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Fancy Dress, 1850s, NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b17567042

Rate the Dress: a fancy dress in search of accessories

Apologies for the rather delayed Rate the Dress. We just had a three day weekend for Labour Day, and my internal calendar is completely confused.

On top of that, it’s the busiest time of year at work: the major show of the year + prepping for graduation + interviewing candidates for next year, all in a three week period! And if that wasn’t enough excitment, it’s a very important year in the Baha’i Faith: 200 years since the birth of the Bab. There have been nonstop commemorations and celebrations, and I’ve been dashing from work to receptions at Parliament one day, and then dashing home to do flower arranging for another event the next…

I really wanted to have a fancy dress for this week’s Rate the Dress, and this was the most striking example I could find that hasn’t been featured before. It is missing something though…

Last Week: a 1920s child’s frock 

You found last week’s hand painted frock utterly charming. If there was any tiny fly in the ointment it was that it was almost too sweet, or that you weren’t sure about the bonnet. It was very of its time, but possibly a little much.

The Total: 9.7 out of 10

Practically perfect, but for a B for the bonnet.

This week: an 1860s fancy dress

This week’s ‘Rate the Dress’ is either a fancy dress, or a theatre costume. But what did it represent? That part is not clear. Without the styling and accessories that went with it, it’s clearly dress-ups, but not immediately identifiable.

Fancy dress, silk, 1860s, Les Arts Décoratifs via Europeana Fashion UF 50-30-15 AB
Fancy dress, silk, 1860s, Les Arts Décoratifs via Europeana Fashion UF 50-30-15 AB
Fancy dress, silk, 1860s, Les Arts Décoratifs via Europeana Fashion UF 50-30-15 AB
Fancy dress, silk, 1860s, Les Arts Décoratifs via Europeana Fashion UF 50-30-15 AB

My best guess is that it was either meant to be an 18th c lady as in the first plate below, a shepherdess (also rather 18thc ish) as in the second plate, or perhaps a national costume, like the Swiss Girl in the last plate.

Fancy Dress, 1850s, NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b17567042
Fancy Dress, 1850s, NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b17567042
Le Monitor De La Mode, December, 1853, v. 36, plate 79, Tessa LAPL.org rbc4264 (1)
Le Monitor De La Mode, December, 1853, v. 36, plate 79, Tessa LAPL.org rbc4264 (1)
Journal des Demoiselles, Fancy Dress, ca 1870
Journal des Demoiselles, Fancy Dress, ca 1870

What do you think? What was this dress meant to be, and how fetching would the wearer have looked, and felt, in it? Would she have been the belle of the costume ball, or that weird outfit that no-one quite gets (you know that costume. You’ve probably been the one in that costume at least once. I’ve been the one in that costume for sure…)

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, so I can find it!  And 0 is not on a scale of 1 to 10.  Thanks in advance!)

Regency Ladies Reading

Fashion plates, like fashion magazines (and some corners of instagram…) today, sell not only aspirational fashions, but also aspirational lifestyles.

There is a series of Costume Parisien fashion plates, stretching from the 1790s to 1820, that shows an fashionable lifestyle that I can very much see myself ascribing too…

I call it Regency Ladies Reading*.

Costume Parisiene, ca. 1795,  Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs.
Costume Parisien, ca. 1795, Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs.
Costume Parisien, ca. 1800, Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs.
Costume Parisiene 1801,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1801, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisiene 1802,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1802, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien, 1802, Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien, 1802, Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs

1810-11 was by far the high point of the style. The fashion illustrator hit on a post he liked, and built numerous outfits, all modelled by ladies intent on their literature, around it.

Costume Parisiene 1810,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1811,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1811, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisiene 1810,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisiene 1810, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisiene 1811, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien, 1812
Costume Parisien, 1812
Costume Parisien 1812, NYPL digital archives
Costume Parisien 1812, NYPL digital archives
Costume Parisien, 1818
Costume Parisien, 1818

*Somewhat inaccurately, because the fashion plates originated in France, and some predate the English Regency. I suppose I could call it ‘Empire Ladies Enlarging Their Minds’….

A dress made from a 1919 pattern thedreamstress.com

The 1918-19 ‘Not Another Blue Dress’ details

I wore the 1918-19 ‘Not Another Blue Dress’ at Costume College, and loved it just as much as the first time I wore it.

I made a few improvements to it, and got some help from friend for a few more, and paired it with my Costumers for Climate Action sash.

For improvements, I loved the detailed yoke I’d made, but felt the sleeves were a bit plain in comparison. I had just a few scraps of the yoke fabric left, and by careful placement (and one small mend, which you can just see in the photo below if you look closely) I managed to cut a set of cuffs.

A dress made from a 1919 pattern thedreamstress.com

I’d paired the cuffs with fancy cut-glass buttons that imitate jet, and added matching buttons on the shoulder, where the yoke opens.

A dress made from a 1919 pattern thedreamstress.com

For more texture and visual interest, and a little bit of colour, Hvitr the tassel queen made me a set of tassels:

A dress made from a 1919 pattern thedreamstress.com

And Madame O the embroideress extraordinaire embroidered little motifs taken from a 1910s embroidery manual on the sash ends – no easy task as the sash was already cut, and the fabric is very wibbly and couldn’t be stabilised.

A dress made from a 1919 pattern thedreamstress.com

The tassels and embroidery were part of my ‘I don’t ask for stuff I just ask people to come spend and afternoon sewing for me’ birthday request (which often happens at a time of year completely unrelated to my birthday).

A dress made from a 1919 pattern thedreamstress.com

Kenna (@houkakyou) took a gorgeous set of photos of me in the outfit at Costume College.

A Dress from a 1919 pattern by The Dreamstress, photo by @Houkakyou

The Costume College photos were one of those wonderful, happy accidents. I waited in the hallway with my pocket camera, hoping to snag someone walking by to take a few pictures of me on it.

I saw someone with a camera, and though “ah hah! I bet they will be able to do a decent job.” I introduced myself and asked, Kenna agreed, snapped a few on my camera, and then offered to take some with her (much, much, much better) camera. She suggested a new angle, I posed, and these were the result.

A Dress from a 1919 pattern by The Dreamstress, photo by @Houkakyou

Note my little vintage silver & paua kiwi pin holding the sash closed!

A Dress from a 1919 pattern by The Dreamstress, photo by @Houkakyou

Thank you Hvitr & Madame O for the dress help, and Kenna for taking the amazing photos!