19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Purple and Black in 1870

Last week you disapproved of Elizabeth Taylor’s very frilly, very feminine, very pink and white, and not very historical Civil War era-ish dress for 1957’s Raintree County.  It came in at a dismal 3.7 out of 10.  The only thing that saved the score from being one of the lowest ever was that most of you felt that Liz would look good in anything.

This week I stick with a bi-coloured gown, but it’s all a little darker and scarier and quite a lot less lacy.  To get you in the mood for Halloween, here is a purple and black dress from 1870.

Day dress in three parts, 1870, American or French, MFA Boston, 64.1003

And a back view that shows you much more of a rather scary orange paisley shawl than it does of the dress itself:

Day dress with paisley shawl, 1870, American or French, MFA Boston, 64.1003

What do you think of the striking striped frock?  Are purple and black just a little too-Halloween-y at any other time of the year, even if the purple is verging on violet?  Do the stripes and the fringe charm you or scare you?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10


  1. I love the colour combo, and the stripes, but they lost me with the fringe on the bodice. I wish they’d left off that horrendous orange shawl so we could see more of the back. Overall, though, I really like this dress.


  2. Maybe it is the fact that Halloween is coming up, or maybe it is because there were a string of Tim Burton movies on TV last night, but I think the dress is fabulous. And, actually, I like the shawl, but not the two of them together. Without the shawl it would have been higher.


  3. The colors are good together, but the wide, wide stripes are garish; they make the dress look like a circus costume. Otherwise, it’s a pretty and representative dress of the era. I’d give it a 6.

  4. The colors are good together, but the wide, wide stripes are garish; they make the dress look like a circus costume, an impression heightened by the placement of some of the fringe (around the armholes of the vest! Really?) Otherwise, it’s a pretty and representative dress of the era. I’d give it a 6.

  5. ellipsisknits says

    no no no no.
    It’s a clown dress.
    You’ve forced me to it.

    • I’m with you on the clown look. Far too much fringe as well.

      2/10 but only because it does match the Hallowe’en mood.

  6. Jenny Wren says

    Love it! It’s bold and commands attention. Don’t know where that shawl’s come from, though. 9/10.

  7. First off, I’m just going to ignore that monstrosity of a shawl and wig/hat item. This kinda looks like a modern day costume – the fabrics are just not working for me. 4/10

  8. Yuck! I HATE this era above all others (yes, even Elizabethen). It looks horrendous and I feel bad for rating so low, especially since I usually rate in favor of gowns, but this is just too much of a bad thing.

    Two out of Ten. Oh, my! My lowest rating ever!

  9. I love the dress, I wouldn’t wait until Halloween to wear something like that (although I am a bit of a Goth admittedly), that shawl though is burning my eyes.

  10. I like it, although if I were going to make a version of it, I’d leave off the fringey bitlies. Too much. That’s just my own fashiony opinion though.

    I give it a 7

  11. Abigail says

    …..Iewwww…..I don’t like it a bit. Fringe? nope. Stripes? nope. Shawl? No way. It looks like someone took the two fabrics and smashed them together. and a lighter purple would have looked better. 1/10

  12. Stella says

    Now this is a dress I like! 9/10. It would be a solid 10 if it didn’t have the fringe. I don’t mind fringe as a concept, but it’s too easy to go OTT with it and I think that’s happened here.

  13. Courtney F. says

    It looks like something straight out of a Tim Burton film–I’m thinking Corpse Bride or a late-Victorian equivalent of Sleepy Hollow. That said, I love it (with small reservations over the fringe)! It’s the stripes that get me. 🙂 9/10

  14. Daniel says

    Well, I really like this one! I love the contrast of rich, dark velvet and crisp silk, and I love the fringe and the crenellated hemline which is giving almost a trompe l’oeil box pleats effect – but not so much that it actually fools the eye. It’s a fantastic choice for Halloween week, and a fantastic example of its period.

    The shawl – No. Just NO. Not with that dress. Really, NO, what were they thinking? That is an appalling combination. Vile.

    I am torn. I love purple. I HATE orange. Really, really hate orange. Adore purple. DETEST orange.

    Therefore, I shall pretend I did not see the second picture and rate the dress alone. And I rate it a 8/10.

    • (Curtseys) Thank you for the compliments on the pick!

      (of course, now I am tempted to find the most fabulous orange dress possible for a Rate the Dress, just to see what you would say!)

      • Daniel says

        Well, I liked the Mme Roget Bridesmaid-Apricot dress you had a couple months back – I really dislike that colour, but I did love that dress!!

  15. It’s my favorite colours, favorite fabrics, favorite era, but I just can’t bring myself to like it. Maybe it’s the stark flat way the stripy overskirt is lying – I can’t blame it all on the fringe.

    The orange paisly thing must surely be a joke on the part of the museum employeee who staged this, too, right?


    • I’m thinking the orange paisley shawl is a commentary on the Victorian love of bright colours, and their willingness to combine the most random colour schemes with blithe disregard to any semblance of taste! It does bug me that the shawl is about 15 years older than the ensemble though, and at a period when shawl fashions had changed quite a bit.

  16. Pamlin says

    I think it’s fun, and it definitely had to be worn by someone who could pull off some drama in their personal style, which is my kind of girl. My main question about it isn’t the color or the fringe, but are the vertical velvet stripes separate from the overskirt? Because if they are, I’d be spinning in circles for hours, whapping anyone who came near me with their windmill action!

    7/10 if they don’t move
    8.5/10 if the whapping would be imminent.

    • Judging by how nicely and evenly the stripes lie, and construction methods on similar Victorian dresses, I’m going to say it is very unlikely that there would be any whapping going on. But you could make your own version that could!

  17. Pamlin says

    I just realized this is at MY MFA. I promise that if it’s on display, I’ll try to take better pics of the back at some point….

  18. Point the first: Is it me, or does the mannequin look slightly evil? Just a touch? Like she might be cursing you from behind that giant shawl?

    Just me? Ok.

    Point the second: Love it as long as whoever is wearing is not quite serious about the whole thing. Losing points for the contrast-colored sleeves; it looks like an awkward vest, like she’s a hostess at a theme restaurant. Same-colored-sleeves next time, people. And if you go zoom in on that fringe–it’s delightfully kooky.

    7/10 for a not-quite-completely wearable but fantastically theatrical ensemble.

    • I see it is as more of an, “Oh really, you think you can take me on? Go ahead, make my day!” kind of look. 🙂

    • Point the first – I think the mannequin would make an entirely credible Doctor Who villain.

  19. Elizabeth says

    I LOVE it and would wear it in a second! 10/10, as long as I don’t have to wear the shawl with it (although I do like the shawl, just not with the dress!).

  20. Liz Williams says

    Love it! And the shawl isn’t that bad! It is a big garish at first, but I believe there is some purple in the paisley design. Quite daring and dramatic! I give it a 9/10. Only because it’s not my favorite period.

  21. Elise says

    Wow! It looks a little like my 1997 homecoming dress! I love it–I do. It’s graphic. I cannot think of where someone would wear it to (Masquerade? Mardi Gras? Dinner for interesting and sparkling people?) but I like it. 8/10

  22. Melissa says

    I actually really like it! The shawl is horrendous, but I am going to go ahead and rate the dress, not the ensemble. I’ll go ahead and give it an 8. I dislike the use of fringe, and the vertical stripes definitely stand out, but in this case I’d say they stand out in a good way. It seems like the sort of thing that a daring young Victorian lady would have chosen.

  23. I love that particular combination, and the overall style is less fussy and cumbersome than was usual for the 1870s. I have to deduct a couple of points because of the fringes, though – ugh! So … 8/10 is my final score.

  24. I love it. A very fine specimen of the era, I think, retaining all of its assets and leaving out all of its unflattering parts. There’s no weird high and straight waistline or weirder draping; it all comes together nicely to elongate the figure.
    And I’m Czech: purple and black has no Halloween connotations to me, it’s a just an interesting colour combination, bold, but toned down by the purple being lavender. And I love lavender (another pointer to me, in recent weeks, that I should actually wear it – I’ve just fallen in love with a lavender winter coat I don’t have the money for).
    Point down for the fringe around the neckline, which is too long and fuzzy for that particular location in my eyes – pleated trim would be better. Other than there, I even love the fringe on this dress!
    So, that’s 9/10.

    Do you think it might have been a mourning dress, for the later stages of mourning? Or is it too bold for that?

  25. I love this dress! The fringe on the bodice is overdone but I like it on the skirt. The different lengths on the stripes are just… beautiful! And the colors… 9/10

    I am completely disregarding that awful shawl and whatever is growing out of the mannequin’s head.

  26. Anita says

    Don’t know why, but I have the impression, that this dress is made for elderly woman, for “grandma” – in big, dark house. Of course, I would like to see the back of the dress, not the shawl. Also there is nothing about Halloween in colors for me, actually the opposite – bright purple silk resemble color of lilac pipe-trees (we call them “hope bushes” there in Latvia) in late spring.

    9 of 10. Too much fringe.

  27. Love it, love it, love it, love it! The design is good, the colors evocative and perfect for the season, the fringe not overmuch, and orange actually looks great with purple, although I think a black shawl would have been a more perfect pick.


    Very best,


  28. Helène says

    I like very much the shawl, but not at all the dress. Well, I like its shape, but not the colors and pending parts (don’t know the word in english).

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