19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Ecru, black and gold in the 1850s

I was expecting that last week’s JP Worth dress might not be the most popular garment ever with you, dear readers, but I certainly didn’t anticipate the level of loathing and revulsion in your reaction!  Everything came under fire at some point or another: the lace (old rugby socks), the silhouette (matronly and frumpy), the colours (Halloween-y and clashing), but most of all the bows!  Only two of you actually liked it, and even those two thought it needed improving.  Poor JP’s creation received the lowest rating ever: a 3.3 out of 10.  And that’s not even counting the three people who tried to rate it a 0 out of 10 (I moved their rating up to one, because zero is not a number, and it’s not on the rating scale).   On the bright side, the unfortunate frock  did spark the most entertaining comment thread ever!

On reviewing my ‘Rate the Dress’ selections, I realised I have rather ignored the 1850s.  I suspect it is because most 1850s dresses look like most other 1850s dresses.  It wasn’t an era of huge variations in style.  However, after a bit of searching I have finally found an interesting 1850s frock to show you.  And it even carries on a theme from last week: the controversial colour scheme of black and ecru.

Silk dress, American, 1850s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Let’s have a close up look at the fabric:

Silk dress, American, 1850s, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Do black and ecru patterns instead of black on ecru trimmings sit better with you?  And does the addition of bronze as a background help?  And what do  you think of the contrast between the very simple and demure 1850s silhouette and the bold fabric?  Is the balance jarring, or just right?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10



  1. I like it. I would wear it, but it doesn’t bowl me over. It’s kind of like this black shirt I have in my closet that I don’t really like the design of, but I wear all the time, becasue it just works. This dress would be something like that. heh.

    So 8/10.

  2. Bleh. Not a big fan of the 1850s. I actually like the black/ecru combination in general, but this somehow manages to be kinda boring and loud at the same time.
    4 of 10

    • Elise says

      I agree. Hear hear. I don’t like the shape, either. And although I prefer more ecru than black (I actually kind of liked the other dress for colors), this is ok. 5.

  3. I, on the other hand, think the styles of the 1850s are among the most beautiful of the Victorian period. I love the silhouette of this dress. I like the pattern of the print also, but I think the colors are ugly and drab. I’m not sure whether it would help if the background were brighter (bronze is a good word for it–it’s acquired an almost greenish patena).

    So, overall, I’m forced to give it a 7 again. A beautiful silhouette is one thing, but color is noticed first, and the colors on this one are dreadful.

  4. I love the fabric pattern, and the silhouette, but I don’t like the drab brown color. I would like it a lot more if it was in a green or blue.


  5. I sorta like this one. The colors don’t bother me, there is just a lack of detail that prevents it from being a wow dress. Although more detail may have pushed it to too much crazy land. I like the trim on the sleeves though. And I do like 1850’s styles, although, yes, they are all very similar.


  6. Stella says

    With last week’s dress I liked the silhouette but not the fabric. With this dress, I like the fabric but not the silhouette. I would totally make something with this fabric, and the small amount of ecru combined with black and bronze solves the problem I usually have with ecru (that I think it’s boring).

    But that silhouette. Oh dear. It’s staid and frumpy, and I always find the sloped shoulders on dresses of this era depressing. They make it look like the wearer is really sad and despondent.

    In conclusion, a sad waste of several yards of nice silk. 5/10

  7. Sue McCaskill says

    I actually love this dress; I would certainly wear it! A BIG improvement over the last one!

  8. Oh boy. I wonder who was the lady who wore this dress; it’s beautiful yet sombre. Also the dress looks like a day dress but the fabric is very fancy. The fabric looks too formal for this type of dress. Im thinking a wealthy widow.
    8/10 Because I like the fabric.

  9. Caroline says

    I feel like I could find this fabric in a shop today, so it’s interesting to see it combined with the modest and very simple silhouette of this dress. UGHHH! I hate putting my rating down, I’m too indecisive of a person!
    well um…. rain check, I’ll think about it!

  10. I give it a 7 out of 10. I’m visualizing it being made in my size for myself, and I’d like it, but the pattern is really large and overwhelming to the frame. I’m really fond of sleeves like that, even in more relaxed modern garments.

    I don’t normally care for ecru, but it works here. Perhaps if it had just been a jacket, or a skirt, not both.

    I keep thinking flocked wallpaper. I like flocked wallpaper.

  11. Oh, and I LOVE the sloped shoulders of the era, and the band collars. I love the sloped shoulders because my own shoulders are naturally a little slope-y. The Huge Shoulder Pad Era of the mid-1980’s was a bit unbearable to me.

  12. I love this dress! So beautiful and elegant. The fabric is rich looking and the lighter color vines over the top of the heavy black pattern help it to look younger and “springier”. The trim on the sleeves is beautiful and understated. I’d love to see it with some undersleeves. Black for winter and ecru silk for the other seasons.

    I rate it a 10


  13. Tamsin says

    Absolutely lovely. Love the fabric and like the simple style. The only let-down for me is the neckline – think it could be a bit less plain.

    But 9/10 for me. I’d wear it if I could get away with those colours 🙂

  14. I guess… 6. In all its sumptuousness, it’s rather boring. It must be the bronze background… something brighter would work better, I imagine.

  15. Lindsey says

    Ah, that’s better at least its not blinding.

    I quite like it actually but like others I’m not just tripping over my self about it. I do like the colors its not to loud but still give some fun patterns to look out and make it stand out from “the 1850s dress”

    Rating: 6 of 10

  16. It’s growing on me. I’m not a fan of this period, with its sloping shoulders and circular hoops, and the fabric looks like something used for the sort of cushions they sell at Spotlight, but I’ve disliked this dress less each time I’ve looked at it. If i manage to work out why, I’ll let you know.

  17. Daniel says

    Looks like something made out of Miz Ellen’s po’teers.

    Actually, it’s a very ladylike, very prim dress – but it REALLY needs accessories. It needs a beautiful whitework collar and undersleeves to offset the impact of all that unrelieved pattern, it really does. So I am imagining it with the white collar and undersleeves and suddenly it becomes a lot more attractive. Sometimes you really do need all the bits of an ensemble to bring a dress together.

    I can think of several 1850s dresses I like a lot more than this, (a particular favourite is a monumental green plush dress in V&A with loads of fringe) , but I am looking at this again and while my initial reaction was “Wallpaper dress!” I am now seeing it with a white collar and cuffs and it’s really coming together.

    By itself – 6.5/10
    With collar & undersleeves – 8/10

      • Funny, that – my sentiments exactly! 😀
        But I agree with Daniel on this one… with white collar and undersleeves, it would be much, much better.

      • Daniel says

        It does, but at the same time, it has a certain presence….

  18. Alexandra says

    Not a big fan of 1850’s, either, but it is a gorgeous dress for that time period. Great silhouette, elegant color. Very pretty.

    9 out of 10

  19. Well, it’s certainly not as bad as the last monstrosity, but it doesn’t bowl me over at all. The the pattern of the fabric is nice, but the colours blur together in a very messy way around the shoulders and sleeves, especially with that trim around the cuffs. I definitely don’t like the batwing-y shape of the sleeves at all. The skirt part is great, but a whole dress in this hurts my eyes. 5 out of 10.

  20. Frecklehead says

    Looks rich without being gaudy. Such an unusual fabric! Undersleeves and a collar would help it a bit, but I love it like it is, too.


  21. Right, last week’s was… hah I have no words! I already had an inexplicable dislike of 1890s style in general (you know something is wrong when your sleeves are so big you need a cage to keep them up) and that wasn’t the *worst* 90s dress I’ve ever seen, especially because the sleeves weren’t obnoxiously huge… but I agreed with most of the negative comments ;D
    For this week’s… Yesss! Finally something from the big hoop era!
    As a Civil War reenactor, I of course love (almost) anything with a cage under it. Even aside from that, my initial impression of this dress is a positive one. Although the color scheme is anything but bright, the pattern is pretty, and as it is large, it works well on the hoopskirt. The pleating on the skirt is lovely as well. On the right person with a few well-chosen accessories, this could be very pretty. It’s a little bit boring, but could be improved very easily with trim… I’m thinking some (or lots of :D) black braiding like what is found on the sleeves and possibly some beading? Certainly someone able to afford this much silk could scrape up a little more for some decoration, right? 🙂 Either way though, the silhouette is very nice and I like the pagoda sleeves. I would wear it! 9/10 for a pretty dress that just needs a liiiittle more spicing up.

  22. Jane says

    It’s too much for me. I like the fabric print, but not for a dress like this. It looks more suited for a couch or a chair… or a pillow. Really anything but a big skin covering dress.

    And I don’t like the shoulders.

    I’ll give it 5/10

  23. Like the colour(s). Not too fond of the shoulders and the top silhouette (apart from lovely sleeves). 7/10.
    Dang, I missed last weeks Rate The Dress 😉

  24. My immediate, gut reaction was Morticia Addams does Gone with the Wind. Not, mind you, that this is a bad thing. Just a very particular look, indeed! I couldn’t wear it–it would eat me alive. But for a very particular woman, with a very particular personality–and perhaps a white collar or a light-colored shawl to break it up a bit–it seems oddly….pretty. 1850s aren’t my favorite, and pagoda sleeves make me cringe, but putting personal preference aside, this is a very nice representation of 1850s done nicely in terms of silhouette.

    I’ll throw it a 6–because it doesn’t bowl me over or make me want to yack, and because I think its success depends quite a bit on the woman wearing it!

  25. Zach says

    As a dress to add things to–Ten. As an entire outfit–Five. If only it had something like a large lace collar added on, it would make it a great deal better.

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