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Rate the Dress: Grass Green 1860s

I’m very fond of pink and green together, so it’s not surprising that I gravitated towards a green dress after last week’s pink dress. In an odd way, this week’s dress also remind’s me of last week’s dress. Will it remind you of it too? And if so, for all the right reasons, or all the wrong reasons?

Last Week: a 1906 day ensemble in deep pink

One of the interesting things that comes out of Rate the Dress is how much our prior perceptions colour the way we see a garment, whether they are distinctly personal, or a general product of the time and culture we live in. Usually this is a good thing, or at least neutral. Last week it got out of hand, and revealed some of the unpleasant underbelly of the society we live in.

Luckily a quick clean up of the comments and a reminder to be kind got things back on track, and led to an amazing discussion: mostly about the dress, but also about negativity and positivity, how the internet changes our behaviour, and (of course) how our cultural perception changes our viewpoint.

So what did we think of the dress: well, almost everyone could acknowledge that the workmanship that went into it was amazing. And the pink colour was pretty popular, as was the embroidery.

The tassels, not surprisingly, were…divisive. A few of you liked them, either because they were so evocative of that period, or because you thought they were a really clever touch that tied the neckline together (or both). A good portion of you just found them distracting, and the rest couldn’t get past their placement on the chest: even though they weren’t at the right height or width for nipples, that’s what some of you saw, and the rest of you couldn’t help but feel they were just asking to be dragged through soup!

It ended up being very much a dress of two parties: a large block of people who loved the dress and rated it in the 8-10 range, and a small block of people who really didn’t, and rated it four and under.

The Total: 8.7 out of 10

Exactly the same as last week!

This week: a mid 1860s dress in green

This week’s dress is classic mid-1860s: a full skirt just beginning to take the back-heavy elliptical shape that would evolve into the bustle of the 1870s, dropped shoulders and roomy sleeves with a slight built-in curve, a solid colour, and bold trim.

Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3
Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3

The bold trim, in this case, is ribbon tabs which form a faux yoke and a faux apron effect.

Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3
Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3

It’s an interesting choice: both extremely simple, and intriguingly textural.

Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3
Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3

The skirt trim features a complete tri-part apron idea, but the yoke trim truncates abruptly at the shoulders, leaving a blank back.

Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3
Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3

Design ideas that don’t continue on the back of garments always annoy me, but the lack of continuity is fairly common in 1860s garments. If nothing else it would save the wearer from worrying that the trims were getting crushed and bent out of shape!

Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3
Dress, 1864–65, American, cotton, wool, silk, Gift of Miss Ruth Lathrop Sikes, 1950, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.50.50.3

The skirt features interesting seaming: either joins to piece the fabric as frugally as possible, or purposeful gores to lend that newly fashionable back-thrust to the dress.

What do you think? 

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.

44 Comments

  1. This gown has beautiful fabric in a beautiful color–I love grass greens. And I like the silhouette of the mid-1860s, and the large bodice buttons.

    The tabbed decoration strikes me as neither a negative or positive. It’s not objectionable to me, but it’s not tremendously flattering either. And the total absence of any trim on the rear of the garment just feels odd.

    Unfortunately, a dress this simple needs some kind of restrained ornament to make it shine. The tabs…just don’t do that. (The wonderful soutache swirls did that for last week’s gown, in my opinion). This week’s dress could, in my opinion, have used a sash or broad belt also.

    7 out of 10

  2. Beautiful color and fabric, but the tab trim doesn’t really “work” for me and gives me the impression that the wearer walked through a blizzard of mini sticky notes.
    8 of 10

  3. Vicki Jane says

    Lovely fabric, The green is beautiful. It feels like a best dress of a middle class lady, one that would be worn to church or to important occasions. As it is American, she was probably from a very small town so wasn’t given to too much fru fru. And she would have worn a shawl so any back decoration wouldn’t have been seen.

    Well that’s the story I get from it.

  4. I think it is lovely. I find the ribbon tab trim delightful in its simplicity and effectiveness. It does have that “best dress of a middle class lady” vibe to it – very respectable and just a tiny bit posh.
    8/10

  5. Tracy Ragland says

    Meh. Even though green is my favorite color, this dress didn’t make me swoon at all. Had there been some trim on the back, or maybe if the ribbon tabs were a more contrasting color…I’m not sure, but the dress needs something more. And that’s with making allowances that the ribbon color aged differently than the dress color.

    7/10

  6. Emily White says

    I love pretty much all greens and this one is no exception. It’s a lovely dress, but I’m not wild about the trim. There’s nothing offensive about it, but it doesn’t particularly appeal to me. I’d rate this dress at 7.5 – perfectly nice and probably an excellent piece to have in your closet but not a knock-out 😉

  7. I actually quite like it. The idea of creating a notional apron and yoke just by outlining them to the eye is nifty and thrifty, though I could have wished for at least something on the back to relieve the plainness. The dress is nicely cut and pleasant to look upon, if not particularly outstanding in any way.
    I wonder if one could thread something through those tabs…
    7/10

  8. nofixedstars says

    i love green, and this is a pretty enough shade of green, but the dress as a whole is unpleasing to my eye. i do not love the tabbed decoration, period, but i especially dislike the use of it to mimic the outlines of a yoke and apron. it’s just daft to me. if it had been deployed in any other way, i don’t think it would have bothered me so much. i also don’t care for the colour pairing of the pea green or khaki green tabs on the different (sea green?) of the ground fabric. i actually would much prefer this frock completely unadorned to the tabbed stuff going on. on its own, sans decoration, it would be a fine, if plain, dress; especially if accessories were interesting and attractive. as it stands,

    5/10

  9. Marjo wheat says

    I got stuck on the lack of trim on the back, it is a pet peeve of mine too! The colour and fabric are lovely. I would preferred no trim or a lace trim – that also was sewn onto the back! The silhouette is beautiful.7/10.

  10. HelenG says

    The colour and style are nice enough. The tabbed decorative touches are a bit blah and are don’t really enhance the dress. I also would have preferred to see the tab design included on the back of the dress. This dress feels like it is screaming out for something to really lift it from ordinary to extraordinary. 6/10

  11. S. A. Cox says

    I hope this doesn’t break the meanness rules, but I feel like this dress might have gotten preserved because the owner didn’t like it well enough to wear it out. The tabs… it’s like something from a hand-me-down box that my mother would tell me was cute, and talk me into taking, but in my heart of hearts, I always knew it wasn’t cute. Or, in this case, perhaps someone had the bright idea of decorating a perfectly good dress this way, and they had put so much work into making the dress that they didn’t want to unpick it. Anyway, obvs., not a fan of the tabs. I feel like I would probably give it a solid 8 without them, though.

    5/10

  12. Claire Payne says

    I love the silhouette for the same reasons I loved the pink dress last week but again…trim. Perhaps I would feel differently about trims and tassels if I were a Victorian lady but they simply aren’t to my taste. I hear you about the trim not extending to the back. It is rather irksome. I think the dress would be better without trim at all and let the silhouette and green colour shine more. As ever though, I do appreciate you sharing.

    7 out of 10 from me.

  13. Emma says

    I love the colour and style of the dress but would’ve preferred it without the trim.

    6/10

  14. Claire Irvine says

    I loved it on first sight, but looking at it closer made me fall out of love with it a bit. The placement and colour of the trims is a bit off too me, but I love the tabs themselves. It would have been even better if the trim had continued onto the back of the dress.

    8.5/10

  15. Vivien Dwyer says

    Love the style and the colour is ok but don’t love the trim at all. 7/10

  16. Disien says

    I’m very fond of pink and green together too!!

    I like this dress very much. It’s been beautifully made too. The only thing I’m not keen on is the colour of the trim. It works – but I feel it’s a bit dull It would have been spectacular in black against the gorgeous green fabric.

    9/10

  17. Anna says

    I love deep green and the cut of this dress and the silhouette is just perfect in my eyes. But I can’t pretend to like the trim- reminds me of castle crenellations/medieval dress in a way that I find jars with the Victorian style of the rest of the gown.

    8/10

  18. Donna Somers says

    My first tea gown had a very similar shape. I love the color and fabric. The tab trim is very similar to the trim on a gown I made for a friend. Overall, I love the dress.

  19. Elaine says

    The lines of the dress are nice, but the tabs decoration ruins it for me. 4/10

  20. Helene says

    I love the silhouette of this era and I love green.
    I think it fits the mannequin a bit strangely, but perhaps it’s supposed to be a bit baggy in the area above the chest.
    What I don’t like, at all is the tabs on the trim. I wouldn’t mind the band, but the tabs!
    Even though I don’t like them, I like seeing the variety with which they did embellish the clothes.
    I feel very torn about this poor dress, so what to give it?
    6/10

  21. Susan Wellington Walker says

    I love the green color of this dress. Though I would have preferred the trim to continue to continue to the back, at least around the neck or shoulders area, trim was probably scarce and costly during and shortly after the Civil War. I think the fabric tabs for trim are very effective and a creative use of materials! And the different green hue of the trim adds interest. It’s not as displeasing as one of the earlier green Rate the Dress. The trim may have been purchased or created once the dress was nearly done, possibly home dyed, thus the mismatched color. The silouette is pleasing and we’ll proportioned.
    Rating:. 9/10

  22. Kathy Hanyok says

    This green is to die for!At first glance I did not like the trim, but then I realized it’s the size of the buttons that threw me more. They are just too large and make the bodice cluttered. Still not fond of the trim placement; around the hem of that lovely swishy skirt might have been better. I,too, am bothered by the lack of trim on the back. Did anyone else notice it is only on the front of the sleeve also? For the green and that skirt alone 8/10.

  23. Nannynorfolk says

    My headmaster at my primary school in the 50’s used to say ‘ Pink and green fit for a queen ‘.

    Such a shame, a nice dress ruined by the tabs, but would it have been too plain without them.
    6/10

  24. Siobhan says

    I’m not feeling particularly strongly either way about this one. I do like the colour and the shape of the skirt, and the trim not continuing doesn’t bother me – I think it works quite well here, though not so much on the bodice. There’s something bothering me about the sleeves too, but that might just be the way they’re fitted on the mannequin.
    Quite like the bottom half, top half is just a bit meh.

    7/10

  25. Emma Louise says

    My first thought was that the colour and embellishments reminded me of Robin Hood. It lends the dress a whimsical air that does rather endear it to me beyond the sum of its parts. Not taking the embellishments around to the back may be practical but I wish they had at least gone all the way around the sleeves. I suppose the back of the dress could be quite easily concealed with a shawl. A nice big one in a contrasting colour perhaps, although that might detract from the Sherwood Forest look and consequently kill off what charms it does have – so maybe not.
    7/10

  26. Mariana says

    As others have said, I like neither the choice of trim nor that it stops at the shoulders and leaves the back plain. A different trim, perhaps even deployed the same way (though continuing around) could have really pulled it together, but somehow it feels like the tabbed ribbon pulls the dress apart instead.

    That said, I absolutely love the silhouette, color, and bodice seaming. Upon looking again, I think I spy pocket slits in the side/back views, which earns it a whole point from me if I’m right (but I may not be, it’s hard to see.)

    8/10 with pockets, 7/10 without

  27. Susan Ewing says

    I like this dress though there are some things about this era that I’m not as fond of. The sleeves and the short waist I’ve never thought very pleasing but that doesn’t take away from the dress. Love the green color and the shape of the skirt.

    I do wonder if the Civil War might have had influence as to why the trim doesn’t go around to the back. If you notice, it also isn’t on the back of the sleeve cuff. I can imagine all the trim decisions were made by the limited amount of trim she had. In both the north and south supplies would have been difficult to find and more expensive than normal. Fashion was desirable but modifications needed to be made. Think of drawing black lines down the back of women’s legs to simulate a nylon stocking seam during WWII.

    The seemingly odd seams for the back of the skirt were most likely that the front and sides were cut with a angled seam and the back was simply a rectangle. Those seams together with the back and side backs gathered to the waist would leave the seams at that odd angle. As the styles progressed into the first bustle era the seams would be hidden within the gathering and under the bustle.

    Rating 8 of 10

  28. Hannah says

    This dress has been in my inspiration folder for a long time. I never thought of the Robin Hood comparison but it’s a good one. I adore the tabbed trim- it’s whimsical and delightful and one of these days I will get around to using the concept myself!

    I had never seen the back. It is disappointing to find it bare of trim. I have to knock a little off the score for that but otherwise I find it delightful.

    8/10

  29. It’s just… a dress of too few redeeming fetaures for me.
    I want to like it because it’s neatly made, but there’s too much that bugs me (I also hate featureless backs! and 1860s-70s always have to push harder for me to like them), and in the end I figured out it’s maybe because it’s a style of dress I can’t help thinking would look much better on a doll than an actual person. It would look quite neat on a doll; in large scale I feel it would be very dull. (To me, as other ratings attest to. 😀 )
    5/10

  30. Chiara says

    I know this is a 1860s thing but I don’t like that it’s buttoned up till the neck with this material. It looks suffocating. I also don’t like the ‘dropped shoulders and roomy sleeves’, as you described it.
    Though I like shape of the skirt and the colour is beautiful.
    It’s not a dress I would like to wear as a young woman, rather as an old lady (If you know what mean). But it is elegant.

    5/10

  31. Malin says

    I love the shape, fabric and colour. The trim is ok but strikes me as somewhat silly really… it would be a little too plain without anything though. In general I just like it pretty well though.
    8,5/10

  32. I’m with you not really liking when the design doesn’t continue to the back. Then I don’t really like this tabbed ribbon thing, and then dropped sleeves of the time period.
    It’s not looking good for this dress.
    The color is good. I like the green, but that’s it.

    4/10

  33. Christina Kinsey says

    I dont really think the lack of trim round the back matters really, l am assuming thevdress would have been worn with a collar or chemisette, so that this would have finished off the neck.Thats how l see it being worn anyway. The odd angle of the skirt seams could well be a case of a shaped piece being joined to a straight one or could it have been a case of 1860s make do and mend , or rather , dont waste fabric.
    A lovely dress, a little plain but imagining it with accessories, it could look beautiful
    I give it a 9

  34. rateadress says

    1860s dresses can look absolutely stunning because the combination of a tiny waist and a full skirt just works. It‘s one of the key codes of the house of Dior and Christian Dior‘s new look of 1947 was very much inspired by his love for fashion history. I find this particular dress quite nice but it doesn’t make me swoon. However, who ever wore this dress had a lovely, little waist and the basic sillhouette looks harmonious. Just the length of the skirt isn’t working for me. I‘d prefer it, if it was one of those „ short walking dresses“, that were popular in the 1860s. I think this would make it more chic. Otherwise longer…about floor length with a sumptuous train would do. At first I thought a silk sash with an artistically folded, lush bow at the back would be nice, but since the bodice looks like a removable daytime „jacket“ I think it should probably be a beautiful belt instead. The trim isn’t bad in itself but it’s not well placed. Actually I‘d get rid of the existing trim on the bodice and the „apron“ on the skirt completely. Instead I would only use it very generously around the hem in…let‘s say…9 rows, without a gap in between. 7/10

  35. Joy says

    The tabs seem both distracting and disappointingly bland to me, and I don’t like the way the back is devoid of decoration. I do like the colour and the general silhouette, though, so I’ll give it a 7/10.

  36. dropping stitches says

    Are those pockets? If so, my rating is going up! This is a serviceable dress. I like the green color and the full skirt. The trim is not to my taste at all. It is too squared up top and without fine, soft detail. Tbis green needs a soft touch, something to show off the big poofy swishing skirt. Not my cup of tea. Extra point for potential pockets!

    5.5/10

  37. Lisa A says

    I love the colors and the overall silhouette. The tab decoration almost seems a bit flirtatious in an odd way. They so look like elements that people would want to touch, tug, or flap. I can imagine children doing so, or maybe a very bold suitor! I’m not wild about them, but along with the very round buttons and the faux-apron arrangement, they do add (intended or not) a bit of amusement to an otherwise sober dress. 7

  38. Joanna says

    I rather like the cut and color of the dress, as well as the placement of the trim. The choice of trim is interesting – it gives a texture to the dress, but I would have chosen a different trim if I had commissioned this.
    8/10

  39. Cirina says

    I know that oversized trims were in fashion then, but I don’t like it. It is passable on the skirt, but the trim is out of proportion on the bodice, as well as placed with certain lack of grace.
    And don’t get me started at the unadorned back…
    6.5/10

  40. I think the color is lovely. The seaming on the back is lovey also. I like the simplicity of the dress but do not love the tabs. A lot of work went into making them. it almost seems like an afterthought. The dress without the tab trim is a lovely blank palette. 7/10.

  41. I think it’s sort of middling, personally. The colour is lovely. I like the shape of the trim on the bodice and skirt, but I think the little tabs are a touch too big. I think that the dress is attempting to be both subtle and dramatic at the same time, and just doesn’t quite manage to be either, and looks just ok.

  42. Sheila Codd says

    Have you changed the way photos are added to your blog? They no longer show when I use Feedly

  43. Camilla Flint says

    I like the tabs. They remind me of architectural dentils. I really like the suggestion that they would look better in black, and I too want them all the way around on yoke and sleeves

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