19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the dress: Dull brown in 1835

Last week’s ensemble was all about erasing details: comparing the impression captured in the painting to the reality of the dresses fit and construction.  The painting came up trumps for comfort and flattery, and Jeanne Samary came away with a very impressive 9.2 out of 10

This week’s dress will be all about the details, because they are what carry the dress.  The fabric is a dull brown, the weave a subdued brocade.  Only the elaborate pleating, ruching and puffs add interest.

Afternoon dress, silk, 1835-36, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Afternoon dress (bodice), silk, 1835-36, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Afternoon dress (detail of sleeve), silk, 1835-36, Metropolitan Museum of Art


What do you think?  Does the simple fabric balance the elaborate treatment?  Or is the elaborate treatment, plus the plain fabric, two wrongs rather than a balance?  Or is the elaborate treatment still not enough to add interest to the plain fabric?  Is the dress, despite all the details, still dull and boring?  Or are both fabric and details an exquisite exercise in subtlety and design?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10


  1. Liz says

    I am a sucker for details. I think that those treatments on a busier/brighter colored fabric would be lost. The dress is modest and subdued, but the ruching and pleating give it a lot of interest.
    I give it a 9 out of 10.

  2. Man! I was just daydreaming today about the 1830s dress on my “to sew this year” list! This is perfect inspiration in every possible way! Except the color. 9 of 10

  3. Oh, this is a difficult one. In general, I prefer details like these on a plain fabric. But the brown colour carries it a bit too far – I think I can hear the dry brown leaves rustling. And I’m not too fond of the bust – together with the colour it looks like the wings of an insect (you know those brown beetles imitating dry leaves?).
    Would this have been the dress for an older woman? A very Christian woman?
    Anyhow, lovely detail, wrong colour, I think. 7 out of 10.

    • Based on the colours of most of the dresses I can find from ca. 1835, this is a very standard, typical example. Not overly subdued or modest at all. Quaker dresses tend to have a lot less details though.

  4. I normally swoon over details like smocking and tucks and whatnot, but I think it was wee bit overdone. Also, the use of the elbow-puffs…ick! They’re way too big in my opinion. I do like the fabric however, which makes my rating about a 5/10

  5. I would really like to know whether or not this is the true color of the gown or if it has been badly bleached out over time. The color as it is now just does not seem like it would be flattering on anyone, which is sad. I really love the careful details of the pleating and the sleeves. It seems like it does a nice job of showing off the hands (is that weird?)… maybe because with the smocking and the puffy elbow it seems to pull the eye downward towards the hands which has a very elegant feel.

    I hate how the mannequin is too little in the waist…that bagginess is annoying. That’s not the dress’s fault though…so I’m not taking off for that. It was just an observation…


    • The waist bagginess really bugs me too! It would have been a simple matter to just pad out the mannequin with a bit of wadding to make the dress fit properly. 🙁

  6. I’m not a fan of the Romantic Era dress however this dress is very nice. The sleeves and fabric are what sold me on this dress.

  7. Elise says

    I never liked the sunken shoulders from this fashion period, but I tried to be unbiased. Unfortunately, like frifris,I think that the bust detail looks silly, so matter the bias. 7

  8. Stella says

    I’m not wild about the colour, but I love the details and construction. I want to make a work shirt modelled on this dress. 9/10

  9. Peg says

    I love the dress for the simplicity of the fabric and the crazy amount of detail … all to spend the afternoon in! I give it a 10.

  10. Judi says

    I have to echo the earlier comments about the color being particularly unflattering to just about anyone. But I like the design, the profile, and the details. For the era and for the purpose of this dress, it really stikes a good balance. If I were a stylish matron of the 1830’s I would wear it often, perhaps adorned with my favorite brooch pinned to the front pleats. 9 out of 10.

  11. Melissa says

    I kind of hate the poufs on the elbows, if they were much smaller it might work. The color would be nice if it were a richer brown, but it isn’t bad. Other then those complaints, I like it! The details with the pleating and ruching make it interesting. I’ll give it a 7/10

  12. Gorgeous. I love the colour and the detailing. The puffs in the sleeves almost give the illusion of a stole draped from behind (fanciful aren’t I) and when compared to those dresses with the enormous puffed sleeves so common of tha time, it just seems so tasteful and well proportioned.
    I give it an 8 because I am trying not to be so absolute! 🙂

  13. Valerie says

    Nine out of ten, an almost perfect balance.

  14. I love it… except for the colour. It’s a tad too yellowish dull brown on my computer and that looks… rather unpleasant.
    But were it a tad different (perhaps a bit of rusty colour?), it’d be fantastic – probably the prettiest 1830’s dress I’ve seen so far, because they tend to be over-the-top and over-the-top is not my cup of tea. Here it’s nicely subdued so as to be to my liking. 🙂

    • P.S. On my other computer, it’s even more yellowish, and in that state I actually almost love the colour. Weird.
      Still, it would be hard to pull the colour off.

  15. dawn s says

    I actually love the details, especially the puffs on the sleeves. As for the color, I think only a vibrant redhead could counterbalance that dull brown. 9

  16. Hate it, totally, but most of all the colour… I would prefer to see it in red or rust as a previous commentor suggested… The front of the bodice is particularly bad. I’d give it a generous 4 out of 10. But then again, perhaps the dress looks better in movement… nah… hate it still.

  17. The color (as it is today, as photographed, as seen on my monitor, etc.) is rather impressively hideous, but I love the dress design. Personally, I couldn’t possibly pull off that much pleating/gathering across the bust (ship prow, seriously), but I think it’s a lovely design, and I like the execution of the elaborate treatments of the fabric in a simple, subtle material. I could even go for a brown, if it were less….sad and yellowish. Maybe a nice rich cocoa brown. Or a different color entirely. Still, I give it an 8 out of 10.

    Side note – I’ve been intensely researching 1830s clothing for the past year and a half, and there is just no way that dress is from 1835. Or 1836, for that matter. I would propose that it dates from more like 1838-40. The narrow upper AND lower sleeves, combined with the pointed waist, both point to the very end of the decade. Even in the highest of high style fashion plates and paintings, I haven’t seen either of those developments in 1835. And, well, in general, the dating for the costume pieces in the online collection at the Met….leaves something to be desired. I’m not sure what’s going on there.

    • Agreed about dating problems at the Met! I kinda did a post about what is happening there a while back. I’m not an 1830s expert though, so I didn’t know about this one. Thanks for the correction.

    • Perhaps a flat chested lady, or an older lady who’s attributes were heading south would have needed the help of extra material over the “girls”. One would assume that with that color, it is an older married woman wearing it. As such she would be less likely to dress souly on the grounds of what is in fashion. She would be choosing elements that help her flaws (boobs) and accent her pluses (hands).

  18. I like it!


    I think the brown is a rather pretty brown, and imagine how it would look on someone who looked the best in brown! And all those details….. and pretty things……


  19. I’ve never seen such Ruching in my life! *sing song-y* Amazing!
    i like it!

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