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Rate the Dress: 18th century fabric manipulation

Between the start of the new term at Toi Whakaari, personal life, and prepping for Costume College, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t managed to write a single blog post between Rate the Dresses. So we’re going straight from one frothy pink and green concoction, to another frothy pink and green concoction. Will this week’s prove as popular as lasts? Let’s find out!

Last Week: an 1870s day dress in summer florals

Last week’s Rate the Dress reactions caught me by surprised. I suspected a lot of people would like it, but not quite so much, and not quite so many of you! I thought it must have been a bit too saccharine for at least some of you, but nope! Love was in the air…

Even the one person who didn’t like it was too polite to put their rating, and ruin all the others!

The Total: 9.5 out of 10

These days that’s a practically perfect score.

This week: a late 1770s dress with fascinating fabrications

Today’s pick is a late 1770s dress with all them trimmings – which may explain why it’s so perfectly preserved and un-altered.

Dress, 1778–80, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.60.40.3

The Met states that this dress is so small that it must have been worn by a girl of no more than 14, but I’m very suspicious of that statement. Absolutely the dress may be tiny, but I also know extremely petite women in their 20s, 30s and 40s (etc. etc.) who are significantly smaller than the average 14 year old. Absent any information that points to the design of this dress being suitable only for a young teenager, all we know is that it was worn by someone very small.

Dress, 1778–80, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.60.40.3
  • https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/86882

The dress is lavishly decorated with fascinating ruching, fly fringing, braid, pleating, and ruffles.

Dress, 1778–80, French, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.60.40.3

The decorations extends across the bodice front and back, and down the sleeves. There is more trim on the skirts front and back, for texture from every angle.

What do you think? Do you like the rococo froth as much as last week’s rococo revival froth?

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.  Phrase criticism as your opinion, rather than a flat fact. 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!)


  1. Kathy Hanyok says

    This gown is a dream! Obviously a labor of love. Although highly trimmed, it’s not fussy. I think the relative plainness of the skirt ( my favorite color) as well as what looks like flat felled seams keeps it from looking too too. The scale-like trimming (is it smocking?) adds a bit of whimsy. Love it, could study it for days. 10

  2. It’s scrummy and in my opinion way too sophisticated for a teen. For a tiny woman, it would be a perfect combo of feminine but not girly. clever her!
    The back view is sooo gorgeous. I love the smocking, not as complex as it looks which is a nice change. And I love the colours.
    It reminds me of the Dresden (no doubt fake!) figures my mother used to have, with polonaise skirts and delicate porcelain trims. As a child they endlessly fascinated me.

  3. Clare says

    I love the pattern on the pink silk, its simply exquisite and in such good condition …. but sadly this dress is not for me… the trimming reminds me of a cross between a cheese grater and yet another wasps nest… and there are cheese grater arm bands … and elsewhere i just see strings of garlic bulbs…


  4. Tracy W says

    I adore this so much! I’ve always loved fabric manipulation. The colors are subtle enough not to “argue” with everything that’s going on reverse smocking wise. The balance is perfect. Yes, it is frilly and a tad overdone – IOW, it’s exactly period. I want.


  5. Roseann Cisneros says

    I like it but i think it’s a little overdone….the work on the bodice is a little too much especially on a small woman i love the color and the style but feel it’s a little too fussy for one So petite i give it an 8

  6. If I”m recalling correctly that is called English smocking. I did it once for a bag project, and it is fairly easy to do, though time-consuming. This gets me wanting to do something with that again.
    I quite love it, I’d be curious what it would look like without the fading of colors we see right now.


  7. Anne says

    For those who don’t know yet: The parts/patches on the shoulders, back and upper arms are smocked 🙂

  8. Trish Files says

    The silhouette, the colors and the lavishness of this are all appealing, but the trim reminds me of snake skin. Spikes on the shoulder seem hostile.


  9. Angelina M. Vono says

    10/10, but I’m a bit bias in this piece. Having had to do ‘dragon scale’ smocking multiple times for cosplay pieces for a friend of mine (Daenerys from game of thrones) I’m very familiar with the stitch and was soo pleased to find it on a period piece. Also being tiny my self I recall finding the measurements at some point and being like, “but that’s me size!” And I’m in my middle 30s. Most people pick up my personal pieces and ask if this is for a child. :::face palm::: I digress though. Greens and pink and much trimming. Plus I’m a fan of chartreuse.

  10. J H Madison says

    The devil is in the details!!!! Love all the “fancy” work and trim; yet, the skirt is wonderful in it’s simplicity. 9

  11. Although I can really appreciate the skill that went into all the fabric manipulation decoration, I don’t care for the look of it, as it makes me think of growths rather than ornament.

    I like the color combination, and I suspect that age has somewhat dimmed the colors, so it would likely have been more impactful.

    7.5 of 10

  12. Heather says

    I agree with the comment that the trim looks like snake skin, or perhaps dragon scales, but that’s what I love about it! I’ve never seen trim like this on a Georgian dress and I think it’s spectacular! It makes me want to do some trimming like that on a Georgian style dress myself. I suspect the colors have dulled some with age. I wish we could see it bright and new!

    Unique, beautiful, and well crafted 10/10

  13. Christina Kinsey says

    It looks like the colours have dimmed with age, but I can imagine it must have been beautiful in its original state. I love the trim, with the intricate smocking, it works beautifully. Women then were much smaller than women today so it is likely the original wearer could have been an adult.
    I give it a 9.5

  14. Christine gregory says

    I really love the dragon scale look. And I would not normally like those colors but they worked really well together. 9/10.

  15. Love this dress and it makes me wonder about the person it was made for and the kind of life she must have lived. Thank goodness we don’t have to wear these now! Love the colors together and and though it might be a little over decorated on the top it works. Would have left off the tucks? On the skirt.

    These are fun to see so I’m so glad to read your blog!

  16. Elaine Smith says

    I pretty much dislike everything about this – the colors, the smocking that looks like chain mail, the warty growths edging the fabric, the unattractive pleats on the front of the skirt, the ugly honking big tassel thing on the bodice front…. I do love the beautiful fabric on the upper part and I admire the workmanship. 2/10

  17. dropping stitches says

    It is a beautiful dress that looks delicate and intricate, even with all that froth going on. I love the pink and green together. The pink silk is so lovely and I wish it had been allowed to shine on its own. I can hardly see the brocade pattern and what appears to be pinstripes. I don’t like the ruffled trimming along the top, shoulders, and arm bands. I agree with others who’ve said it resembles chain mail or fish scales. It detracts from the look and that gorgeous pink fabric. Otherwise, I would wear this at any age and love the statement it makes.


  18. Olivia says

    Exciting, unique, definitely worth a double take. What the wearer lacked in size she made up for in personality. I love the reptilian vibe of the smocked sections. Definitely using this texture as inspiration for a scaly baroque theatrical costume. 10/10!

  19. Jules says

    I don’t particularly care for the colour combination, but it works quite well here. As always, I’m curious about the original colour intensity, and what it would have looked like before it faded. The North American smocking delights me to no end, and the variety of trims are interesting (chuckled over the “garlic bulbs” observation above). The braid trim under the smocking looks really clever, and that is the thickest fly fringe I’ve ever seen. Rating it higher than personal preference would allow, because it really is quite a spectacular piece of workmanship.


  20. Veronica says

    There’s lots and lots of details on the dress – I’m actually rather fond of the “dragon” smocking (seems to add a textured contrast). I’d probably hold back on some of the other decorations, like the braids over the front of the dress. The more vibrant colours at time of making, as mentioned by others, would probably make the gown pop a bit more. Anyone know what those funny strings in front of the bodice in the last photo are for? I don’t see them in any other photos …
    (PS Leimomi – I think you might want to tag this as RTD)

  21. inteutangarn says

    I love the colours together but I’m not so sure about the smocking. It looks spiky to me – but maybe that is because of time, maybe it was soft and cloudy bubbles when new and worn? To me the skirt looks like it it is missing a layer, between the pleats on the front and the back as the pleats look forlorn when they’re just covering a small part of the front although I’m not knowledgeable this is just my opinion. I give it 8.

  22. Lisa Adam says

    Interesting: Several people mentioned “dragons” and “chain mail” in reference to the smocking. I thought the placement suggested some of the parts of a knight’s armor. Does anyone think that could have been some kind of intentional, but whimsical, reference to knights or the military? It’s certainly an interesting coupling with the ultra-feminine colors and other elements. 7

  23. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    My first thought was the Mother of Dragons outfit in Game of Thrones.

    Lovely color combination, and despite the abundance of trim, it’s all in the same palette so it’s not too overwhelming.

    My 4’11” fashionista aunt would have loved it.


  24. Olivia Sanders says

    Well, I feel I should like this dress, but I just can’t stand it. The rough edges and bland colors (sorry to everyone who liked them, they’re just not my cup of tea) make it look like a sickly fungus. The smocking and shiny ness are interesting, but not something I would ever do. I did love the frothy pink last week, though. So sorry to pull the rating down, but there it is.

    3/10 (for the interesting smocking)

  25. Nannynorfolk says

    Must say my first impression was of a suit of armour . The work that went into it is marvellous, but I really don’t like it at all.
    So I can only give it 3/ 10

  26. I am divided in my mind about this one. I love the exquisite fabric manipulation work and the color scheme, but the result is a dress that calls attention to itself, not a dress that would make a woman look more beautiful

    8 out of 10.

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