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Rate the Dress: 1780s pick ups and pleats in peppermint ice cream green

Yellow is the colour I reach for when I want to be happy, but green is my go-to for calmness and de-stressing. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks in my life. Some of it has been good stress, with fun adventures, and the start of the new school year at Toi Whakaari the New Zealand Drama School. There’s also been some less happy stress, with a spike in my ever-present-but-mostly-under-control-most-of-the-time-climate-anxiety, and worries about the coronavirus (people I know who are in the know are very worried, and that’s even more worrying…).

So this week I want to be calm. And while some think historical fashion is frivolous, I’d strongly argue against that. Clothes are a universal need that links almost everyone on the planet. What we wore tells us a lot about where we’ve come from as a society, and where we can learn from that. And looking at old garments is a very low climate impact way to de-stress! So here’s to pretty (or not – that’s what RTD is all about!) frocks. This week in ‘de-stress green’ (at least for me – maybe green is your stress colour, like mine is purple. For your sake I hope not)

Last Week: ca. 1880s tiers of tassels

It’s a good thing I wasn’t aiming to de-stress you with last week’s pick, because that’s the opposite of the effect the dress had on most of you. A few of you really liked it, but most of you thought the tasselled skirt was a terrible decision that had nothing to do with the bodice.

The Total: 6.3 out of 10

Not great, but I’m sure the dress can just shake, shake, shake it off!

This week: 1780s pick ups and pleats

This week’s pick is a late 18th century concoction in palest mint green.

Robe, French, circa 1780, fastening with hooks and eyes, with with box pleated and fly-braid edged robings, fitted back skirts with fixed green silk cords, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions
Robe, French, circa 1780, fastening with hooks and eyes, with with box pleated and fly-braid edged robings, fitted back skirts with fixed green silk cords, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

When this dress was sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions it was identified as a Robe a La Circassienne, based on the similarity of the skirt to a fashion plate of a Circassienne.

However, while it’s not entirely clear what 18th c fashion writers meant by a ‘circassienne’, fashion plates described as ‘circassienne’ all appear to show garments that have the same general shape as this one, but with more elaborate ‘Orientalist’ trimmings, with fur or tassels. You can read more about them here (sadly, the images no longer appear to be working).

Robe, French, circa 1780, fastening with hooks and eyes, with with box pleated and fly-braid edged robings, fitted back skirts with fixed green silk cords, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions
Robe, French, circa 1780, fastening with hooks and eyes, with with box pleated and fly-braid edged robings, fitted back skirts with fixed green silk cords, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

So this dress is one of the many late 18th century dresses that doesn’t fit perfectly into a category.

Robe, French, circa 1780, fastening with hooks and eyes, with with box pleated and fly-braid edged robings, fitted back skirts with fixed green silk cords, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions
Robe, French, circa 1780, fastening with hooks and eyes, with with box pleated and fly-braid edged robings, fitted back skirts with fixed green silk cords, sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

So what do you think? Does it make you as happy as a perfect scoop of peppermint icecream, or does it leave you a little cold?

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

46 Comments

  1. Rebecca says

    I really hate the fly braid. It makes me feel itchy just looking at it. I don’t like this particular use of box pleats, either. It feels unsuccessful when used with the fly braid. Like there was some horrible mishap at the pleater irons. Even taking its age into account, it looks like a pinched, frail, brittle moth, pressed in a book.

    5/10

    • Gail Southba says

      The wedding dress gorgeous, if that one was offered when I got married 50 yrs ago I would have had it. Love this era of dress

  2. Claire Payne says

    I was lured to rate the dress by the colour. Such a fabulous shade and I love your description of it too. I love it so much that I am struggling to see past the colour alone. The decorative pleating looks better with a plainer fabric and prevents it from being overwhelming. Very nice indeed.

    8 out of 10 from me

    • Elise says

      It is my favorite color! I dislike the wideness at the front, and love everything else. 9/10

      As for the climate emergency, do remember what Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Work is always an antidote to depression” And you really do bring a lot of beauty, humor, and also nuanced discussion of race and history.

      That last part is really important: The Climate Emergency is harming non-whites around the world much more than it is harming whites. So your discussions about politics and oppression in the past has currency, today, and is a very important reminder to the wealthy world (where I live, at least), that we must learn from our mistakes (I will be generous and use that word) and work for equity.

      Indeed, despite being pretty lefty, most of what I read about the Climate Emergency focuses on the wealthy part of the world. Even pictures featuring Greta Thunberg crop out brown-skin individuals. But your historical commentary focuses on the whole community, even uncovering the parts hidden by colonialism. (I’ll be generous, again, and use the word “hidden”) And you do it in a thoughtful, accessible way. Yes, this is important work! And thank you, for it!

  3. Maryanne (MrsC) says

    This dress reminds me of the faux Dresden shepherdess figurines my mother had (goodness know where they are now) with its polonnaised overskirt sculpting so perfectly over the under skirt and all those pleats.
    I think it’s delicious. Pistachio or mint, or green tea, it’s all good. I love the sightly textured silk, and it’s in such fantastic condition. If the pinked edges of the pleats hadn’t frayed out so much it would look as good as new.
    Controversial opinion – is it possible this is an exceptionally good costume piece? I can’t quite put my finger on it but there’s something about it that makes me wonder if it was from a stage production rather than the 1780s. Not for any negative reasons.
    9/10

    • I’m pretty sure it’s ‘fly fringe’, not fraying 🙂

      I see nothing in this to indicate stage costume. The construction is spot on for the 1780s, and includes a lot of details (like the fry fringing) that you just don’t see on later stage costumes.

  4. Marjo Wheat says

    I think it’s lovely, especially the pale green fabric. I think it’s a delightful concoction and can just see it on a shepherdess! I like all the pleats and like to see them repeated on all layers and the bodice. Lovely! 10/10

  5. Debbie Farthing says

    I love the pleated trim with the fly-braid. The fading at the bottom of the petticoat leads me to wonder if the whole dress was once a brighter green or if that color is the result of some sort of damage.
    The overall silhouette is so pleasing and pretty.
    8.5/10

  6. Judi Moseley says

    Although I’m not a fan of this particular silhouette, I find this dress charming and–as you said–calming.
    The color is perfect, the trims are luscious. It’s out of my normal zone, but I think it’s 9/10.

  7. Kathleen Hanyok says

    Green is my color, although not usually this shade. I’m going with the belief that time has faded the gown to pistachio. I love the pleats that gather in the back of the bodice. As always, I appreciate the amount of work involved in the pleated robings and skirt hem. This is the first gown I want to recreate. 10

  8. I LOVE it! Pale green is one of my absolute favourite colours (I think I have at least 4 different fabrics this colour in my stash) and I adore the 1780’s. The silhouette is fun, the simple trim is lovely, and the woven pattern of stripes and small dots makes it a bit more interesting. I can see it working with a variety of different accessories!

    I don’t like how the bottom of the petticoat trim is a different shade, but I’m guessing that’s because some Victorian attached more trim there for fancy dress purposes and the dress faded except for the part that was covered up, so I’ll ignore it.

    The one thing I’d change is how the narrow bodice trim suddenly transitions to very wide skirt trim, which is a bit much when viewed from the front. It would be nicer if it tapered gradually.

    9.5

  9. Stafford Belinda says

    I love it! I want to make one and wear it to? Might have to invent an occasion!
    10.

  10. I don’t like the fly fringe here either. It makes the gown look a bit as though it’s made out of iceberg lettuce.

    It’s not a bad dress. The pale green, though bland, is soothing and refreshing. But as a dress to make a woman look more beautiful, I don’t think it does very much.

    6.5 out of 10

  11. I find that the soothing color makes all the different design elements coherent, so that the overall effect is lovely.
    9 of 10

  12. Heather says

    Refreshing and pretty! It reminds me a bit of the Sofia Coppola Marie Antionette movie which is always a plus.
    9/10

  13. Elaine says

    I love the color. In the closeups, I really like the trim. But when I see the entire dress, I don’t like it nearly as much. I’m not sure why. The overall shape is nice. I don’t care for the pleating at the bottom. I also don’t like the way the bodice back drops below the waist before the skirt is gathered in. At a casual glance, my eyes don’t immediately see that the bodice back doesn’t end at the waist, and to me it then looks like the wearer must have had a long torso with disproportionately short legs. Knowing I’m wrong about that doesn’t convince me on a gut level at all. 6/10

  14. I love the dress and the colour. I’m curious about what shade it was when new, given the fading and how the hem is more vibrant than the rest of the dress.

    9/10

  15. I love the color!
    But, the shape and construction details, not so much.
    I can’t quite put a finger on it, but there is just something about it, that seems off, symmetrically or design wise, or something.
    So, 7 out of 10.

  16. Lee Ann Cain says

    I think this dress is charming. This period is one of my favorites–all of that ruching is way too laborious, but I love the textured effect with the billowing over skirt.
    I also think that the transition of the width of the ruching down the front is not pleasing in proportion.
    Don’t really care for fly braid trim as it looks in these photos, but can’t help thinking they may be helped by a bit of steaming.
    I like the pale green, to me it’s fresh. Enlarging the photo of the whole dress it almost looks as if there is a bleeding of color into the large bottom trim. It seems some of that vibrant green has not made it all the way to the bottom.
    These observations are just nitpicking–I love this dress!!!
    9.5

  17. Rateadress says

    These kind of dresses are generally eye candy and this one is no exception. When it was new it probably looked good on a young Blonde. I‘m not sure, if I understand how the trimmings were made. It looks like they were finished in a certain technique, then folded and then the edges embellished with some sort of tiny bows or fabric bits simulating little leaves. I like the idea of leaves for it in combination with the soft green but I might be on the wrong track with my assumption here. And yes go ahead, tell me I‘m conservative, but…I really wouldn‘t mind the good ole‘ bow right in the middle between the bosoms. On the other hand…I‘m not sure a simple bow would work with the complex finish of the trimmings, so maybe flowers instead. White camellias could be nice or roses. All in all: it’s a little faded but lovely anyways: 8.5

  18. I think this is the perfect de-stresser (Ironically coming from someone who works in sustainability, and, if I’m being inwardly honest, uses historical fashion as an escape.)
    It DOES look like iceberg lettuce- in the best way. The monochromatic color scheme suits the fussiness of the trims. I even like the ombre effect, which I’m assuming is either from age or my computer screen doing something weird, lol.
    I actually think we need to be talking about historical fashion more with regards to the current climate situation. This dress probably had 1/18 the footprint of a modern frock- it was designed and made with intentionality and care- it was treasured and kept for over 200 years. It’s wonderful to see these treasures unearthed- to remind us what clothing can be. Thank you for that. 8/10.

  19. elOmbu says

    I could never wear that color green, but it’s a fabulous confection and if I were a redhead I would live in it. I have no idea why, but I really love this dress, maybe because the solid color lets the design shine through. And for once I think all the frou-frou is just enough, and not too much.
    9/10.

    ps: what is fly braid? Is it called that because it’s got bits flying off it into the air? How do they make it?

  20. Elizabeth Newton says

    This dress, for me, somehow manages to be both busy and simple at the same time. The overall effect is lovely and I would imagine that in its day it was very beautiful and probably quite unique.
    The color is wonderful and I have not seen that particular shade used before.
    I rate this dress as a 6/10

  21. Linda Munk says

    Lovely color, and no doubt a showstopper in its time. A bit too fussy, however, with all that drama on the skirt. All in all, 6/10

  22. Holly M McConchie says

    I love the color. Yes it really stands out as as something calming. I believe this type of dress is considered a day dress. It’s sad how this dress was a simple take a walk vs. wearing jeans or shorts
    10

  23. nofixedstars says

    not my usual period of choice, but i really like it overall. i think the green is lovely, despite it being more pastel than i usually fancy—like coolness personified. very calming and refreshing. i’m a bit fussed about the bottom ruffle that is a different hue…it’s not echoed anywhere else in the dress, so it reads oddly. but it’s quite a restrained frock for its time, and i do think it very pretty.

    9/10

    (and i feel you about the climate mess/stress. much sleep is lost on it. i like and respect elise’s comments above greatly. and i agree that we need to rest ourselves as needed, so that we can go on doing our best to help. looking at lovely or entertaining frocks online is as good a rest as any!)

  24. Mmm, this is a tasty treat of a dress. The monochrome treatment is chic, and the fly fringe to me adds texture and a garden-like interest. Isn’t that a polonaise gown — the bodice is cut in one with the gown skirt.

    Rather think the dress was once more strongly colored. Whether because of the paints used or because they were fashionable, strong colors are common in fashion plates contemporary to the time.

    The sudden widening of the front robe trim is the only part that bothers me. Wide trim was spot on for the turn of the decade but the transition’s a bit extreme.

    Concerning climate change, some days I believe I will never truly be happy again, and fear for every tree, plant and animal around, while mourning for my boys and the world they must negotiate. Find myself defining life pre- and post-climate change awakening. Still, every so often I shake myself, scold myself, “We can fight back, now do what you can.” So far that’s been reduce, reuse, go mostly plant-based and organic, but soon it must turn to more active work. Re coronavirus, I work in public health, and know that many countries been preparing for an event like this for decades. I am hopeful that those countries who can will share expertise and resources with those who have less. All hands are on deck. Meanwhile, each of us can do as health authorities ask; every bit helps.
    Very best, and hugs.

    • I think I can see a join at the waistline in front, which would rule out polonaise, but it might just be piecing, not a waist seam. I wish there was a closer photo!

      How you feel about climate change pretty much sums up how I feel. I just enjoy the good days and try to make it through the bad ones, and cherish what we have while we have it.

  25. Claire Irvine says

    I love this dress. I wouldn’t wear it, as the pale green is absolutely not my colour, but I think it works perfectly on this occasion. I love the fly fringe and the pleats.

    10/10

  26. Disien says

    I usually love pleating but I’m not fond of this dress at all – the fly fringing makes it look untidy. And not fussed on the colour either, too insipid.

    5/10

    And thank you for this wonderful site – a real pick me up gem, and we all need as much of that as we can get in these troubling climate change/coronavirus times.

  27. Julia says

    I like it. And I think a part of the reason I do is that reading your blog has taught me to appreciate this style of dress more.
    I like the color. So fresh and clean. Spring is coming here so it’s appropriate. I like the subtly robins egg blue of the bottom ruffle. Who decided blue and green couldn’t go together anyway?
    The seaming down the back of the bodice is really nice. I don’t love that the ruffles square off the skirt but I can live with it. I even like the ruffles and I am definitely not a ruffle kind of woman.
    It makes me want to try it on and see how I would look (even if that green is not a good color for me) and I want to prance around in those big skirts and dance on fresh green grass, which is currently buried under a few feet of snow so I better calm down 🙂
    I’m also impressed with the mounting. It looks quite nice for an auction house at least to my amateur eyes.
    Not quite perfect because of the skirt so 8.5/10

    • Julia says

      And as to climate change and coronavirus and all the other stresses and bad things happening today it’s important to know and understand but being stressed about it doesn’t help. There’s a song we sing in church that has a line “Do your best and give God the rest”. We can only do what we can do, and feeling guilty and stressed for not doing more or about things we can’t change makes us less effective in what we can do.
      Thank you for all you do!

  28. Emma Louise says

    I have mixed feelings about this dress. I like the colour as it’s light and cool. I really want the fabric to have a more fluid and breezy feel to match the colour, but then maybe the age of the fabric makes it appear more stiff? Also the way the ruffles go from thin to wide is a bit too sudden. I do like the simplicity and I’ve long had a soft spot for polonise style gowns, so
    8/10

  29. Jennie Sochon says

    Love the color, such a pretty, soft green. Wish I had such a small waist.
    7/10

  30. So the School of Historical Dress is going to feature this gown in one of their upcoming Patterns of Fashion volumes. Last summer, they did a reconstruction of this gown. I was on the team that worked on the gown. The figured material is just beautiful, but we ran into issues of the reproduction weave of the fabric was simply not crispy enough as the original to hold the pleats properly. Like 90% of our time was hemming all those pleats.
    I myself don’t care for the scale of the pleating of just the front of the gown; it’s completely monstrous in size.
    All the pleating was done purely free-hand; one of the students went around and literally mapped out each pleat with strips of tissue paper, and the size was all over the board.
    There was a lot of theorizing about the coloring of the lower ruffle. Their best guess was that it had been dipped in something, most likely on purpose, at a later date, but the original color is the lighter shade.
    The fly fringe is something that we learned to make. It’s interesting, because fly fringe brand-new looks nothing like it does once it’s aged. The silk floss is literally so delicate that if your fingers are calloused, it snags, however, it’s desireable that it has a “fluffy” effect, so even brand new it probably isn’t quite as worn as it should have been. I never got to see the original in person, but I’m curious to know exactly what the fly fringe would have looked like because, to me, it’s the sort of thing that can’t possibly age well. What you can’t see is that there are several colors of silk floss all used together for the fringe, a combination of ivory, green, and pink.

    7/10. I love the material and overall design minus the huge pleats in front. I also feel that the front of the polonaise looks almost like it’s been put over paniers a bit too big, because the front almost looks like it’s being pulled too far to the back, OR that’s part of the design. I also knocked off a point because, purely from a work perspective, over 50 meters of fly fringe isn’t worth the effect or the effort (in my opinion). It was purely a status sort of trim, as not just any sort of common fingers could make it, as we all learned. They explained that it was the sort of thing that young girls from wealthy family’s made in their spare time, as they had the finest fingers for the job.

    • What fascinating background information! Thank you so much!

      Is it a polonaise with a piecing join at the waist? Thats what it looks like, but it is very confusing when there is a join right at that point!

  31. Dede says

    Love everything about it. To bad the style isn’t worn more today. That would be fun

  32. A delicious confection, creamy pearls around the neck, lovely earbobs, and a small nosegay of pink tea Rose’s pinned at the waist.

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