3. So amazing- love this! The geometric trim works really well with the asymmetry. It’s interesting to see possibly ‘southwest inspired’ done in a way that isn’t overtly appropriating another culture (particularly in this time period). Beautifully done, tasteful, yet still interesting. The only caveat is that the color might be difficult to wear, but still very doable with the right complexion. It reminds me of what I like to call docent style: the retired women who volunteer at museums, who are usually dressed in somewhat conservative, but artsy and with ‘world’ influences. I think this would suit what little I know of Mrs. Amelia very well! By the way, I really want that brooch thing. 10/10.

  4. Julia Ergane says

    I would have liked different colours for myself; however, the dress is great. 9/10

  5. Lontra Canadensis says

    Part of me wants to dislike the bead trim, but the more I look at it the more I think that’s just because it’s suffering from age – re-stitched into nice neat lines and replace the missing beads, and it would be perfect. 10/10!

  6. Susan B. says

    Very creative and artistic – but it’s hard to get past that corset-on-the-outside look, which immediately drew my eye.

    The horizontal line of the trim just above the “corset” visually broadens the shoulder-width, giving the wearer an appearance of strength. Combined with the artistic flair, it speaks volumes about the personality of the original wearer.

    8.5.

    Would be more minus the corset-effect!

  7. Re: last week’s dress: “I found I loved the dress if I just looked at it, but the minute I tried to inspect and analyse I found dozens of things I thought were awful.”

    My feelings were exactly the opposite. If I just looked at last-week’s dress I found it ghastly, but if I tried examining it more closely I found redeeming virtues.

    Anyway, now for this week’s dress. I love the color; ochres appeal to me, especially when paired with rust-colored decoration. I love the draping at the rear and sides. The only thing I dislike about it is the faux-corset piecing at the bodice and the collar , both of which look strange to me. I’d like the dress better with a small standing collar and no corset-like piece. A 7.5.

  8. I love the color scheme (ochre fabric, rust-colored) trim, the draping, and cuffs. What I don’t like are the large collar (dowdy) and the corset-like piece over the bodice (just plain weird). I’d like the dress better with a small mandarin collar and no “corset” piece. As it is, 7.5 out of 10.

  9. I think it is an interesting and individual dress. I like colour, beading, cut, the quite large brooch thing that holds the front back, the very neat collar and cuffs – just about everything. The side view gives me a little pause – the whole thing goes very horizontally stripey, a little too much so. If the fabric had been bordered with a couple of rows of the stripe pattern at the bottom, I would have liked it better. But that’s a fairly small quibble.

    9 out of 10.

  10. I like it. It’s not my favourite colours but they’re unusual and interesting. I would prefer it without the bead trim and if the patterned fabric on the bodice was either confined to just the yoke or covered the entire front of the bodice.

    Other than that I think it’s great. I love the broaches. 8/10

  11. Murgatroyd says

    LOVE everything about this! the beading, the fabric, the colors, the asymmetrical skirt… 10/10!!

  12. sewcharacteristicallyyou.comI like the left side draping, but not the right. To me it looks odd. I do like the southwestern type flair to it though. I see how some don’t exactly like the corset line either that deviates down the front. If the pattern fabric had been left as a yoke, I think I would have like it a little better. 7/10

    Sarah
    http://www.sewcharacteristicallyyou.com/blog

  13. Grace Darling says

    Most interesting… the circular clasps on the side of the skirt – they reflect
    the brooches that clasp the mantle of La Conquistadora, at the Cathedral
    of Santa Fe in New Mexico. I would expect Amelia to have been hobnobbing
    with the set at “Onteora”.

    My favourite period.
    10/10

  14. Running out the door, so no time to go into the whys and wherefores, but I HAD to make sure this dress received my rating: a perfect 10. Every glance just reveals more gloriousness, on top of the already perfect silhouette and color scheme. Quite smart.

  15. I want to like this a lot more than I do. I like the folksy qualities, and that it appears to be made from a blanket/traditionally woven fabric. It has a lot of solidity and integrity, but there is at least one detail that annoys me so irrationally. I do not like all those giant beads or covered buttons that border the bodice edges and cuffs. They’re annoying and they don’t work for me. I don’t think they give enough contrast/complement, and their pearlescent/metallic sheen against the rough wool visually irritates me. I also feel that the bodice is not quite resolved – I like the skirt draping, but the front view of bodice comes off as quite clunky, something isn’t quite right there and the proportions don’t quite work.

    It’s also a strangely “worthy” shade of yellow-beige – not a particularly appealing colour in this context, but for some reason I find it feels quite serious and preachy, as if the wearer wanted to make a point and I can’t quite explain why that reaction. Which makes the shiny pearly beads even more annoying as they seem hypocritical, like bedazzling on traditional weaving – urrrgh, ugh, ugh.

    The more I look at this, the less I actually like it. It could be so much better, and there’s a lot to like, especially in the skirt and the fact they used such an interesting fabric – but I do intensely dislike the beads, and there are so many of them in such pointless places. They add nothing. This is a dress that wants to be functional and efficient, and then for some reason the dressmaker decides to stick big chunky vulgar pearly beads along every possible edge.

    5/10. It’s well cut and well made, but I’m taking three points off for the beads, and another 2 for being a bit of a digestive biscuit of a bustle dress.

    • “…a bit of a digestive biscuit of a bustle dress.” Wonderful image! You have made my day!

  16. J Lane says

    I like this dress for its uniqueness. That particular type of beaded trim is something I’ve never seen before and I find that I quite like it. I also love the metal ornament on the side of the skirt which gives the whole ensemble a striking, yet wholly pleasing aesthetic. I believe that a woman who chose to wear this dress would stand out, and that makes me admire her and her fashion sense that much more. 9/10. I would have enjoyed a brighter color, and perhaps the fabric was brighter originally. That’s the only reason that this isn’t a 10/10.

  17. I like the whole thing. Terrible color for a young girl but for a woman my age it is sedate with enough quirky to make it stand out. I would love to make this dress. The only change I would make is a different shade of brown but only because that shade does not suit my coloring. 9/10

  18. Alexandra says

    After reading the comments I feel bad about what I am to say now: I really really don’t like this dress. On top it looks like she put on a corset over the dress and at the bottom it looks like a layer of the skirt was partially ripped off. To me the beading looks like tiny bells and it makes me think that this dress is rattling and jingling with every step. The striped fabric is actually quite nice and the overall color is a bit bland and I do like the draping on the left with that nice brooch. But all in all to me it’s a 3/10, I am sorry to say.

    • Lauren says

      I had the same reaction–didn’t like it–and kept scrolling up from the 10/10s to see if I really was looking at the same dress as everyone else 🙂 Amazing polarizing!

  19. This is my favorite dress of all time. I joined pinterest just so I could pin this dress. It is exactly what I would want to wear if I lived in 1885. I love the cultural reference, the kooky trim, the details of the pleated hem and buttoned overskirt. The fit is perfect. The textile is exquisite. The bustle is just the right amount of oomph. This dress seems so different than what you normally see in this time period. I love to imagine the lady wearing this surrounded by a room full of Worth gowns. It is not as fancy, but it stands out more – or at least in a different way. I feel like it is a perfect mix of elegant and eclectic. 10/10!

  20. Deanna says

    This is such an interesting dress. The shape of the bodice is very nice. The patterns in the stripes are interesting and attractive, I like the right side of the unusual overskirt (the draping on the left doesn’t look so good from the back), and the ornament adorning it. I find it intriguing that the filigree of the two halves does not match. And the right side of the ornament puts me in mind of a crescent moon and star. And those lovely pleats at the hem which just barely show! Looks like a lot of work for that little extra oomph.

    I personally don’t care for this ochre, but all the colors of the dress harmonize with each other. The iridescent beads and pick up all the colors of the dress. The larger beads that frame the back tabs look out of place (they appear to be the same ones used as buttons). And somehow having two sets of tabs there doesn’t look quite right, even though it’s perfectly symmetrical. I really don’t care for the bead placement on the bodice, which in combination with the large area of plain fabric, gives the impression of a corset. It breaks up the flow. Yet it would look very odd without something covering the transition between pieces there. But then from the side-view it looks fine!

    It was very hard to decide how much I liked this, so I skipped rating it for a while. It looks so good in certain aspects, and I really like how different it is, but there are just things that don’t flow well. I think I’m going to have to go with 6.5.

  21. Like others, I’m dubious about the front of the bodice, and the colour. Overall, a really nice, individual, un-forgettable dress (I for one know I’ve seen it before).
    8/10

  22. I love the skirt and the back, but I can’t get over the bodice. The bead trim is too big, if the beads had been half the size it would have been nice. I also don’t like that both the yoke and the collar is in the same patterned fabric. It gets a 5/10 from me.

  23. Lauren says

    Blech! That front flap looks like it was supposed to be caught up in the waistband but got missed! And that colour just looks like someone dyed white fabric in coffee as an afterthought. I like “western” things, but this doesn’t do it for me.

    Drab and jarring, 0/10 (and I’ve never gone below a 5!)

  24. Birdmommy says

    I adore this dress! The hint of corset like lines in the bodice is worldly without being vulgar. The beads are a nice contrast to the stripes of the fabric, and the skirt draping is exquisite. Those pleats at the hemline! I swoon…

    It makes me a little sad that I’ll never be as gifted a dressmaker as the unknown person who created this delight. Ah, well…

    10/10, of course. 🙂

    • Lyn Swan says

      I agree completely with your comment about the skill displayed in this dress….I will never come close in execution of this dress…never mind the design.

  25. Johanne says

    The bodice gave me pause at first. It does seem Victorians were obsessed with suppressing female sexuality while wildly highlighting the female body whenever and wherever. After third and fourth views and considering the times, there’s not a thing I object to in this dress. Could do a rave about the draping of the material and the beautiful beading, color, dignity.

    9.5/10

  26. Bridget says

    Like the others, I really like the Southwestern flavor of the dress. The dress has a very nice overall effect, although the color and style are something I would not be drawn to wearing myself. The style manages to be fairly conservative, yet individualistic, and the bodice trimming would have emphasized her attractive figure without being showy. Although the silhouette is pleasing, it’s the details that really make this dress interesting. You have to look at it close up to fully appreciate it. Unlike many others here, I absolutely adore the muted multicolor bead trim. The subtle differences in color between the beads is delightful. The patterns of the woven bands of trim are nice too. I don’t think the collar goes well with the bodice. A plain high neckline would’ve been better. But overall, a very interesting, classy dress 9/10

  27. HoiLei says

    Oddly, to me, the corset-outside-the-dress look seems rough and ready. Probably an entirely modern perception, based on RennFaire/wench/pirate costumes. Actually, I do love this dress. I think the bobble-bead trim could have been better, though. 9/10

  28. Erin C says

    I have mixed feelings about this ensemble. The most obvious thing is the ball trim / beads, which I just can’t stand – both because of the look (I dislike any type of ball trim, whether it be pompoms or this, and I’ve never been fond of spherical buttons either) and because it looks like it would click constantly and that would drive me nuts. *shudders* In my eyes it might be better replaced by a flat brass button and some type of soutache or even just a sturdy piping.

    There’s also what some other people mentioned about the odd corset-front styling. My initial instinct was that there just wasn’t enough of the pattern to make a fully striped bodice out of it after the skirt panel and the way the stripe has been used as trim. It seems to be a somewhat unusual textile, so perhaps it was in short supply? On the other hand, it might just be echoing the patterning of the underskirt / overskirt contrast, in which case I would be rather less charitable towards it.

    However, I do really like the colours and the overall styling and shape of the dress (it doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to echo the desert but having a fussy silhouette full of fluff that doesn’t match properly), and that clasp is just to die for. 8/10.

  29. JessieRoo says

    Like, like, like! Especially the bodice, which might look a little too risque with that corset styling and sparkly beads, were it not for the very trim, tailored, button down shirt look of the yoke, collar, and sleeves/cuffs. Although I am not totally sold on the skirt front draping, otherwise I think the maker did a fabulous job of balancing all the elements. Definitely the thing for an intelligent, strong minded not-quite-middle aged Victorian woman who had more interesting things to think about than simply being pretty. (Of course, who knows what the wearer was actually like…) 9/10

  30. Lalaith says

    It looks like a solid, dependable dress- no fuss, no frills, just heaps of elegance. 10/10

  31. Lyn Swan says

    I have been traveling and have not weighed in on Rate the Dress for a while. I do like this dress very much. I didn’t at first. My minds eye first seeks symmetry; the asymmetrical effect of the skirt front was jarring at first. As I observed the dress from different perspectives it somehow settled into place and became more unified. I love so many of the details…finely pleated underskirt(or dust ruffle) the brooch holding the drape of the skirt, the color and of course the patterned fabric is superb. Odd, because I usually agree with Daniel on just about everything. This time, I agree that the beads in the trim are too big…but other than that, It is lovely. 8/10

  32. Ashley Tallentire says

    I love the style and the cut and the of this dress much more than I like the fabric its colour and the Patten on the boddice

  33. ProfessorBats says

    I’m familiar with this one and have always been conflicted about it. Overall, I’m not a big fan. The use of different fabrics on the bodice with a mock layered effect I’ve seen on quite a few 1880s and 1890s dresses, and usually LOVE the effect – it’s sophisticated and usually a bit sexy/flirty with hints/illusions of half undone or half uncovered bits. Not here. The sophisticated and sexy both completely jar with the humble (or preachy? missionary?) vibe I get from that blanket type fabric. Same with the beading, normally I’d be fine with it (say, on a silk bodice), but they don’t work for me here. The plain, humble, child-appropriate fold-back collar (rather than a more typical standing collar) also jars with the fancy bodice design and annoys me. The stripes are not helping.
    From the front, the flap overskirt thing doesn’t really work for me, but I want to like it. The only view I do really like is the right side showing the flap effect, the horizontally striped underskirt, and the large buttons or cloak clasp or whatever the hardware is. But the front at back views feel a bit awkward. The back of the bodice having no stripes except a tiny little bit peaking out doesn’t work for me, I want an honest show of the stripe accent or none at all, and get frustrated every time I look at that sorry, atrophied, unpleated postillion.
    5/10, points being mostly for the workmanship rather than design.

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