19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: An uber-romantic print for the romance era

Last week there were mixed responses to the 1912 dress with its daring mix of colours and drape and details.  Personally, I thought it was lovely, but not quite perfect – the bodice seemed quite awkward and clunky compared to the divinely sophisticated skirt.  I would give it an 8 out of 10, and apparently you collectively agreed with me, because that’s exactly what you gave it!

This week I’m returning to a classic, uncomplicated silhouette, and a classic, uncomplicated colour scheme, to see if you prefer your fashions challenging and avante-gard or a little more sweet and simple.  I’m mixing it up by throwing in a not-quite-as-popular timeperiod; the Romantic era late 1820s.

Romantic fashions are characterised by their puffy sleeves, poofed hairdoes, and nipped waist,  often combined with really boring fabrics in shades of dun and sand, but this dress from the MFA also has very romantic silk fabric strewn with carnations and roses in blue and pink on chocolate brown.  How sweet!  How simple!

Woman's dress in two parts, silk, American, 1825—30, MFA Boston

Dress in two parts, silk, American, 1825-30, MFA Boston

So what do you think?  Is this so simple it’s boring?  So sweet it verges on saccharine?  So romantic it becomes a cliche?  Or is uber-simple the perfect way to balance uber-sweet, and does the uber-romantic print keep it from being boring?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10  



  1. oooh me first! I like it! I’d make it for myself! The shape is dramatic and the color is a good one for me. The flowers are sweet (maybe not the blue ones). Of course it needs it’s accessories to move it from a dress on a faceless maniquin to an outfit suitable for a respectable middle class lady who was au currant! Heads wont swivle off of spinning necks as she goes by but she makes a statement without looking garish or foolish. 9 (Showing with accessories and no blue flowers would make it a 10)

  2. ellipsisknits says

    oh, very nice. At first I didn’t like the brown, but on further consideration I think it balances the other parts quite well. I was about to rate it an 8, same as last week, but on closer examination, why does the fabric on the top and the bottom not match? the embroidery should match. This troubles my poor organized mind terribly. Two points off. 6/10

    • How fascinating. I had not noticed that they are two different brocades (not embroidery). It is a dress in two parts. I wonder if it was remade from something else? Or didn’t originally go together?

  3. I would like if the fabric were a little less busy. Like ‘ellipsisknits’ I don’t know why the fabric is different on the bottom and the top….it looks strange. If the fabric were brown and pink, or brown and blue, or just tone-on-tone brown, it would be much better. Structure-wise, though, it’s pretty.

    so 6/10 for nice shape, but not-so-nice fabric.

  4. Stella says

    OMG that is atrocious! You’d think the little flowers would perk up the chocolate brown background, but somehow they make it even more dowdy. That brown is an unfortunate colour choice. It’d be nicer in green or blue, or maybe white with the flower print. The silhouette isn’t doing it any favours either. The skirt is shapeless and the sleeve puffs pull the bulk of the shoulder area downwards so it looks like the wearer is slumping. Overall, I think this dress would make pretty much any woman look like a frump with bad posture. 2/10

  5. I like it quite a bit. This period is one of my favorites, and this dress is a charming example of the style of the day. It is fashionable but not overly so; the puffs are not so large as to be hideous, the skirt is perfect in fullness and drape and I love the simple, clean neckline. It is a dress I would not feel uncomfortable wearing. I’d feel uncomfortable wearing something absolutely hideous and also something uber-fashionable and daring. This falls in between.

    The fabric I do not like as much, but it is very respectable and not ugly; perhaps just boring. I too would like it much better if it did not have blue flowers. Pink and brown would have been perfect – I love pink and brown! I didn’t notice the non-matching bodice and skirt fabrics until it was mentioned.

    I’d say 9/10.

  6. Ew. That fabric is ugly. Flat out ugly. And I am not usually a fan of sleeve poofs either. Although, here I actually sort of like the poofs on the silhouette because it prevents the dress from being boring. I actually sort of like the style. But, well, with that fabric the style is sort of a moot point. There are no other words to describe… it is just ugly.


  7. I actually love this era. I actually noticed the difference in embroidery on the top and bottom too, but I like it, so it doesn’t bother me that much. Every time I see one of these gowns I think of the Brontë sisters.

  8. I have a problem wiht this era being called the Romantic era. Brown frocks with big stiff sleeves and ridiculous hairdos just don’t say Romantic to me. I know there was a much wider thing going on but even so 🙂
    I think this is a better example of a pretty uninspiring era. The proportions are quite nice. 6 out of 10.

  9. Abigail says

    I LOVE IT!!! I’m somewhat on a “I love chocolate brown” spree right now. And I want that dress. The only changes I would make is to the neckline and sleeves. The neckline’s a bit too wide for my liking, and the sleeves need some toning down in the pouff. 9/10

  10. It doesn’t bother me that the two fabrics are different.

    If I lived in 1830 I’d be all over a dress like that… Imagine a strawberry redhead with creamy skin wearing that color and those flowers… Beautiful.

    Redheads weren’t the “thing” in 1830’s England, though, were they?

    I give it an 8 out of 10, because it’s not bad- downright wearable- for the time.

  11. What lovely proportions! However, the material looks a bit like furnishing fabric to me, so I give this one 7/10.

  12. I think most things about this dress are “just fine,” but my main commentary is about the sleeves: I appreciate that the pouf ends crisply at the elbow and doesn’t have that Dolman look. But I think that they start too low on the shoulder – it looks like you’re trying to fake some serious biceps. I still give in a 7/10 because I know that these are kinda silly things to complain about.

  13. SilkSmuggler says

    I like the fabric (I didn’t notice that they didn’t match at first) but I think the puffed sleeves are horrendous. They look like water wings, and there is nothing to balance them. If the puffs weren’t so bad, I think the dress would be quite sweet with a pink sash and accessories.


    • I disagree–pairing it with the hairstyle of its day makes it look silly. In my (admittedly post-Victorian) aesthetic opinion, a very simple style (even a simple bun) would work best.

  14. Natalie says

    What a handsome silhouette. I am with Sarah Jane on this one: the style is not overboard.

    The non-matching skirt is confusing; did they do that? The print up top is far more interesting than the one at bottom.

    Very wearable.

    Nine out of ten.

    Very best,

  15. Oooo, I LOVE this! I have a soft spot for the 1820s, there’s just something so charming about the clothes from that era. I actually used to have a dress very similar to this one! I’d wear this in a heartbeat.

  16. Cornelia Moore says

    the cut is fine, except the scooped bodice is too blah for the cut. it needs pleated or decorated, and the fabric-oh, so bad, solid, striped, maybe, but not this fabric. the scooped bodice is all wrong for the fabric-or the other way around-a dead on stop from a 150mph fabric. a lace dicky with a solid or striped fabric would be so much classier. and I’m not a fan of mutton leg sleeves, but they work well with the clothes of the period. I’d be appalled to have them come back, lol. and personally, you can never have too much skirt. this is an exceptionally simple cut, and I’m fond both of the very simple and the very fancy. as long as it’s tastefully done. as it is, an 8 for the cut, but a 4 for the fabric.

  17. I suppose it covers all the bits that need covering, but I really can’t find anything to like about this dress. 1/10

  18. Pamlin says

    This is not one of my favorite time periods, but I really like the silhouette and the fact that the sleeves aren’t out-of-control massive (that little bit of tailoring around the armscye makes all the difference!) and I really like the shape of the neckline.

    Yes, it’s brown, and yes it’s two different fabrics (possibly not supposed to go together?) but it can’t all be pastel ballgowns and frou. I like it for its functionality and polish, as well as the clean lines.


  19. Taylor says

    Normally I hate the Romantic era- well, not hate it, since I respect all historical periods, but you could say it’s my least favorite. But this dress seems to be a perfect balance of sleeves and skirt and fabric. For some strange reason, I really like it!


  20. Amelia says

    I love the silhouette but the color scheme looks dull. Dark brown over small flower prints makes the flowers seems to be “drowned” by the background. It’d look better if the background color is something pale or off-white.


  21. I like the lines of the bodice and skirt, but I’ve never been a fan of the huge sleeve puffs. To me, the skirt fabric is too busy – too many colours, too close together. I like the print of the bodice and sleeves, but why isn’t it the same all the way through the dress?

    If the sleeves were slim-fitting and the dress made all in the same fabric, I’d love it. But since not… 5.5. I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t do a lot for me.

  22. Daniel says

    Well, I absolutely love it. The proportions just come together perfectly and the crispness of the silk fabric gives it a presence that it might not have had in a soft cotton. It’s not overdone or overblown – even the sleeve puffs are controlled and neither outrageously huge nor niminy piminy – they are exactly the right breadth to balance out the skirt.

    Sometimes what really gets me is an understated dress with nice construction and subtle fabrics – one of my favourite dresses in Gone With The Wind is actually the pink day dress which Scarlett wears to flee Atlanta in, the one that progressively gets dirtier and more ragged, but originally, it’s just such a really nice understated dress (and it also has similarly puffed sleeves!).

    But back to this dress. The fact the hem is just off the ground actually gives it a lightness that the colour might bely, and the neckline/shoulders are fantastic – really enhancing the wearer’s shoulders, while the sleeve puffs do not obscure her waist in the way that more voluminious sleeves can do – you get the impression of a great shoulderline, probably with a long swan neck, and a tiny waist, and long, elegant fore-arms, and of slippered feet darting in and out from beneath the skirt.

    I’d actually suggest this dress may be more Biedermeier than Romantic in its sensibility, as Biedermeier is all about form, shape and good quality fabrics, whilst I associate Romanticism with frivolity, whimsies, fun little details, frillings and quillings and flou.

    Oh, and the rating? 10/10, I love this.

    • Good point about Biedermeier. If I spoke about it in Czech, I’d definitely call it Biedermeier. These variants between languages and cultures are, sometimes, so confusing. Like Regency not really corresponding with empír in chronological terms, even though everyone basically means the same by both of them.

      • The terms are pretty clunky as they relate to costume history. I would say this wasn’t Biedermeier, because I think of Biedermeier as a very European (and particularly German) aesthetic, and I don’t feel it relates well to the American aesthetic/psyche of the same period.

        At the same time, I use Regency even when it isn’t England, and Empire when I don’t mean France and the rest of Napoleonic Europe, because we don’t have better terms to describe the period. Sigh.

  23. Lynne says

    I like it! The two different fabrics give it that bit more complexity. As a dress of its time, I think it scores highly. 9 out of 10. All consistent, all balances and is in proportion (as much as those sleeves ever can be). Young, but distinguished.

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