19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1885 Ice Goddess

Wooooooh dearie!  You guys may like Judy Garland, but you DID NOT like her dress last week.  You gave it a hearty “Clang, clang” and dubbed it “pooposterous”.  Judy only ranked 3 out of 10.  Poo.

This week’s Rate the Dress is in honour of my Mum.  She saw this dress and immediately said I should do it as a “Rate the Dress”.

A smart woman always listens to her mother.

The stereotypical Victorian society mother would certainly approve of this frock.  It covers everything from the chin to the toes, wrapping wrists in froths of lace, and disguising bosoms beneath swaths of marabou feathers.

Evening dress R. H. White & Co. (American, Boston, Massachusetts) Date- 1885 Medium- silk, feathers, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.1803a, b

Evening dress R. H. White & Co. (American, Boston, Massachusetts) Date- 1885 Medium- silk, feathers, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.1803a, b

The colours of the gown add to the effect of imperious purity; the wearer would have been an ice goddess in aqua and palest gold.

Evening dress R. H. White & Co. (American, Boston, Massachusetts) Date- 1885 Medium- silk, feathers, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.1803a, b

Evening dress R. H. White & Co. (American, Boston, Massachusetts) Date- 1885 Medium- silk, feathers, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.1803a, b

The only suggestion of a more passionate nature beneath the frosty exterior of the gown is the detailing of lacing holding the fronts of the faux jacket taut, hinting at the corsets beneath the gown.*

Ooh la la.  Mother would not approve.

But do you?  Do you appreciate the contrasts of heavily patterned damask and smooth silk, the natural sensuality of feathers and the carefully constructed artificiality of lace, the warm, voluptuous curves of the Victorian beauty and the mask of an ice goddess?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10.

*Sheesh.  Maybe I missed my calling.  Perhaps I should write saucy novels next!




  1. Natalie says


    I think this dress is stunning. At first I wasn’t sure about the feather edging on the train but after looking for a bit I decided I liked that too. It’s just the right amount. I give it a 8 out of 10

  2. Frecklehead says

    Love it all. The colors are GORGEOUS, and the fur trim is just right. Rich without being ostentatious. 10/10. 🙂

  3. I like it very much, the colors, the competing textures, the hint of sauciness. Would a nice sweet innocent girl have worn this, or was it for a slightly less innocent type? I am a little confused by it, I know trains were popular and some women wore them in the street and picked up trash in their trains, but would this really have been worn outside? If not, why is it so covered up? It looks to me like a going out gown, but for the delicate feathered train. I’m just not sure, but I love it. 10.

  4. Oh, a 10 for sure! It is everything and more. Not sweet, quite sensuous given the total coverage provided. I love the colours, shapes, textures, everything. EVERYTHING. Wow.

  5. Jo-Anne says

    I love the dress, but there is something about the lower skirt, that damask, that is just not working for me. The rest of the dress is so soft and ephemeral, and the damask is a little stiff and formal. 8 out of 10.

  6. This is fabbbbbbuuuuulllllllooouuussssssss…..This is just fulfilling everything in my mind about a fabulous Christmas-time dress. I actually find this gown very ‘sexy’ if that is the appropriate word. I’ve always seen a strong undercurrent of sex in Victorian clothes, especially once they start getting ridiculous about keeping everything covered. The lines of the gowns always are just so perfect that even though you can’t see everything you can still ‘see’ …everything. It’s that strong power of suggestion of something you can’t have, that just amps up the sex-appeal of the women wearing the gowns. I love the feather trim just adds softness and says ‘touch me touch me’. I wonder if there was any feather inspecting in the dark corners of this Christmas party…or maybe New Years.

    10. 🙂

  7. This is one of those gowns that look MUCH better in colour than in black-and-white (particularly that damask). So I suppose it’s even better in reality. Perfectly balanced in my eyes. 10!
    (I think lately I either really love it and give it a 10, or I feel blah about it and give it much less. Somehow I can’t settle on a 7-9.)

  8. I like the ice blue color and the bodice detailing is pretty, as is the draping of the skirt. But the fur is yech and the underskirt looks like decorater fabric from Hancock’s. It might be pretty and delicate without the fur, especially around the collar. 5 out of 10.

  9. A defintie 10 from me. I can imagine wearing it througha cold Boston winter, very easily.

  10. LOVE. Love the delicate ingenue colour combined with the sophisticated feather elements. And the saucy lacing! And the little pleated detail at the hem! And the scrunched silk at the rear! This is my fav Victorian decade anyway but this dress is just something else. 10!

  11. “Favourite era anyway” – quite right. Bustle era is not my favourite ever, but I think the year 1885 is my favourite ever in terms of bustle era. Most of the dresses of that year I’ve seen were fantastic.

  12. I love it!!! It’s my color, and I love damask even if I don’t know how to pronounce it. And I’m really covet that waist. I think corsets get a bad rap. I would totally give up breathing if I could have a tiny waist.

  13. Madame Ornata says

    Wow! Saucy, pretty, tactile, balanced, great lines especially the ‘corset’ top and the tail-like train. The downy feathers scream touch me touch me to my fingers. 10 all the way

  14. Oh Gosh, this dress is so pretty! I absolutely love it! I would definitely rate it a 10. I love the way the feathers add to the feel of the costume and that long, gorgeous train!!

  15. Joie de Vivre says

    I love this. It took me a moment to love all of it – I had a moment pondering the fur, and how well the damask worked for the skirt, and the way the overskirty thingy (not a historical costumer!) is hooked up on the side at the front doesn’t really rock my world – but the colour, the silhouette through the waist and neck, the saucy lacing, the way the fur on the bodice (especially when worn on the mannnequin) suggests a plunging cleavage even though it goes right to the top, the fall of lace at the wrists, are all so wonderful that I have decided it is fabulous. 9.5 to recognise that moment’s hesitation. Apologies for the world’s longest sentence!

  16. Paul Miller says

    I love the colors and the cut, but I can’t warm to the fur. Unlike some others, I do not think the damask is gaudy, but rather, like the interest and elegance it adds. I wish I liked the fur, but I find it distracting. I think I’d rather the dress NOT have the fur, but the outfit be accessorized with a white fur muff and possibly white fur on a hat of some kind. Still, it is a knock out in terms of shape and textiles, so I give it a 9.

  17. I absolutely love it, although agree with the poster above that it would be nicer without the fur. I’d love frocks like this to come back into fashion today – would definitely wear them.

  18. Oops forgot my rating – it’s a 9.5, purely because the fur hides some of that gorgeous bodice.

  19. This dress is divine. The shape, the ornamentation, the colour – it’s as close to perfection as I’ve seen in a while. The only thing that detracts is potentially a product of the photography, where it looks a little – not sure how to put this – Miss-Haversham-does-1950s-ish from the back. But I still love it and would kill to be able to wear it or, baring the miracle that would let me fit into it, at least own it. I give it a solid 9.

Comments are closed.