19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the dress: ruffles, flounces, puffs & bows in the late 1860s

Last week I presented the pseudo Roman ‘Julius Ceasar’ costume worn by Fritz Lieber in the 1917 version of Cleopatra.  Despite the respectable official rating of 6.8 out of 10, I think the real rating should be much, much lower, because most of you were so bored by the outfit that you couldn’t even be bothered to comment on it.  As Daniel said “Eh’.

Ouch.  Sorry.

I’ll try to be more interesting!

This week I present a dress that I’ve been interested in for months and months, but haven’t found the right time to show you.

This dress is the antithesis of anything even slightly manly that might have been going on last week.  When it comes to girly, this dress from the MFA Boston has it all: tiers of stiff, ribbon edged ruffles down the front of the skirt, a pleated flounce at the bottom, a wrapped lace and ribbon trimmed bertha with bows catching up the ruffled sleeves, a pleated sash, and three tiers of graduated poofs descending down the back of the skirt, culminating in a final ruffled flounce, all with more bows and lace.   The only thing it doesn’t have is pink: the colour scheme is quite unusual and restrained, with slightly off white tulle, floral patterned off-white brocaded taffeta, blonde lace, and burnt orange and black trim.

Evening dress, 1865-1870, Mme Roger, Paris MFA Boston


Too much girly fluff and froo froo?  Or does the unusual trim colour save it?  And is there enough interest?  Or is it too much too process?  And will the colour scheme be too close to the ill fated Worth Jr dress, thus dooming this one?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10


  1. My goodness, where does the lady show in all of that stiff-whipped apricot cream?

    While 1869-1870 is a favorite year of mine, the too-literal rendering of the excesses of a fashion plate has too much going on to be in good taste.

    Sadly, I give it a 6. So sorry,


  2. I like it because it’s orange and white…and it’s pretty … but maybe it’s too much? I don’t know. I’d wear it, though ….

    I give it a 7

  3. I wish it were blue and white instead. But this pretty much sums up my 1860 dream dress.


    (By the way, was it a typo or just possessiveness that made you put “My Darcy” in the poll this week? XD)

  4. I like the color scheme, and the general silhouette of the late 1860s is pleasing and works well on a lot of people. I don’t even mind the ruffles on the skirt, but that incredible froth of a train spoils it for me. 6 out of 10.

  5. I think it is so over the top that it works. I actually like it. Which is funny because I still don’t think I would wear it, but I do find it visually appealing.


  6. Tamsin says

    I like the colours, but not the style – looks much more like a cake than a dress to me. So 3/10.

  7. If you’re going to do frothy, dripping with femininity, lacy floof, this is the way to do it. It’s nothing I’d ever wear, but a sweet Melanie from Gone with the Wind type could totally pull it off with aplomb. My only kvetches–the top of the bodice is a little matronly with the layers of lace, and I dislike the criss-cross of the trim. And chop the weird black feathery fluff off the front–it looks like really dark lint. A slightly more edited bodice would make this perfect. But the even ruffles on the front, the gradiated bows on the train-floofs, and the color scheme–very much like. And though it may not be pink, salmony apricot is close enough that I can’t ding it!

    7 out of 10.

    • Elise says

      Not Melanie–a real readhead like Anne from Anne of Greene Gables (had she lived, then, can you imagine how much she would have swooned!) I love the peach, and I love the ruffles. I wish that the train was less frothy, but man it’s fun!

  8. Kim says

    I like this dress. I like the orange and cream together and the many frothy ruffles / layers. I wish there was a picture of the back. However, I agree with Rowenna about the black trim.

    8 out of 10.

  9. Are you sure there isn’t a roll of toilet paper under that skirt?
    Funny how people’s ‘If’ editing works so differently – mine says that if the skirt were ruffleless, but not completely plain either as it would look unfinished, then I think I would be in love, and say 9. However, in reality, it is indeed a larger than life spare toilet roll holder out of one’s maiden great aunt’s guest bathroom, and it gets a 2. Lowest score ever from me, I think!
    Oh, PS, if not for spare rolls, then it is on a base that you wind up and it plinks out a strauss waltz while rotating slowly. *shudder*

    • It’s ahead of it’s time, Mrs C, as rolled, perforated tissue for use in the WC was not on the market until about 1880. If it were not for that bit of extraneous research, I would have made almost this exact comment first.

      1/10, ‘cos I like the bronzy-apricot colour of the ribbon

      • Joie de vivre says

        I too am reminded of dunny paper decorations, next to a cut glass bowl of potpourri. Or those over-dressed teddy bears flogged to tourists during the folk-art era of the early 1990s. That I loved. When I was 11. And had NO taste. (And I still have mine that is, yes, actually pink).

        2, for looking like my tacky teddy bear that I love, and for being a surprisingly unusual colour – metallics make anything better.

        And Sarah, I love that you researched toilet paper!

    • Joie de vivre says

      Mrs C has just pointed out that Kaylee would love this and wear it to a party and impress all the boys, so it does have that in its favour! Maybe we need two rating schemes – the normal one, and the Firefly ‘verse one?

  10. I think if it were all white, I would wear it. But the Apricot color is strange. Something about it all together is a bit too fru fru for me. And I like fru fru.


  11. I agree with all those who feel the sheer over-the-topness of this dress is what gives it great appeal. The colour saves it completely and was an inspired choice. Pink would have been just tacky and would definitely have been a toilet roll holder contender. It does remind me very much of the birthday cakes I had as a little girl – often made out of ice cream with a doll stuck into them. Perhaps that s why I like it. 8/10

  12. Zach says

    I actually really like it, and it couldn’t have come at a better time! I’m re-reading Gone With The Wind right now, and anything so “southern belle” just makes me laugh with the utmost happiness. Perhaps that is the reason I like it so much, but nevertheless it receives a high rating from me.

    Ten out of ten!

  13. There is something stiff and lifeless about this dress which I think is why it has drawn comments like cake decoration and toilet paper holder. This dress should be on one of those revolving ballerina’s in a music box.


  14. Maire Smith says

    I know it’s totally the wrong period, but it makes me think of Lousia May Alcott’s description of a dress as having “neither grace, beauty, nor fitness to recommend it.”

    It looks awful. The trimming on the skirt ruffles creates horizontal lines right where diagonals would look better, the back of the skirt looks stiff and lifeless, instead of puffy and extravagant, and the crossover ribbons on the bertha look way too heavy seen against their delicate base.

    The colours could be fine, if they were on suitable fabrics, but the heavy satin doesn’t go at all well with the light tulle in those colours. Either more similarity in fabrics or more in colours is needed.

    I give it a 2.

    • Actually, I think this is almost exactly the right period for Lousia May Alcott – it’s certainly the period Good Wives is set in.

  15. My first time responding after lurking for a while!

    I’d have to rate this a … 5. Though the colour scheme is restrained it’s all a bit too much There are too many ruffles and too many ribbons. The narrow horizontal ribbons trimming the skirt are particularly bad – they would make the wearer look like a layer cake. Perhaps if they were fewer in number and less rigidly parallel they would look better.

  16. Jenny Wren says

    Love it love it. Mountains of froth and frippery. 10.

  17. I like the bodice and the train, they add some interest to the flounces on the skirt. The front skirt panel makes it look like one of these collectible Southern Bell Victorian dolls with the huge hats.

  18. Tracy says

    I afraid I have to agree with those who liken the dress to either food or kitschy decor for TP. I see it as one of those awful wedding shower cakes with a Barbie torso sticking out the top and way too much frosting! Maybe a 3 out of 10 only because I like the cream and apricot color scheme.

  19. Stella says

    I love the colours, especially the orange, but the design is too busy and fluffy for me. 7/10.

  20. Libby says

    Yes, it’s silly, but I still think it’s fun. I was just at Costume College, and I took a class on bustles, and this fits right in with the early bustle period, almost stupidly frilly and romantic. My one complaint is that it doesn’t look like it would flatter any figure. 9/10.

  21. Daniel says

    My God, that dress has some chutzpah going on. It’s daft as a bucketful of monkeys and I absolutely love it, and I normally passionately loathe, detest and abominate apricot.

    I’ve just glanced at the website and I love the museum’s other Mme Roget too for different reasons – hard to believe they are by the same designer, they’re just so different!! This is so frilled to thrill and the other is so restrained! I love this dress just because it’s so extreme and silly and ebullient, and the limited colour palette works for me. It’s SO Tissot!!

    8/10 because it’s apricot after all, but…

  22. ellipsisknits says

    haha, I leave my first comment and I think I did it wrong and put it on the image instead of the real post. Anyway, I gave it a 10. I think it’s the perfect amount of way-too-much, and I like the way the salmon color works with the white – it’s not as insipid as blue would be, but there isn’t enough of it to look really crazy.

    (oh, and I promise I won’t be skewing your results too much, normally I’m somewhat lukewarm on things, it just took something I thought was really cool to entice me to leave my first comment)

    • Yay for your first comment, and please do come comment again! And lukewarm is fine – I’m super picky with historical dresses myself, 3/4 of the time I say ‘Nay’ to her ‘Yay or Nay’ posts over on Marie Antoinette’s Gossip Guide, while everyone else is falling over themselves to say yay. A discerning eye is a good thing to have.

      I’ll copy your original comment to the main thread, so that other people can read it, and respond if they want. One of the things I love about this post is how it turns into a conversation!

      • This is ellipsisknits original comment:

        I love it.

        I’ve been watching the rate this dress competitions (?) for a few months now but haven’t jumped in yet. Well, now I’m going to.

        I think this is an absolutely perfect kind of completely over the top. The exact right amount of way too much. I give it a 10.

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