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Rate the Dress: Late Victorian Pattern Madness

Day dress, 1897, Sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

You really liked last week’s dress, with its slightly unusual (or at least unexpected), and quite busy, 1780s fabric. This week I’ve picked a dress with an equally unusual-for-its-era fabric. Will you like it? Let’s find out!

Last Week and-then-some: a 1780s dress in Indian chintz

You really liked last week’s dress, and enjoyed all the additional information and commentary on the fabric. I won’t be able to be as detailed and informed with every Rate the Dress post because of how much time it takes to write them, but I’ll try to balance quicker ones with more in-depth ones.

The main problem with last week’s dress was keeping track of all the 10 ratings, because there were so many in a row. It lost a few points here and there for the fabric reminding some of you of curtains – it was the OG for the look!

The Total: 9.4 out of 10

Practically perfect.

This week: late Victorian marquisette madness

This 1890s dress is made from a striking fabric with a bold abstracted floral or zig-zag pattern in ivory and black.

Day dress, 1897, Sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions
Day dress, 1897, Sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

The fabric appears to be a fancy marquisette, with a black leno weave ground, and a finer leno weave, or perhaps a supplementary weave, for the white patterning.

Day dress, 1897, Sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions
Day dress, 1897, Sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

The black net ground shows glimpses of the white lining, which would create a shifting, shimmering effect as the dress moved, dazzle indeed!

Day dress, 1897, Sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions
Day dress, 1897, Sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

The black and white colour scheme is relieved by touches of lace (which would have matched the colour of the dress more closely when new) and blue silk bows. The high neckline and long sleeves make this a day dress, but in this fabric, and with these trimmings, it certainly wasn’t an everyday dress: more likely one for a fancy daytime reception.

Day dress, 1897, Sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions
Day dress, 1897, Sold by Kerry Taylor Auctions

In addition to the discolouration of the lace mentioned above, there are foxing spots on the lining, and signs of abrasion and wear, so it’s not the pristine specimen it would have been in its heyday. I also suspect the dress is missing a belt or sash. As always, try to imagine the dress as it was when new for your rating.

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. Oh, dear.
    Although I find the basic shape graceful, the pattern of the fabric is painful to look at for me, like the embodiment of what migraine sufferers describe, and the blue bows strike me as too random for stylishness. The seeming disconnect between the color of the lace and fabric pattern I’ll overlook, since it’s more to do with aging than intention.

    7of 10

    • Lois Mould says

      Oh dear me! I cannot imagine how uncomfortable this dress must be. The drab color, pattern and fussy neckline do not work for me at all.

  2. Joy says

    For some reason the silhouette doesn’t grab me—it seems as though the mannequin is squaring up for a fistfight! I don’t hate the fabric, and I can imagine it being quite striking when new. I like the cuffs, although the neck lace seems sort of pointlessly asymmetrical.
    6/10

  3. Theresa Diaz says

    The pattern of the fabric is certainly eyecatching. It overshadows every other detail except the silhouette. If the idea is to stand out, this dress achieves it. It gives me a headache though. Migraine aside, as fashion statement it works. I like the asymmetrical lace at the neck, unfortunately, the lace and the bows have faded so much that they just look dirty, which leaves it to me to imagine them in brighter shades.

    I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it either, the cut is good, the fabric eyecatching, I give it an 8/10

  4. nofixedstars says

    interesting…i could go either way on this one! in some ways, i think it’s hideous and weird; but the next moment, i’m seeing its weirdness as a positive, and thinking that overall it’s rather a neat thing.

    the pale blue ribbon accents puzzle me, as to my eyes a stronger colour would have been more attractive—perhaps red, emerald green, golden yellow, or a deep royal blue. likewise, the somewhat fussy deployment of lace and ribbon at the neck seems at odds with the strongly graphic quality of the print. but that is a very modern perspective. if that damn ribbon was a different colour, i’d likely rate it higher, and overlook the fussy lace patterning at the neck, or even see it as a plus. i am inclined to allow for a possibility that the blue has faded significantly, just as the lace aged away from its original whiteness…hmmm.

    as it is, i give it 7/10

  5. Elaine says

    I like the fabric a lot, but not for the whole dress. As others have said, it gives me a headache. Combined with a solid color it might be something really impressive. The shoulders put me strongly in mind of American football shoulder pads – not a good thing. In 1897 I think the giant puffed upper sleeves were already falling out of favor, yes? Beyond that, the dress shape just looks ordinary for its time. Not unattractive but nothing special, either. 5/10

  6. Christina Kinsey says

    Beautiful, very simple , letting the fabric do the talking. I prefer the simplicity of this bodice to the fussy fronts of so many dresses of this time. The sleeves balence out large hips and the cut of the dress draws in the waist, so flattering l feel on so many shapes
    Ok, l am biased, one of my favourite eras, l could imagine a neat black belt , with the lace much whiter and the blue ribbon for a note of colour
    A solid 10

  7. Daniel Milford-Cottam says

    Interesting story about this dress. It ended up in the National Gallery of Victoria with the trimmings on the bodice significantly rearranged and the dress declared to be a Worth, as part of the Campbell-Pretty gift. A friend showed me a photo of the dress on display there, and said that when they went back to the NGV the dress was back on display but no longer attributed to Worth.

    Ironically the dress looked aesthetically better with the rearranged trimming, but someone was clearly being a very naughty person indeed and pulling a con trick. However, that’s why I rate this dress a 7.5 out of 10, because I’ve seen how it could look better.

    • Daniel Milford-Cottam says

      ngv.vic.gov.auFound a photo of the dress with the trimmings rearranged and displayed at the NGV.

      https://cannonhillchronicles.com/5-l-rjean-phillipe-worth-day-dress-1895-the-visiting-dress-1897/

      The dress is no longer visible on the NGV online collections, and the online catalogue no longer describes it as a Worth. I did find a picture of it (taken from Kerry Taylor’s auction listing) on a NGV blog here:

      https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/ngvmagazine/issue-15-mar-apr-2019/

      I imagine they’re probably looking to get the dress restored back to how it looked when Kerry Taylor sold it, and before a certain person (who I won’t name, but so many people in the museum industry know about them and their tricks) got hold of it and decided to transform it into a fake Worth.

      • Disien says

        Daniel I did a search myself and found that picture. Suggests there’s some flexibility with how the wearer can arrange the bodice embellishments to achieve the look that suits. On my search I also encountered many other images from that collection all of which were absolutely amazing. So thank you so much for providing the information! What an amazing exhibition that would be to go to. They’d have to throw me out at closing time because I’d be absolutely entranced!!!

    • How fascinating! I prefer it with the trimmings as shown here, but only when I imagine it with a sash or pointed belt. Ive seen a number of items at the NGV that have, shall we say, creative, maker provenance.

      • Daniel Milford-Cottam says

        Oh, there’s quite the story behind the scenes about a former couture-trained Person who supplemented their income by selling vintage haute couture to collectors and museums. With their stash of labels and materials and knowledge of techniques that they could reproduce almost flawlessly, they were able to tweak anonymous designs and legit contemporary couture-copies into quite persuasive Diors, Worths, Molyneuxes and others.

    • Julia says

      Interesting story behind that. I must say that looks amazingly better with the trim like that.. It would have gotten a better rating looking like that for sure. The light isn’t quite so harsh either

  8. Tracy Ragland says

    This is one of my favorite silhouettes. I imagine the lace less crushed and yellowed when new and I love that as well. I don’t hate the fabric pattern, but it isn’t a favorite. And I would prefer crisp black ribbon instead of blue. The blue seems random.

    8/10

  9. I like the silhouette of this one. I’m not fond of the “big sleeves” c. 1895, but these sleeves are pretty. I also like the color scheme, though I think the blue bows tend to vanish into the black-and-white design. Had I been designing this dress, I would have made the bows black. I would also have simplified the array of lace and bows around the neck slightly. It looks as though these ornaments were “piled on” too much, to me.

    I’m of two minds whether I think the actual pattern is *too* bold for my taste. But overall I’m leaning in the direction of embracing it, particularly as this is more of a special occasion dress.

    7.5 out of 10

  10. JessieRoo says

    I might be the only one, but I love it! The bold and almost uninterrupted fabric is a refreshing change from the fluffy, highly embellished dresses from that time. It must have looked very fresh and modern when it was new! I also like the idea of black bows, maybe in velvet, like some of the others have mentioned, but I actually think the blue is perfect (well, in its original state it would have been) as it adds a touch of color without straying into garishness. The only thing I can think to critique is the high collar, which makes me feel like I’ll being gently strangled just looking at it, but stylistically, it works fine for this dress, so i’m not deducting points for it.

  11. The shape is very typical of the time. I love the craftsmanship. I like the lace and I like the blue trim the fabric hurts my eyes to look at it so I’m going to give it a 7.5 out of 10 for all of the good things

  12. rateadress says

    I like the dress. Evaluating it there are some difficulties here and there, but it kind of has my sympathy (…what a lucky dress!). First of all this sillhuette gives even the plainest woman some posture und elegance. It also helps that the actual size of fits in flawlessly with modern beauty standards plus a tightly laced corset. Beauty suffers. I like that lace arrangement around her neck as well. The fabric is obviously faded though. I’d like to see, how it looked 120 years ago, when it was all brandnew .The lace was probably brighter, cleaner and somehow firmer and the sashes of a fresher light blue. Anyways, the zig-zag-pattern is not something that works for many women with a European ethnic background ( which were probably the main commercial target group at the time of this dress). I can only see a woman with dark hair in this dress. I‘m sure Michelle Dockery could pull it off. But she could probably wear a potatoe sack with poise. I think, It might work better on an woman with a darker, African complexion or possibly Asian. 7.5/ 10

  13. Anat says

    The silhouette of the dress is fine. But the contrast and busyness of the fabric make it quite unsuitable for an entire dress. Looking at it would be quite tiring after some time.
    6.5/10

  14. Marjo wheat says

    I’m not fond of at all. The patterned fabric is too much for a whole dress and the added laces at neck and wrists do not suit the fabric at all. I realized the lace may have discoloured, but it would look great on a plain dress with no pattern. The sillouette is it’s only redeeming feature, to my mind or eye.
    5/10.

  15. Love the fabric’s boldness, and lace with touches of blue. Grand! 9/10

  16. Pal K says

    I actually find it painful and anxiety inducing
    BUT
    Imagining it new…no discoloration
    on a person, moving through a room of people in 1897
    I believe that I would have found it exquisite
    Hence
    9/10

  17. Disien says

    I love this dress because the fabric is amazing and those blue bows so quirky. And when the lace was new it would have set things off beautifully. I like the innovation of the fabric and pattern and the off centred bow. I feel the owner would have been a lady who knew her own mind, had her opinions and would have voiced them! Not a girl to blend and retire into the background! So from me it’s 10/10

  18. Vivien Dwyer says

    A bit much pattern overall for me…otherwise I like it very much. 8/10

  19. Anna says

    I admire the complexity of the weave, but the fabric is just a bit too dizzying to look at for me, and I don’t like the bows–they read as distracting on a dress where the fabric is already distracting.

    7/10

  20. Johanna says

    I love it! The fabric is bold and beautiful, while the silhouette is simple but perfectly proportional. There are no fuzzy extra trims or adornments. I could do without the lace, but it would have looked nice before it darkened, so I’m not going to deduct any points for it. If she had belt I hope that it would have been the blue that’s in the ribbon around the neck and lace. A splash of colour to highlight the wonderful fabric.

    For the first time in a really long time

    10/10

  21. Roseberriesmaybe says

    The pattern is amazing and so striking. I would give it a 10/10 except, like commenter nofixedstars, the lace does not fit with the boldness of the pattern and the sleek form.
    9.5/10

  22. Kathy Hanyok says

    I kind of like it, especially after the close-up of the fabric. No shy wallflower commissioned this. I see a striking redhead making a bold entrance. It’s as if Dr. Seuss edited Godey’s Ladies Book. All the back history is very intriguing. I want to know more! 9/10

  23. Peaches says

    I must be from that era in another life as I absolutely love everything about it.❤

  24. Karen-Marie says

    This is a real statement dress to be worn by a confident, sophisticated woman. I admire its bold fabric and refined silhouette. That said, I find the extra lace and blue bows as worn about the neckline a somewhat awkward embellishment. I appreciate poster Daniel Milford-Cottam’s link which shows this embellishment worn from front neckline down to the waist as a “sash”. This is an improvement but it is still manifestly there to “soften” this dress. In so doing, it waters it down and you end up with something which is neither fish nor fowl. I would prefer the dress unadorned. I admire this dress. It is not to everyone’s taste and it would require a special woman to carry it off and wear it successfully. 7.5

  25. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    I was dithering between “OMG it’s an armchair” and “OMG it’s dramatic and geometric and early Op Art before they had invented it” …

    Drama won, but the lace is too delicate to stand up to the pattern of the fabric so I deducted for that.

    9.0

  26. Julia says

    Wow. If the purpose of this dress was to get people looking at you the wearer probably succeeded.
    I’m not sure what to think of it. It feels like the fabric is too much. It could work with panels of plain cream mixed in maybe? And theres something a little funny about the bottom of the bodice. It looks like it doesn’t go down onto the skirt far enough. And those hips. It’s subtle but I don’t know if being subtly square is a good thing. Finally the blue ribbon. It just isn’t doesn’t stand out enough. It doesn’t have the strength to stand up to that fabric.
    I don’t know. I’m just having a hard time finding anything to love. Sorry dress. 3/10

  27. Florence says

    I love the silhouette, but the fabric is a bit much for me. It would work beautifully as some panels with a solid-coloured main fabric, but as a whole dress, it makes me dizzy. I like the lace and bows on their own, but they clash spectacularly with the starkness of the dress and fabric and do nothing to soften it.

  28. KJH says

    I like the dress, it is tailored yet the lace and bows give it a feminine quality that appeals to me. I love the boldness of the fabric. I imagine the woman a strong and independent individual I would have loved to know.
    9 of 10

  29. Beth C. says

    My first response was “Spectacular!” but after a few seconds of admiring it, I experienced vertigo and nausea. I suspect that the shifting, shimmering effect would worsen the nausea.

    I would like lace to be symmetrical.

    I am divided between a rating of 9 (for proportions, silhouette, and execution) and a 1 (because I can’t look at it).

    Since I have never gotten nausea from a dress before, I am going with
    2 out of 10.

  30. Cristine Rose says

    The shape and style of the dress is beautiful, but the fabric is aweful. The lace at the neckline is strange and the blue bows just seem like an afterthought.

  31. Cirina says

    Oh my.
    The lace! The ribbons! The sleeves! My poor eyes….
    I find the lace a style mismatch, the ribbons bland and superfluous, and shape of the sleeves displeasing. Also, placement and shape of the decoration does nothing for me.
    The fabric is interesting, if not to my taste.
    I liked it a bit more as a fake Worth.
    soo…
    5/10

  32. Love it! Giving it a 9 because I do not like the blue bows and lace collar. Love the fabric and the style. I would wear this one.

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