19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Elizabeth Taylor does Civil War in Raintree County

Last week the usually popular 1910’s wasn’t quite so popular.  The collar was compared to an ectoplasm, and the whole thing was deemed disjointed.  Despite this, it rated a not-totally-abysmal 5.2 out of 10, mostly because a few of you redesigned the dress in your mind and then rated the redesign!  That’s cheating!  At least give me a rating before the redesign to work from!

This week I wanted to show you something that would knock your socks off: something of utter gorgeousness that you would all be compelled to rate 10 out of 10.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that I come across completely covet-worthy frocks all the time, finding one on demand is difficult.

So I’m showing you something I have had in my ‘rate the dress’ folder for months.

This is Elizabeth Taylor as a spoiled southern belle in 1957’s  Raintree County.  Turns out Vivien Leigh didn’t have a total monopoly on playing those.  In the film she gets to wear a completely over-the-top, pink-and-white, 1950s-does-late-1850s frock, complete with matching parasol and massive hat.

The film clips and still photos show it in two slightly different colours: pale pink or orchid, but whatever shade it was, you still get the idea of utter femininity: the ultimate ruffle and bow covered princess dress.  There is even a doll based on it:

Ignoring the doll’s dress (because cheap satin and an inexplicably ostrich-feather covered hat are not going to help the rating!), what do you think of Liz Taylor’s answer to the iconic green picnic dress?  Does it capture all the excess and romance of the years just before the war, or is it just a dreadful 1950’s pastiche?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10  


  1. Of course, in my mind, nothing (and no one) can beat Ms. Vivien Leigh in any way, but Liz has my heart too. Somehow the dress doesn’t seem that special to me–it doesn’t look very accurate either, just “hey, lets throw a hoopskirt under that” kind of thing, but that’s just my opinion. However, I do like it–a lot. I think the lighter pink is a bit better looking, as the bright pink is a bit too much for me. That doll also looks a tad silly. 🙂

    Ten out of ten; I can’t say “boo” to Liz (not that I would want to).

  2. I really wanted to like this and after the first photo I thought I did – but the more I paged down the less appealing it all became. Something about it just looks tacky. I love Vivien Leigh’s green picnic dress (10/10) but this one just can’t compare. I wanted to rate it first before I was influenced by anyone else because if it got rave reviews I’d probably think twice about being honest.

    4/10 (I’m truly sorry to get it off to a bad start)

    • Elise says

      It is–it really is flea-market-bottom tacky. Poor lady…yucky. 2/10

  3. Little Bo Peep lost her sheep….

    Ok, so I am a bit torn on this dress. It is just a little too frou frou for my taste. Elizabeth Taylor was so stunning and mature looking, and this dress just seems a bit immature for her. I do find I like it much better in the black and white photographs – the shape and the sleeves and the skirt are fabulous. I love the full length view with the hat. I think if I was judging based on only the black and white photos it would have rated an 8, because there are just too many ruffles on the gown for my liking. On the other hand, when I look at the color pictures, I find I like the dress even less, because the color makes it look so incredibly juvenile. Based on the color images I would have given it a 6. So I guess I will just average the two to get my final score…


  4. ellipsisknits says

    Is she supposed to be six years old? This goes way, way beyond ‘childish innocence’. It belongs on a doll, or the little-bo-peep lamp from Toy Story, not an adult woman.


  5. Daniel says

    Hard to believe that this is also by Plunkett, who did such a stellar job with the Gone with the Wind costumes. How can the same designer do so well with one project and when given virtually the same project again, do so poorly?

    This is twee, crinoline lady, tarty-porcelain-doll (of the genus Whorecelainus Cheapus, pardon my language – I HATE those late 20th century “collectible porcelain dolls” with their foul nylony lacey ruffly numbers and nylony corkscrew wigs.) It’s sugary sweet in a nausea inducing way, with itsy bitsy wosie-buds on the itsy bitsy wuffle-ruffles.

    It says a lot about a dress when the trashy porcelain doll version looks better than the real thing.


  6. Stella says

    Nope, this one doesn’t do it for me. Too pink, too frilly, too pastiche-ey, and it can’t figure out wheather it wants to be 1850s or 1760s. 2/10

  7. I love the idea of this dress. I reckon the design sketch would have been amazing. But it has a cartoony 2-D ness about it that I cannot abide. The lace is awful. Truly awful. Looks like the stuff put on the bottom of slips. It doesn’t froth. How dare it not froth! It is like a 2-D drawing of lace.
    The skirt doesn’t appear to gather into the waist, which is far more 1950 than 1850, and also adds to the cartooniness. And the block colour. And the lace running around the panels looks like a giant version of eyelet lace, which adds to its weird out of scaleness.
    Really, this dress wants to either be in a Disney movie, made out of icing, or turning gently to strains of plinky music.
    And I am the one who loves interpretations of historic costume in movies. And I still hate it.
    But I will give it a 2 because Liz Taylor could rock a potato sack and make it look good, so she redeems it, just a little…

  8. Caroline says

    BLECH!!!!! She looks like a Disney princess! Like Mrs C said it probably looked better on paper, but my goodness this dress does not appeal to me! I like the pale shade of pink and of course Elizabeth Taylor looks beautiful. 2/10

  9. I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Taylor and this is my favorite era or leading into my favorite 1860s

    The dress is simplistic and I try and think more from a film point a view and how they probably had a budget and worked with what they had. This is not a excuse but I know that the costume department usually has to make their money stretch, they also didn’t have to worry about high def or 3D but I guess I’m just defending the dress cause it dose fall very flat compared to the iconic green picnic dress.

    It looks to simple and bland really

  10. Did anyone in the costume department do ANY research???? As a Civil War reenactor, I must give this dress a big zero for authenticity. Gone With The Wind was much more accurate.

  11. Walter Plunkett said that his work in Raintree County was actually his favorite, rather than GWTW, which I always thought was kind of odd, because to me, the costumes in RC are kind of generic Antebellum/Civil War garb, whereas the ones in GWTW are truly iconic and work so well within the frame of the film. Anyway, I don’t really care for this dress too much, but it’s Plunkett so I can’t be too harsh. I’ll give it a 6.

  12. I have to agree with Mrs. C on this one. It looks like they took a Barbie dress and made into a movie costume. Even the little girl I nanny didn’t like it, she pointed to the screen and said “ew yuck.”

    To me it seems like they were trying to compete with Gone With The Wind and went over the top to compensate for it.


  13. Piper Ferguson says

    I am a sucker for pink and white combos and I like the general outlook of this dress. Obviously, it’s historical authenticity is out the window and veeeeeery hollywood-ized, but on it’s own, it’s a cute little creation. I’d give it an 8/10

  14. This is me being nice and scholarly about the whole thing: Isn’t it interesting how historical costuming in any given time period really tells us much more about the period in which the costume was made than the period from which it drew its inspiration!

    And enough of that.

    Yack. This is horrid. We have two options. In one, we ignore the fact that there’s precious little historical about it, and it becomes merely a particularly froufy and hideous Pepto-Bismol besmirched excuse for a gown. This is not good. In the other, we allow it to pay homage to the era it drew inspiration from, and the Union and Conferacy call us collect to say they’ve resolved their differences and will end the war NOW if it means we never make this film and permit this dress to be created. This is clearly no better.

    A 1/10. I’ve never given a rating that low before. I hope you’re happy, Walter Plunkett. That’s right. I looked up the costume designer just to shame him here. Just go look at his otherwise impressive resume–including GWTW. Which, sure, had its inaccuracies. But it had style.

  15. I expected the dress to only give a nod toward correct historic style for the US Civil War era, so I don’t know why I dislike it so much. Maybe it’s because the lace looks like a cross between dripping moss and rags. At least, that might explain why the copy of the dress on the doll doesn’t look nearly as ugly. A 2, and that’s only because I can imagine uglier attempts to bowdlerize Civil War era fashion.

  16. I would describe this dress as “quite pretty.” I wasn’t hoping for historical accuracy, so I’ll take pink frilliness, but I can’t find anything to get very excited or bothered about. Although, I am currently suffering from pharyngitis, so I’m not getting excited about anything (I spent the weekend watching poor costumed period Canadian murder mystery shows – that’s how “blah” my life is when I’m sick).

  17. In the first and third photo (in the lighter pink and definitely without the hat), it’s about an 8, I think: not exactly perfect, but close enough.
    Otherwise, it’s worse. 4?
    How can I rate a dress when I’m not sure what it actually looks like? And, for that matter, how can I rate others when I cannot be sure the way they are protrayed is true? *sigh*

    • BTW, there’s an interesting nod to 18th century zone jackets, isn’t there? But I doubt it was intentional. It’s just a shape that looked interesting.

  18. Abigail says

    I’m going to be odd, and say that I actually kinda like it! Normally, I don’t like tons of ruffles and bows. The sleeves are too much for me, but I really like the bodice style. Make a few modifications to it (i.e. tone down those huge sleeve and don’t put ruffles on them, maybe give it a different color) and it would be a really cute, though historically inaccurate ball gown. 6/10

  19. I call PASTICHE!

    No comparison to Scarlett O’Hara’s dress… This one is like the designer accidentally swallowed too much satin and lace then puked this onto the dress form. Just yuck.

    Though somehow Liz Taylor still looks killer. Good for you, Liz.

    2 out of 10, only because I think the shell pink version looks good with Liz’s coloring.

  20. Yuck! I hate the ruffles i swear i got that same lace in a grab bag at the thrift store the other day! the whole thing id horrific!
    i’m very much a stickler for authenticity so the whole 50’s look does not do it for me in a period film.
    i will give it a 3 just because i think the original design is interesting in itself just not as a gown form the 1850’s…

  21. Elise says

    Hahahaha! I love checking this website often on RTD days–the comments never stop coming, and they are always just so fun! This is definitely my favorite website–both author and readers make it the Best on the Net!

  22. imdb.comI give the ensemble a 4/10 because she looks like one of those little crafty dolls drowned in cheap lace and hot glue. Of course this was before people got into the idea of REAL historical dress with historical movies. At least Vivian Leigh’s costumes look as though they put effort and money into them (especially that blue & white bustle dress).
    Also I saw an underrated yet very interesting, well made movie called “Angels & Insects“. Based on Great Britain at the peak of its empire era. It has good Victorian costumes, very realistic to the idea of colors and fabric. Now I have to warn you guys, this movie is rated R.

  23. jackiead says

    I agree with most of the posts the dress is over the top on lace and frilliness, it looks like it was made for the doll not for a mature adult woman especially a woman built like Elizabeth Taylor. I think if Elizabeth was wearing a burlap sack she would make it look beautiful. Because, Elizabeth is wearing this dress and she makes it look beautiful I will rate the dress a 4.

  24. Joie de vivre says

    I can’t comment on historical accuracy as I wouldn’t know historical costume if it jumped out of a closet and bit me (although having said that, I would be surprised by the sudden coming to life and apparent violence of clothing.) But from a pure aesthetics point of view – there certainly is a LOT of skirt. And lace. And ruffles. And pink. And sleeves. I do love the funny v-shaped contast under her bust. I think if I saw just the fourth photo of it, (with just her top half) and it didn’t have the lace on the neckline, I’d be quite enamoured. Bt then you see the rest of it. So a 4 for it all.

    On the other hand, I love that in the fourth photo she is in front of something pointy and it makes her hat look like it came from Wizard of Oz. Totally needs an evil cackle! And that in the first hand she is going the rock-music horns with her right hand. Rock on evil witch lady!

  25. Sheila Christiansen says

    I love this dress! It is absolutely beautiful. I love the style and the colors. Pink and white are my two most favorite colors! As a matter of fact I want one just like in my ceremony renewing our vows! I am hoping very much someone to make it for me on my special day!

  26. The Mad Purple Chicken says


    Watch out liz, there’s a great big jellyfish on your head!

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