19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the dress: a little girl’s frock, ca 1885

Last week Princess Louise Marie’s dress was not a hit – between the fur, the colour, and the addition of the lace it rated only a 5.6 out of 10.

I’ve had this weeks post all ready for months, and then, just when I was about to launch it, the website where I had the photo stored experienced technical difficulties, so I can’t show you the dress until it restores.  Grrrr…

So…my backup plan is to show you an intriguing child’s dress from 1885.  It’s got it all: velvet, lace, smocking, ruffles, pleats, and the earliest example of child themed cartoon fabric used for children’s clothes that I am aware of.

All of this may not necessarily add up to a good thing though.  What do you think?

Child's dress, ca 1885, England. V&A

Check out the fabric:

Child's dress (detail) ca 1885, England. V&A

There are more views if you click through to V&A’s site.

What do you think?  Is it a charming mix of 1880’s frills and childhood innocence or a clumsy mash-up of completely different themes?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

ETA: check out this painting from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa – it’s the cartoon in oils!


  1. A clumsy mash-up of too many different themes. I love the neckline, the contrasting upper bodice with the dark velvet, and the lace. But the Kate Greenway print is tacky, and the skirt poof doesn’t help.

    I’m giving it a 7, because most of my dislike is concentrated on that stupid print fabric; I’d be willing to forgive the skirt poof otherwise.

  2. It’s cool that it’s the earliest cartoon fabric and whatever, but it doesn’t work for this dress. 😛
    Also, I’m not sure I like that lace overlaying the velvet ribbon (?). Probably because I prefer velvet over lace.

  3. Kathy P says

    The design isn’t bad, but that print fabric is awful. It’s much more suited to a coat lining or nursery curtains, or perhaps an informal play dress than what looks as if it’s supposed to be a more formal dress.
    The seamstress was clever in her pleat formation, but all those little faces lined up at the bottom of the skirt are sort of creepy. I think I’d like it at the bottom of a bassinet skirt, though.
    ( I would call the gathered effect shirring, not smocking. )
    I wonder why there are two styles of sleeve cap?

    • It looks as if the bow has fallen off one sleeve. Perhaps that is why the different in sleeve styles? And now I’m going to have to research the exact difference between shirring and smocking!

      • Shirring is where the wee tucks or pleats are elasticated; smocking is overstitched with decorative stitches to keep the wee tucks in place.

    • Kathy P says

      In addition to what MrsC has said, in smocking, the base threads used to draw up the pleats are removed after the decorative stitches are done. In shirring, they remain in the garment for stability.

  4. This is exactly the sort of dress I would have picked out for myself when I was 4 or 5. That does not necessarily vouch for the dress’ greatness, but I do like it.
    I love the lace, the sleeves, and the whimsical quality of it. The only thing I could do without is the print on the fabric, but overall I think it is cute and appropriate for a child, and not overdone.


  5. I love historical children’s clothing because it’s very rare to find in intact. And it’s so cute.
    This dress is soooo complex in skill and techniques, I like that.
    However I think if one has a dress has a complex design then simple fabric is better to show off the design aspect. I have seen people sew a lovely Felix dress for their girls and they use loud prints with cartoons like Dora the Explorer or Disney Princesses.
    It’s too much.
    This dress reminds me of that aspect.

  6. Elise says

    Replace the cartoons with flowers, and it would have been my dream dress for the oh-so-important social event: Kindergarten. How neat! Thanks for posting it up!

  7. I like the dress shape and the blue accents, but the print fabric is too weird. I think I ‘ll give it an 8

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