Rate the Dress: Whoa…that’s plaid!

I’m sometimes a bit sad when lots of people rate Rate the Dresses based on how a frock would look on them personally.  For me, a huge part of the joy of historical fashions is that there is a look and an era for every figure, and they allow me to enjoy all sorts of shapes that don’t look good on me, but do look spectacular on others (the world would be so boring if the only clothes available were ones that looked good on me).

So last week’s discussion on the richly brocaded 18th century gown, and how it really did look better on one particular figure, and how many of you rather liked it for that, was an absolute delight.  I’ve got to say though, I may not have the figure it looked best on, but I would wear that dress in a heartbeat, and lots of you agreed with me, because it rated a rather nice 8.4 out of 10, loosing a few points, perhaps because, as Daniel pointed out, it was gorgeous but still generic.

Switching our attention to this weeks offering, it’s a pretty good guess that if the title of the post is ‘Whoa…that’s plaid!’, the dress is going to date from ca. 1860.  Today’s dress to rate does nothing to change that expectation.

This 1859-60ish confection of taffeta and striped picot-edged bows is made from very large plaid in shades of green and ivory with narrow pink stripes.

Quite coincidentally, this dress, like last week’s frock, and the suit from the week before, from the MFA Boston.  I’ve been on quite a roll with their collection lately.  I’m not trying, but every time I find a frock that says something quite interesting (if not necessarily tasteful) to me, it just happens to be from the MFA.


What does the dress say to you?  I know a number of raters mentioned last week that they weren’t that fond of green.  Plaid can also be a bit touch-and-go on Rate the Dress, and this is a particularly distinctive, assertive plaid in its scale.  Does the expanse of skirt excuse the size of the plaid?  Do the bows keep it sweet and dainty, despite the boldness of the individual elements?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

Corsets, crinolines & kitty cats

How to tell if you have awesome friends:

If they stop by your house on the weekend for a cup of tea and you say “Oh, I was just about to climb into a chemise and corset, any chance you’d be willing to take some photos of me?” and they spend over an hour helping to lace you into a corset and directing poses and snapping photos:

1880s corset & chemise thedreamstress.com

The resulting photos are evidence of how truly fabulous Emily of Ever So Scrumptious is!  I hope she had as much fun as I did helping me document me wearing my 1860s chemise (finally!) and new stockings and drawers, and red elliptical crinoline (even more finally!), and paisley petticoat (also finally).

We got some lovely atmospheric, romantic period stuff:

1880s corset & chemise thedreamstress.com

And some adorable stuff with Felicity (because how could you possibly pass up the chance to pose with Felicity?):

1860s elliptical crinoline thedreamstress.com

And some fun stuff with me being silly (this is me immediately after saying “I don’t know what to do with my hands!  I feel they should be doing something!  Should I just throw them out?):

1860s elliptical crinoline thedreamstress.com

Or just showing off all views of the garment (note to self – I need to add one more band of wire to this hoopskirt, and re-arrange the wires so they form a smoother bell:

1860s elliptical crinoline thedreamstress.com

Felicity objected to posing (she only likes to be gorgeous on her own terms, thank you very much), so I got her involved by playing button soccer with her on the bureau chest:

1860s paisley petticoat thedreamstress.com


We had to end that game when she decided to ‘win’ by trying to eat the ball.  I guess that’s better than trying to eat the other players, but still not ideal!

1860s paisley petticoat thedreamstress.com


I was so distraught and overwhelmed at the thought of sports cannibalism that I had to swoon:

1860s paisley petticoat thedreamstress.com


Most gracefully and elegantly of course ;-)

1860s paisley petticoat thedreamstress.com

I soon recovered, and found a much more effective and satisfying (and safe!) way to tempt Felicity to be part of the photoshoot.

1860s paisley petticoat thedreamstress.com



1860s paisley petticoat (& Felicity the cat) thedreamstress.com


Many, many thanks Emily!

(and on the subject of awesome friends, Joie de Vivre has written the sweetest post about all of us,: D’awww!)

A pair of ‘crap, these probably aren’t right at all’ drawers for Nana (and bonus stockings)

Other than finishing the corset, the last piece of my Nana ensemble to assemble was the drawers. The drawers are now done, only well, they are slightly problematic.  How so?  Well, look at them:

1870s-80s drawers thedreamstress.com

And the back view:

1880s drawers (and Felicity the Cat) thedreamstress.com So.  Ummm, yeah.

Sexy they are not.

Now, the whole colossal camel toe + super saggy bottom thing is just kinda how most mid-19th century drawers fit, but this pair is taking it a little to the extreme.   The problem is the cut.  1870s closed drawers were just open drawers with the centre seam sewn up, and so they have this weird quarter-circle shape with lots of extra fabric in the crotch area.

1870s-80s drawers thedreamstress.com

Looking at Manet’s Nana, the line of her chemise is quite smooth over her front and hips.  With such bulky drawers, that simply won’t happen.

Manet's Nana, 1877

So how to achieve Nana’s look?

Well, one possibility is that she isn’t wearing drawers (I mean, she is Nana!).  However, the way the lace is falling at her hem makes me think she definitely is.

The other possibility is that she’s wearing divided drawers, which would be a bit less bulky.  I’ve gone back and forth on the divided drawers for Nana issue.  Divided drawers sound terribly risqué to us, but in the 1870s only naughty girls wore closed ones, and Nana was terribly naughty.

I suppose the simplest option is that she is wearing a pair of more elegantly cut drawers, which is what I’ll be attempting next!

Just in case you want you own pair of extra saggy bottomed drawers, I used the free 1889s drawers pattern at Tudorlinks as the basis for these ones.  They are designed for the Victorian ideal of tiny waist, very full bottom and hips, so next time I’ll adapt the pattern for my significantly straighter shape!

The Challenge: #12 – Under $10

Fabric: The remainder of the 2m of cotton lawn that I used for Nana’s chemise, and a few extra scraps of cotton from my scrap bag for the waist.

Pattern: The 1889s drawers pattern at Tudorlinks (pretty much exactly, with no alterations)

Year: 1875-1890

Notions: Cotton thread, vintage cotton lingerie buttons, vintage lace from Fabric-a-Brac

How historically accurate is it?  Reasonably.  It’s a period pattern, period construction, period accurate fabric, but the lace is a bit modern.  85%

Hours to complete: 4

First worn: On Friday, to the great amusement of my sewing students who I modeled it for!

Total Cost: $2 for the fabric, $1 for the lace, $1 for buttons and thread = $4

1870s-80s drawers thedreamstress.com

But wait, there’s more!

1880s drawers (and Felicity the Cat) thedreamstress.com

Notice the stockings I’m wearing with the drawers?  Oh yes, mine own!

Merino knit stockings thedreamstress.com

I’m fine tuning the pattern as I write up the tutorial and turn the pattern into something you can download from the blog and print at home, so I made another pair to test it.

Merino knit stockings thedreamstress.com

These are made from a merino-nylon blend I found at an op-shop.  It’s definitely seconds fabric – there are some weird colour variations (I think it was washed in hot water with bleach), but it doesn’t show as stockings.

The Challenge: #12 – Under $10

Inspiration: Manet’s Nana, 1877

Fabric: 60cm of merino-nylon blend knit (found at an op-shop).

Pattern: My own!

Year: 1877

Notions: thread.

How historically accurate is it?  Not really. 19th century stockings would be specifically knit as stockings, either by hand or machine, not cut from flat cloth and sewn.  The effect is pretty good though.

Hours to complete: 20 min (well, if you don’t count the 5+ hours I spent on patterning and tutorial writing)

First worn: For today’s photoshoot (courtesy of the lovely Emily of EverSoScrumptious, who stopped by for a visit and happily photographed me for an hour!)

Total cost: Under $2

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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