19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Mourning in 1872-4

Despite the fact that most of you thought Marie Christine looked like a “blinged-out sheep” with “an 18th century mullet” the essential loveliness of her pink dress (and a general weakness for diamonds on the part of some voters) brought her in at a respectable 6.5 out of 10.  How to improve the rating?  More flowers, less jewellery, and no rat-tail curls!

This week I’ve tried to move as far as possible from frilly pink status frocks while still staying very feminine and detail-oriented.  You can’t get much further from pink party dress than a Victorian mourning dress.

Admittedly, this 1872-4ish mourning dress from the Met is still clearly a status garment, demonstrating that the wearer could afford specialized mourning clothes and completely impractical garments that they couldn’t do any real work in.

Silk mourning dress, 1872-4, American, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Silk mourning dress, rear view, 1872-4, American, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Impractical is one thing, but as long as a garment isn’t ridiculously confining by the standards of its time, we are more worried about looks.

What do you think?  Is this frock an elegant way to navigate the social requirements of mourning without being a compete dowd, or did our early-bustle period fashionista let grief go to her head, and loose all sense of taste along with her personal loss?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10


  1. thetroubleis says

    9 out of ten.

    I love everything about this dress except the train. I will admit, I’m biased, as I’ve considered making my own version of the dress.

  2. I’m not particularly fond of this era, but there is something about it… I think about Russian peasant dress when I see it! An I like that. 8/10!

  3. Elise says

    Like Madame says, it looks like a Russian peasant dress. I sort of like the Medieval sort of detailing–all the way to the crenelated edges of the train! I like it! 9/10

  4. ellipsisknits says

    It’s so pretty. Why does the trim have to end in fringe that looks like a chewed up dog?

    So, 7/10

    For the fringe.

  5. Courtney F. says

    7/10. Very elegant, though it loses a point for the edges of the train that are visible from the front–they make me think of saddlebags!

    • Me too!
      And I don’t like the fringe either. The trim is busy and pretty enough without it.
      So I guess that’s a 7,5. I like it less than some 8s, but more than some 7s. 🙂

  6. I like it, all except for the fringe on the apron. I hate fringe. Looks like a rug. Pluh.
    but otherwise, it’s pretty nice. So 8/10

  7. I think I’d prefer a little less train please, or perhaps just without the tabs. 9/10.

  8. The fringe looks terrible, but I absolutely love the train!
    I wish it was made in a color other than black, simply because I love colored gowns better than black or neutrals.



  9. I rarely comment on dresses, but this one blew me away. I want it for myself!

    10 out of 10, hands down. No doubt. You should reconstruct it!

  10. I do not like that the train has the shape of a deal peacock. Other than that I adore it. Simple, elegant, but not boring. I don’t even mind the fringe.


  11. Zach says

    I love it! It’s like, “When the Duchess of Cambrige is in mourning, nothing ordinary will do. Plain black is just ‘blah!’ Scalloped tabs and fringe can add just enough to remind you who she is.”

    Ten out of ten.

  12. It is about as typical of its time as it could be, isn’t it. Square neck, big tie thing on bustle, pleated flounce, trims following the edges etc. And the dreaded fringing! This era of dress alwys makes me think frumpy, is it the straight waist that is about as high as a natural waist can be? Just not sure. I prefer the evening styles.
    Anyhoo, I think it is lovely, for what and from when it is.

  13. I’ll give it a 10 too…
    I think ist one of the best examples of a half-mourning dress, wich still exists…. i’ve thought about remaking it several times, though a full-mourning dress would be even nicer, but I’ve never found a source for the crape yet *sigh*

  14. Pamlin says

    This isn’t my favorite time period, but I have to say that I rather like this. It’s nicely balanced in proportion for this era, and I have personal soft spot for piped dags. I also adore the sleeves and sleeve trim.
    Granted, the first thing I thought when I saw it was “I hope the overskirt/train is detachable!”

    All in all, a 8/10

  15. Chastity says

    10 out of 10
    I love this dress and have on soo many occasions wished I had the skills to make it.

  16. Sue McCaskill says

    Doesn’t really strike me as a mourning dress, per se, but I love it. The trim on the train is so medieval in its styling. As you say, not a practical dress! I’d give it a 7/10

  17. Is it a problem when you’d be kind of secretly gunning for someone to bite it so you could wear this dress? It’s beautiful! Opulent but understated and just….elegant. And the black is just such a rich, inky black–odd thing to notice, but I love a beautiful black!

    Only thing–the sides of the apron are a touch awkward on the mannequin–on a real person it might hang better. And the waist is just the teensiest bit awkardly high–without the wide belt you wouldn’t notice as much. So–9 out of 10.

  18. I like the overall design, but I think it would look better if it didn’t have the fringe, the apron didn’t have the trim, and the train didn’t have the funky scallops. 7/10

  19. Christina says

    I love it. And I don’t even mind the fringe. I wish the lines of the front were arranged differently, especially how the apron meets the belt. But I think it looks like something the tragic heroine of a penny dreadful gothic novel would wear…the young widow gone mad with grief, but not *so* mad as to lose her sense of fashion, because that would be Going Too Far.

    9 out of 10.

  20. Courtney M says

    I LOVE it.


    Granted, I have a love affair with Victorian dresses…. >.>

  21. Stunning! I’m not usually a fan of fringe, but it works for me on this dress. I have mixed feelings about the tabs on the train, but overall this dress is absolutely gorgeous. 9/10!

  22. Jenny Wren says

    Yowser! I was about to give it a respectable rating until I saw that second picture. That is a huuuuuuge bustle and train. Whenever I see trains, I wonder how grubby they are on the underneath. Anyway, despite that, this dress scores a 6.

  23. I really like it, especially the shape and detail of the neckline. I even like the train which has a real wow factor (and makes the dress quite unique). The fringe didn’t jump out at me and it was only the other comments that made me go back at look at it. The only small dislike I have is the way the belt/sash cuts the dress in half but its a tiny niggle.


  24. I LOVE this dress! I would wear it in a heartbeat. (Except that would mean someone had died, and we wouldn’t want that, right?) I don’t even hate the fringe, and I usually despise it. But I don’t *love* the fringe either, so it loses half a point for that. 9.5/10.

  25. Daniel says

    I really don’t like the mannequin it’s mounted on – I think this is a dress that looked a lot better on a proportionate body. Those sleeves look really short, or the arms look orang-outang long, and the long neck is distracting. It needs a head (or a shorter neck) to bring it back into proportion. So presentation FAIL – a mannequin should never, ever distract so markedly from the garment it’s presenting, all I can really see at first glance is that long glaring white neck and those long glaring white baboon wrists. Bad.

    There’s also some wonkiness going on in the back there, some sort of assymmetry that I wish I could see better, but the fact I can only see a tiny bit of the assymetrical detailing is annoying me to the extent that it’s affecting my ability to rate it objectively. Is it a sort of long-short overskirt detail where the dress is long on one side and short on the other side and sort of almost a wrap-around effect? In which case that’s probably rather brilliant but could it be that it looks so dodgy in reality that they didn’t want to show it?

    After all that, I like the dress a lot, despite the mounting fail and the presentation fail. Not keen on the train though, but I think it looks really nice from the front, so I’d give it a 7/10 – points off for the train and for whatever unimaginably horrible detail is hiding round the side they don’t want us to see.

    • I agree that the neck is distracting, but the arms are right – they end at the same place on her things that my arms do (and most womens). The sticking-out wrists just throw you because we just aren’t used to seeing sleeves that end at that length, even though it was very fashionable in the 1870s.

      I have tried to figure out the asymmetrical back too, and it’s really odd isn’t it!

      • Daniel says

        I think it’d be less distracting if the mannequin wasn’t quite so white! The sleeves still look a bit short to me for this period, it’s almost a length I’d expect to see with fuller sleeves to accommodate undersleeves but not in a tight sleeve for a few years yet. Wonder if the sleeves could have been altered a bit to make them more stylish? They look to have a fit more like something I’d associate with late 1870s/early 1880s.

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