19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the dress: Extremely red in 1865

Last week I tried very hard to pick an interesting dress, but some of you still complained that Jessie Franklin Turner’s harlequin inspired evening frock was boring.  I think it’s just a difference of perception: for me, cut is what makes a garment most intriguing, but others may be more colour or fabric focused.  While a few of you loved the dress, most of you, even if you thought it was interesting, found it uninspiring, and it received an very middle of the road, uninspired 5 out of 10.

Since muted colours and fascinating cut weren’t your thing, how about very basic cut, and totally over the top colour?

Dress, ca 1865, American, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Afternoon dress, ca 1865, American, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This military influenced dress from ca 1865 celebrates the new vogue for extremely bright colours sparked by the invention of the first aniline dyes at the end of the 1850s.  Whether the brilliant red silk of the dress is the product of the new coal based dyes I am not sure, but even in a room full of violent mauvine purples and vivid acid greens, this dress would hold its own.

Is competing with a bunch of other colours that are all shouting really the way to go though?  Especially in a frock that already makes its military leanings quite clear?  Perhaps the wiser sartorial stratagem would be to rise above the fray in cool, calming neutrals.  Or do militant colours coordinate perfectly with military trimmings to win the fashion battle?  You be the judge.

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I think it’s a lot better than last week. I’m one who likes color and fabric more than cut, so the bright red really makes it for me. I also really like 1860’s military-inspired dresses. It would, however, take a wild woman to wear it, though. (someone along the line of Belle Watling, though maybe with a lower decollete 🙂 ) Being a very proper woman, I wouldn’t wear it, but I’d like to see it worn. I’ll give it a 8/10.

  2. Civil War era gowns are by far my favorite of the 19th century! I love everything about this dress; it has a beautiful vibrant color, a simple, yet still eye-catching design and a hoop skirt! Yes, finally another hoop skirt! Certainly not as frou-frou as the lacy beige and orange gown from around the same time; no, this was worn by a true lady–a very fashionable lady!

    Ten out of ten!

  3. Love the bright color, and the trim on the bodice. Love the overall shape of the gown. Don’t know how I feel about the trim on the skirt. It feels so much like an afterthought, as though they had extra and decided to tack it on the skirt. It feels like the dress is missing… something, though I am not sure what. Perhaps after all of the craziness of last week it feels a little unfinished. Overall though, I do quite like it.


    • Sorry about the duplicate comment! Don’t know what happened – I tried to post and then it didn’t post and then it posted twice? Once from when I was still editing my comment? Sometimes computers confuse me greatly…

  4. Love the bright color, and the trim on the bodice. Love the overall shape of the gown. Don’t know how I feel about the trim on the skirt. It feels so much like an afterthought, as though they had extra and decided to tack it on the skirt. It feels like the dress is missing… something, though I am not sure what. Perhaps after all of the craziness of last week it feels a little underdesigned. Overall though, I do quite like it.


  5. I think it’s lovely, although the belty-sash-sewninplace-thingies don’t really seem necessary. I suppose that’s what sets it apart. If I made a version of it I wouldn’t include them, though.

    Adore the color

    and the shape

    I give it an 8

  6. What fun! This time, the simplicity clearly works. The tomato red is sophisticated but cheery, the large-scale cut is almost sassy, and most of the restrained trim makes great sense. I might have replaced the rosette-y trims on the skirt with a continuation of the trim in waves around the back of the dress. It might have been more effective. Nicely designed, though, overall, to my eye.

    I give it a 9.

    Very best,


  7. Caroline says

    I have never loved this era, but I like the color, also especially because it’s in a simple cut it’s not overpowering.


  8. I personally don’t like such bright colors, but I love the trim on the bodice and sleeves though I too would have the trim on the skirt continue instead of ending with rosettes. I like the simple cut and yes, the military style. While ruffles and lace are great at times, sometimes simple is better. 8/10

  9. I wonder if a roll of ribbon ran away with itself and the designer looked at it and thought, “hmm, that’s a look I could use.” I absolutely and forever love the side profile of the dresses from this time, and the evening dresses, but I cannot get into those plain button to the chin puritan bodices. Such a pity it wouldn’t have been done to have the neckline for daywear finish where the trimline is. Even with a tucker I would have preferred that look. But what one wants and what one gets with fashion that has been and gone are two different things.
    7 for colour, 1860’s skirt profile gorgeousness, and crazy ribbon roll runaway decals. Can’t be more because my 10/10 dress from this era is the orange Worth evening one with the white embroidery – which so outshines every other gown I’ve seen…*lesigh*

  10. Love it! Definitely a 10. Although I do like it in this color, I can imagine it looking good in any color–the lines, cut, and construction are beautiful.

  11. I just don’t like this era, with its hoops and buttons-up-to-the neck, but if you’re going to do that, this is the colour to do it in. The restraint in the trim is a good idea too, given all that orangy red. The rosettes did leave me going Eh?, but I suppose they make sense in context.

  12. It hits most of the high points for me! I adore red gowns and am totally enamored of elliptical hoops. I’m generally a fan of more complicated gowns, but this is well done in it’s simplicity. I say 8/10.

  13. I’ve always liked the silhouette of the late 1860s dresses, and this one has that silhouette, so that gives it a big plus in my books. On the other hand, I’ve never been wild about orange-red, nor do I care for the square placement of trim on the bodice (a very period feature, but one I don’t like). So which outweighs: the great silhouette, or the distasteful color and trim placement? The silhouette. 7 of 10.

  14. It’s not my favorite period, but I like it. It’s simple but beautiful, not too much of everything. Only the trim on the skirt is a bit weird, it look nice in the front view. But in the side view it seems to end a bit suddenly. I’d say 8/10.

  15. I like it … the simple form is great… red isn’t really a colour I would wear (doesn’t fit to my hair) but I like it … I’ll give it a 8/10 because I agree Aija that the triming looks a little bit strange in the side view.

  16. If you’re going to do a ridiculously bright color, this is exactly how to do it–simple cut, simple trimmings, let the color shine. My only complaint–the skirt trim seems limp and the rosettes oddly placed. If it had a bit more swoop and elegance, the skirt trim could really add something–as is, it looks like bunting left on the front porch too long: tired and drooping. Absolutely love the shoulder trimmings. And the drape at the back of the skirt is just heaven. An 8, since that trimming issue would be an easy fix.

  17. ellipsisknits says


    I liked the 30s better. The utter lack of ornamentation on this reminds me of frocks from the era of fabric rationing, except, of course, for the gigantic skirt!

    Cut and color shouldn’t be an either-or proposition. A good dress needs both.

  18. I love it. Love the color, love the cut, I even love the little rosettes. This is by far, my favorite Rate the Dress.

  19. Taylor says

    I actually love love love this…. on the right person. A pasty redhead like me would look terrible in this, but someone with a slightly darker skintone and maybe dark brown hair could really pull it off. That said, the skirt trim bits are kind of weird. I’m not sure how they should be, but how they are is not it. That said…


  20. I quite like this one. There’s something very yummy about the cut of the bodice and the color. They could have a bit more embellishment, just to break up the monotony of solid red, although as a student currently enrolled in a class on the French Revolution, I am obligated to squeal “cockades!” 8/10

  21. I think it’s a 5 from me.I love both interesting cuts and colours, so this doesn’t quite do the trick. (I guess it would have done when I was a child, though – I loved red. Like every other child, I suspect.)

  22. Daniel says

    I’m positive there’s a waistband/belt/peplum thingy missing from this dress – the waist looks incomplete and I can just see there being peplums running down the back of the skirt and a waistband in satin matching the trimmings, maybe with a rosette centre front.

    I wonder about the colour too – in the photographs it is worryingly close to being a sort of watermelony, orangey, tomato-soupy colour – which I really don’t like (at least it’s not Bridesmaid Apricot – blech) – but I love the silhouette and sweep.

    Because it looks incomplete to me, and because I’d prefer black as a contrast to this shade of red (white works better against a much more punchy, pow-some zingy military scarlet type red – which this might actually have been originally!) I’m saying 7- I can see it looking absolutely killer with a peplum and waistband, but I’m sticking with 7 because I think there’s something missing/not quite finished about this dress.

  23. Frecklehead says

    I really love this one, though I doubt the color would suit me personally, being a ginger. The trim is a little odd, but I have seen stranger. Love the shape! 9/10

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