Rate the dress
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Rate the Dress: a fancy dress in search of accessories

Fancy Dress, 1850s, NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b17567042

Apologies for the rather delayed Rate the Dress. We just had a three day weekend for Labour Day, and my internal calendar is completely confused.

On top of that, it’s the busiest time of year at work: the major show of the year + prepping for graduation + interviewing candidates for next year, all in a three week period! And if that wasn’t enough excitment, it’s a very important year in the Baha’i Faith: 200 years since the birth of the Bab. There have been nonstop commemorations and celebrations, and I’ve been dashing from work to receptions at Parliament one day, and then dashing home to do flower arranging for another event the next…

I really wanted to have a fancy dress for this week’s Rate the Dress, and this was the most striking example I could find that hasn’t been featured before. It is missing something though…

Last Week: a 1920s child’s frock 

You found last week’s hand painted frock utterly charming. If there was any tiny fly in the ointment it was that it was almost too sweet, or that you weren’t sure about the bonnet. It was very of its time, but possibly a little much.

The Total: 9.7 out of 10

Practically perfect, but for a B for the bonnet.

This week: an 1860s fancy dress

This week’s ‘Rate the Dress’ is either a fancy dress, or a theatre costume. But what did it represent? That part is not clear. Without the styling and accessories that went with it, it’s clearly dress-ups, but not immediately identifiable.

Fancy dress, silk, 1860s, Les Arts Décoratifs via Europeana Fashion UF 50-30-15 AB
Fancy dress, silk, 1860s, Les Arts Décoratifs via Europeana Fashion UF 50-30-15 AB
Fancy dress, silk, 1860s, Les Arts Décoratifs via Europeana Fashion UF 50-30-15 AB
Fancy dress, silk, 1860s, Les Arts Décoratifs via Europeana Fashion UF 50-30-15 AB

My best guess is that it was either meant to be an 18th c lady as in the first plate below, a shepherdess (also rather 18thc ish) as in the second plate, or perhaps a national costume, like the Swiss Girl in the last plate.

Fancy Dress, 1850s, NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b17567042
Fancy Dress, 1850s, NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b17567042
Le Monitor De La Mode, December, 1853, v. 36, plate 79, Tessa LAPL.org rbc4264 (1)
Le Monitor De La Mode, December, 1853, v. 36, plate 79, Tessa LAPL.org rbc4264 (1)
Journal des Demoiselles, Fancy Dress, ca 1870
Journal des Demoiselles, Fancy Dress, ca 1870

What do you think? What was this dress meant to be, and how fetching would the wearer have looked, and felt, in it? Would she have been the belle of the costume ball, or that weird outfit that no-one quite gets (you know that costume. You’ve probably been the one in that costume at least once. I’ve been the one in that costume for sure…)

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!)

24 Comments

  1. Elaine says

    I don’t like this at all. I’m giving it more than a 1 only because it is a costume/fancy dress and not something intended for regular wear. 3

  2. Even thought the era is wrong, my first reaction is that it’s a costume for a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. I find it quite garish, but the garishness would be effective on stage, as it would allow even the cheapest seats to follow the actress. I rather like the color combination, but there just seems to be too much combining for regular wear.

    It’s tricky to assign a rating, but I’ll go on the basis of effectiveness as costume, rather than what I might find attractive.

    7 of 10

    • Elise says

      Yes! It reminds me of the original Mary Poppins’s dress in the cartoon sequence: stylized, slightly garish, and effective at communicating fantasy)

  3. I think the wearer of this would be best served as a costermonger; perhaps her prop should be a basket of apples to “sell.” But shepherdess seems pretty likely also. Not thrilled by the two-color theme, but it makes sense as a costume and isn’t really unattractive.

    8 out of 10 (for how it combines being “fancy dress” with being attractive and/or enhancing a woman’s charms).

  4. Charlotte Tilley says

    I’m a serial lurker and I only usually rate ones I really like but this is so hideous I’m casting aside my personal lethargy and making the effort.

    2

  5. Kathy Hanyok says

    This looks like a dress from “Showboat.” “After the Ball is Over” hopefully we can change into something less gaudy. But it is extremely “pleaty” and I do like the color. 5

  6. JessieRoo says

    I vote for this being part of a Little Bo Peep costume, though I’d being willing to wear as regular clothing if only the base color of the bodice and skirt was a little more cream colored. Despite the abundance of trim, this is rather tame for something from the 1860’s (I’m think of you as a comparison, lime green, royal blue, and fire engine red plaid crinoline gown!), so I have to admit I am a little baffled by the comments about it’s ugliness and garishness. Anyway, I rather like it!
    8/10

  7. Nannynorfolk says

    This does look rather like a stage costume to me. Would an ordinary women have worn this and it does look very short and an adult woman would no have shown her legs at that time. Perhaps a young persons costume? Anyway it’s not bad so I’ll say 5/10

  8. Nannynorfolk says

    This does look rather like a stage costume to me. Would an ordinary women have worn this and it does look very short and an adult woman would no have shown her legs at that time. Perhaps a young persons costume? Anyway it’s not bad so I’ll say 5/10

    • Shorter skirts were pretty standard for fancy dress in the 1860s – like some sporting outfits, they often ended at low calf, which is exactly where this looks like it would end on a woman of standard heigh (you can measure out that the skirt is 2x torsos long).

  9. It looks rather fun to me for a costume. I’m totally enjoying thinking of it as a fun masquerade costume, and the girl having a blast wearing it. Or, that’s how I’d feel wearing it, so totally the same thing.

    Rating it as a costume: 10/10

  10. Could this have been for a circus performer? The first thing I thought was of the lady who stands on the running horses. The dress is charming. Slightly garish, but appropriate for a performer and with wonderful rosettes, ribbons and color.

    8/10

    (Don’t know if you can click on the link below, it it leads to a fabulous photo of a 19th century circus poster.)

    http://i.pinimg.com/236x/65/a6/6f/65a66f0896be2a11711fac2e932e4398–vintage-circus-posters-poster-vintage.jpg?nii=t

    • An interesting suggestion! I personally don’t think it’s a theatrical/circus costume, because the handful of 19th c examples of stage wear I’ve worked with were much sparklier and glitterier, not nearly as nicely made, and much, much more worn. Especially for circus, a costume would have been used until it fell apart.

  11. Rowena says

    I rather like it – the wider bands of contrast work for me, especially as they’re all the one colour. More than one colour would for sure be overwhelming but I don’t think this has reached that point. My call is shepherdess.
    8

  12. Susan says

    How about it being a costume for a Valentine masquerade? The colors are certainly right.

    It’s loud, but still cheerful. So I’ll give it an 8.

  13. Veronica says

    I can’t un-see a candy cane, but that’s the colour combination. I think I’ll throw my hat in with national costume. Accessories-wise, I’d go for colour matching, accessory itself varying depending on the occasion. Probably not the belle of the ball though (anyone remember the cinderella blue dress or is that just me and my wistful rememberings?) – a bit garish.
    5/10.

  14. It’s just a bit too much for me. If it didn’t have the ruffled trim or the bows it’d be fine, maybe even lovely but as it stands –

    2/10

  15. I find it humorous. Especially with the sewed corset style ribbon on the front. It is as if someone who designs bad historical costumes for Halloween went back in time. I am giving it a higher rating for making me smile.

    8/10

  16. dropping stitches says

    Love the bows and the skirt looks like so much fun for making a grand entrance. The colors remind me too much of a strawberry cupcake. Frosted and sweet. I’ve definitely seen something like this in a ballet, but my guess is for a shepherdess outfit. Just a different version of the “sexy milkmaid” costume that still exists now. 🙁

    6/10

  17. Disie says

    I think it was custom made for a very posh fancy dress ball. It’s very well made and all that ruched trim would have taken some doing. So probably made by an experienced seamstress, and, with the amount of work involved, it would have been relatively expensive. For these reasons, I’m going to give it a high score. It’s an amazing garment for its purpose. 9/10

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