19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the dress: a girls party frock, about 1865

Last week I presented a painting of a wealthy young Englishwoman of the 1750s, and the vast majority of you rated it very highly, and it achieved a 7.3 out of 10.  You know what though?  I’m disappointed in you!  So many readers criticised it, and then gave it a 9 out of 10 anyway!  What does that mean?  Shouldn’t a 9 be almost absolutely perfect ‘must-have-now’ with just the tiniest tweaks needed?  I think you are all just brainwashed to think that anything 18th century is fabulous, and don’t stop and think “but is this a good example of 18th century?”!

So this week is about pushing our usual inclinations.  You, dear readers, have been rather disapproving of historical children’s clothes in the past.  But I’m feeling brave, and am wondering if I can’t tempt you out of ingrained likes and dislikes.

So I’m presenting a striking girl’s dress of about 1865 in muted red and white.

Girl's dress, about 1865, American, MFA Boston

I imagine this would have been worn by a girl of about 9 or 10.

So, do you like it?  Do you really like it?  And would you like it if it wasn’t worn by a child?  Or perhaps the coin has flipped, and rather than being an attractive garment worn by an inappropriate age group, you think this is an lovely garment for a child, but hideous when thought of as a garment in the abstract!

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. 10. For a child’s dress, I can’t criticize this one bit. (Well, so long as a good launderer is available to keep that white nice and clean). I absolutely love it.

    It would work great as an adult’s dress (it’d really look quite 1950s), but you’d have to remove the apron-type thing around the waist. It’s just too cutsey for an adult, I think (although the satin ribbon on the waistline could stay). From the description on the click-through link, that’s a separate piece anyhow.

    You know, if not for you telling us this was c. 1865, I would have guessed 1950s.

  2. GORGEOUS. 10 of 10. Near perfection.
    I want one in my size. And a 1950s version with the same elements 🙂

  3. I LOVE this dress. I want to make an adult-appropriate version of it. LOVE! 10

  4. I give a 7/10 because of personal taste (not a fan of 1860s fashion) and it looks fussy. However on a positive note, the dress very well made and it looks brand-spanking new. Pinafores are a little girl’s best friend.

  5. I do love it for a child, but not for an adult. so 8/10 for great for the person it’s made for, but not for others. Also, it looks rather starched, almost like paper….is that just the picture? But I do love the color, and pleats!! They are my one weakness 🙂

  6. Tracy says

    I love it as a girl’s dress and also think it looks like the perfect 1950’s summer dress for an adult! If I had a tiny waist like that, I’d want one just like it! I give it a 10.

  7. Hm, I like the different elements on their own (pleats, yay, lots of pleats!) and the colour scheme – but all together in one dress, I somehow don’t like it all that much. Maybe it’s the zigzaggy lines I don’t like, especially in combination with bows? Certainly a striking garment, but maybe a bit much so. Who would notice the girl inside?
    Not too fond of the “heavy” collar/neckline for a children’s dress, and again those zigzags…
    Would look better on an adult, imho, but please without the bows. Yes, 50s somehow! (which is a good thing)


  8. Stella says

    The great thing about this dress is that it works as a child’s dress or as an adult’s dress. I totally want one, but in red and black (or black and white) instead of red and white and without the ribbon round the waist. I have a weakness for chevrons and box pleats. I see some of the other commenters think it’s a bit fussy or has too much going on, but I disagree. I think it’s fun and the chevrons are kind of op art.


  9. Like everyone else, I want this as a dress for me, as a grown-up. For a child, it seems quite fussy, but I suppose that’s what the 1860s were all about. I’m going to give it a 7.5/10 – I love the zig-zaggy bottom and its clean lines, but not sure how much fun it would be to play in.

  10. I LOVE this – I can picture a little girl with fair skin and dark hair looking stunning in this. And I want one for me (though maybe without the bows for anyone older than 12 or so.) It’s gorgeous. A 10 from me!

  11. It’s very, what, graphical? Geometrical? I love it for that, and the subdued colours offset the knife-edge sharpness of the lines, but it looks like it’s folded from paper to be worn by a doll. I like it, but in a cartoony lolli-goth sort of way.

  12. Adela says

    Its ok and I could modify the elements further into a swing/summer dress. 8

    I would loose the waist ribbon & bows then extend the vertical keystone tab lines up into the bodice and choose a bright complementary colour set like sunshine yellow and violet.

  13. I am mixed over this dress. I do really appreciate the craftsmanship. I wouldn’t wear those colors, but I do actually like them together, just couldn’t wear it myself. I actually really like the geometric pattern and the pleating (which I wouldn’t have expected of myself, but I do).

    As a child’s dress: I don’t like the top. At all. What 9 year old has shoulders broad enough that the top won’t fall off? Heck, it would probably fall off of my shoulders even now. Maybe for the 12+ crowd it would be ok, but 9? I dunno. Also for a child, I would rather there be more of the bows around the neckline, as well as more around the skirt bottom. I don’t know how I feel about the panels, and I think it might be cuter to have a contrasting sash without the panels (with a big bow in the back), and put more bows everywhere else. I don’t know why, but the whole dress makes me think Anime Alice in Wonderland (which isn’t a bad thing, just an odd thing to pop into the head).

    As an adult dress: The bows must go. The neckline to me would be stunning on a grown woman, and the skirt detail would be fun. The bows and panels in the middle should be removed entirely, and the sash could either stay white or be in the contrast color. Actually, I would almost love to make that up in a light blue with dark blue or black contrast – it would be very art deco in blue/silver/black colors I think.

    So, I don’t think it is exactly perfect for an adult or a child, but I do like and appreciate the construction and most of the dress elements. It uses geometric designs much better than the green monster dress from 2 weeks ago (I actually had a nightmare it was going to eat me!). With tweaks it could be better for an adult or a child. I really want to like it, but I just haven’t fallen totally in love.


  14. Jay says

    I like the Colours, would be great on a Quilt. 8 of 10

  15. I love it… as a statue. It looks absolutely striking on its own. But I’m not sure how it would look on a person… It does look weirdly stiff, too, and stiff clothes are not perfect for children (I loved flowing shawls and skirts as a child, so I know what I’m talking about!).
    7. I would love to give it more, the colour scheme is fabulous and it’s really very well made, but the stiffness of it rubs me the wrong way. 7 is good enough, isn’t it?

    • 7 is good enough if you think it is! I agree with you on the stiff clothes. The little bridesmaid’s dresses in the royal wedding bugged me so much because they rocked on the girls bodies! And not in a ‘that dress is rocking’ sense!

  16. Daniel says

    Love red and white combinations, (and indeed, am a big fan of vibrant/clear colours set against white or black.) I can easily imagine the girl who wore this having a French fashion doll in a similaly styled adult dress (obviously full length but with the same design elements.)

    Okay, so I’m looking at it as a historian and I think it’s a wonderful example of its type, love the colour and details and yes, it thrills me from a design perspective too – I like the balance between the red and the white, and I find it quite refreshing in how it’s presented – the clean, crisp white, and the frosted strawberry-flesh red. Actually I suppose I’m viewing it more as an aesthetic object than as a garment, as I’m focusing on its graphic qualities and visuality. But I do agree with everyone else that it would make a great dress for an adult. I do wonder whether the child might have worn it over a pleated white lawn or cambric blouse with full sleeves as you sometimes see in fashion plates, although I think it’s probably a “party” or “best dress”.

    Oh yes, rating. Sorry, gonna have to go with my gut feeling here and say 10, I think it’s beautiful and representative, and perfectly balanced design-wise.

  17. Libby says

    I think it’s a bit garish, but not ugly at all. It does seem to have a lot of skin exposed for a child (makes me think of Adele from “Jane Eyre”), but it might be better on a human instead of a mannequin. 7/10

  18. Natalie says

    Ok I just have to know, how can anyone dislike this dress?

    It is beautiful!!!!! I am in love with it. Everything works in my opinion. I love it for a child and for an adult. Can I have it? Will it fit me 🙂


  19. Madame Ornata says

    I am profoundly confused about how I feel about this dress. As an abstract concept I love the design elements, colours, clever pleating and chevroning.
    The time period is not one of my favouites and but it is a great example with a twist.
    But something disturbs me. What is it and is this good or bad? I really struggle to see an actual child wearing this, it seems so uncompromising but I quite like the bold, shouty statement it makes. I am left preferring the elements I love on the dress instead on an adult and showcased in another time period to make it truly great. So 6/10 for me.

  20. Elise says

    Can I admit something–as egotistical as I am, I first saw the dress in adult-size. And that dress, with the flounces and color, I found all kinds of awkward. But then! Then I read that it was for a child. and I thought of how adorable a young girl would look. Not perfectly adorable, but pretty adorable. 7/10

  21. WOW. How precious!? This is a great outfit, but only fit for more “elite” girls that don’t play at anything except their needlework!

    The colors are wonderful, the cut is adorable and appropriate. I think a grown-up version of this would be just as scrumptious. XD


  22. Oh my god, I love this dress. On an adult, as mentioned upthread, it would look very 1950s, and that’s how I would love to wear it. To the circus, preferably. Perfect 10 for me!

  23. Gina says

    wow! its great. i love everything about it!

  24. BeckaJo says

    I adore this dress. It reminds me of illustrations in an old book of fairytales I had as a child, particularly the dress worn by the girl in “The Red Shoes.” (Utterly creepy story, of course, but my version was illustrated beautifully.)

    I also think the dress speaks perfectly to the aesthetic of 1860’s clothing; it’s very close to the dress in this fashion plate, for example: http://bit.ly/kjYJ0h .Especially if you note that one of the adult dresses is trimmed with bows. Despite its fashionableness, the dress also has a bit of whimsy and and air of innocence; it’s a lovely children’s frock.

    (Interestingly I’ve seen some of those details – in simpler forms! – appear in contemporary children’s fashion, like here: http://bit.ly/iYsXPy – see the bertha collar and the pleated skirt. This might be influencing my feelings more positively.)

    One note is that I think the age range for the dress might be bigger – dresses in that style were listed in fashion books as being for children ages 2 – 10, and older children seem to have most often worn underblouses with dresses of this style.

    This is my long-winded explanation for why I rate this dress a solid 10 out of 10!

    (I’m a new visitor…I love your blog!)

  25. holy heck Jesus, I LOVE it! girls or lady’s ill take it in both with minor adjustments! where do i find a pattern!!!!! LOVE IT!!!!

  26. Wendy says

    This is a beautiful dress. Lots of detail! The seamstress was incredibly talented.

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