Rate the Dress: Plaid for outdoor pursuits in the 1890s

Last week I showed you an 1860s ballgown in very large scale pale green plaid.  Your opinions ranged from wholehearted approval, to feeling that the proportions between the plaid and the trim were just a little bit off, to one lonely unenthusiastic meh.  While most of you did like it and felt it evoked lovely images of Little Women, Balmoral and Gone with the Wind, there was something about the dress that kept many voters from fully committing to a round number: I’ve never had such a swathe of score.5 ratings!  The final tally was 8.7 out of 10.

This week we’re sticking with plaid, but moving on to the theme of The Great Outdoors, as I show you a walking suit in rust coloured wool with plaid silk taffeta.  With it’s practical dark hues, menswear inspired false shirtfront and faux bolero, and restrained ornamentation it’s very different in mood to last week’s ballgown:

The ensemble is described as a walking suit, but someone at the Mint Museum clearly had fun when they came to dress the mannequin for the photo.  “Hmmm…walking is a bit boring, and we have those antique skates, what if we make it a skating suit? ”  “Oooh, yes, and then she’s going to need that cute skirt-picky-upy gizmo that we have!” “And serious gloves.”  “Of course!  And then she should wear that little velvet toque with the funny puff too”. “But then it looks weird with no hair!” “Ummm…just wrap a scarf around it to hide that and hold it all on?”  “Perfect!”  “I don’t know…it’s missing something…”  “Oooooh!  I know!  Those 19th century sunglasses!”  “Yes!  Just the thing!  And then she can hang the silver sunglass case off her belt!”

(Is that even what that silver thing is?  I don’t recognise it and am just guessing here).

What do you think?  Does the whole thing say chic, cosy, elegant outerwear with a twist, or is it just wacky?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

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!)

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Meet the Dreamstress

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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