19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: 1875 Very Scarlett O’Hara

Happy Boxing Day for those of you on the other side of the dateline!  I hope you had a lovely holiday.

Last week you found the 1820s  plum pudding/sugar plum dress rather like plum pudding itself: some of you loved it (because those who love plum pudding love plum pudding), and some of you thought it inoffensive  but not exciting, and some of you found it rather disgusting.  Still, plum pudding is a classic for a reason, and the dress rated a 7.5 out of 10.

This extremely red ca 1875 ballgown rather reminds me of a dress that Scarlette O’Hara would wear.  One that Rhett would disapprove of.

Evening dress, 1875, Elise, 170 Regent St., London, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Evening dress, 1875, Elise, 170 Regent St., London, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Evening dress, 1875, Elise, 170 Regent St., London, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Evening dress (detail), 1875, Elise, 170 Regent St., London, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Evening dress, 1875, Elise, 170 Regent St., London, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This dress signals a transition from holiday-themed ‘rate the dresses’ to NZ summer themed raters.  The red velvet is all Christmas, but the fabric also reminds me of the classic sign of a NZ summer:  pohutakawa  in full bloom.

Adding to the things this dress might remind you of, the details along the bodice and skirt evoke both Elizabethan blackwork and Polynesian applique.  And the garlanded details look like leis draped around the dress.

So, among all the things this dress might evoke or reference, can you find something to like?  Or do all the details just loose you?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. Hello Dreamstress!
    My sister told me about your site and I am enjoying it so much. I love dresses and am a real big fan of the days when women wore beautiful confections of silk, satin, velvet and lace. I have always thought they were lovely but also am aware what a pain they must have been to actually wear.

    This gorgeous dress is the epitome of what I admire in the dresses of the past. Red is my absolute favorite color and I wouldn’t hesitate to jump into this dress and imagine fancy balls, dancing and a very handsome prince at my side.

    Absolutely gorgeous and because of that, I rate it a 10!

    Elaine \o/

  2. Well, I guess you’ll assume I’ll give it a 10 because it is RED VELVET and you’re right, BUT I think I’d give it a 10 if it were another colour, even blue! hehehe. I think it is gorgeos. I love the use of sculptural elements and appliques which is strong but feminine, that the train is left to sweep unfettered as a contrast to the smocking, and the proportions and layout etc are all so pleasing to the eye.
    SO, if I can give it a 20/10 and maybe make up teh difference on the next few, I would. Can I, can I, huh?

  3. Janet says

    If you have ever seen the Bette Davis movie ‘Jezebel’, this is the ideal gown. Unfortunately the film was in black and white so you just had to imagine the impact on society when she walked into the ballroom wearing red! Wearing red was considered slightly scandalous and the wearer was assumed to be from the demi-monde.

    10/10 for me!

  4. Bleck! I personally think that is the worst styled mass of red that I have ever seen! The asymmetry, the smocking, the applique….it’s all just way overdone. 1/10

  5. When I saw the first picture I prepared myself to be disappointed – it looks like the bodice doesn’t fit the mannequin properly, but OMG I saw the back! That is gorgeous! 9/10

  6. I keep ping-ponging on this dress. I love it, I don’t love it, I love it, I don’t. Can’t decide if it is amazing or too much. I love love love the color though. Hmmmmmm…. Ok, I think I am falling on the side of love it.


  7. It’s not just very red. It’s the dream of textiles and textures. I love how the dress is very so-so looking far distance. Until close up, all this beautiful red fabric, ruching and embroidery come out.


  8. Love the back, not such a fan of the front. It looks messy and crazy, but that train is fantastic. And I love red. I guess I give it a 6.

  9. Love love LOVE it! Imagine ruby earrings, bracelette and necklace on that puppy with a big black feather plume in the hair and black opera gloves and you’ve got a statement there! No one will notice all the young debutants in their pale pastels when that dress shows up!

  10. I don’t hate it, don’t love it. 5/10

    I DO love brilliant red dresses. Always have. I remember shocking my mother to her core when I was a little girl. I told her I’d like a bright red wedding dress, she seemed to think that was the worst idea she’d ever heard of. 😉

  11. Tracy says

    I think this is one of the prettiest gowns I’ve seen in an age! I love tha black trimming and the red velvet and…all of it. It gets a 10 from me.

  12. I saw the first picture and thought, “Oh, dear me…” It looks rumpled, messy, oddly shaped and just plain weird. I then saw the back and almost fell over (my head has literally been spinning for the past few hours–think being locked in one of those fast spinning rides at the carnival–so it was more possible than you might think) in amazement. I love velvet and red. I also love everything about the dress…except the front. It really just kills me. At least I could stare at the backside of the woman wearing it with a good excuse.

    Eight out of ten, since I’m feeling joyfully Christmas-y. Also: I love the thing about Scarlett and Rhett. Gone With The Wind is my favorite movie, and anything relating or alluding to it makes me smile. Thanks!

  13. Tenshi says

    Oooooh, pretty! I like the bodice front, not so sold on the front skirt, it does look a bit rumpled and overdone, but the side and especially back view are perfection. The dramatic sweeping train, the black applique, and velvet, I love velvet. I think… 8/10?

  14. So I saw the front view and thought….meh. The weird assymetrical trim didn’t do it for me, the blob of rosette on the bosom, the fact that the trim itself looks like some kind of weird seaside bordello wallpaper border…

    Then I saw the back. Gorgeous. The draping, the dramatic bustle, the ruched/gathered hem trim. And all that fabric is where the red velvet really comes into its own–decadent splendour.

    Scarlett would rip off the trim and redo it with something better, perhaps a tonal trim or even metallic. (So would I.) She would never stoop to tawdry details like a slapdash bosom rosette (only the finest bosom rosettes for Scarlett). As it stands, I’m rating the dress a 6.5. So much potential, but it just doesn’t hit the right note.

  15. fidelio says

    I love the applique. Having looked at a lot of dresses from this era, I have to say this is really pretty restrained, ruching/smoking/whatever and all; there’s no fringe, after all!

    I keep telling myself the bodice might looked better if the bows/rosettes on it hadn’t been crushed more than the one in the back, or if they’d been more successfully steamed or tweked back into their proper shape, and I’m almost convinced.


  16. I LOVE this gown. Wow. I’m not totally sold on the ruching on the skirt, but I love the colour, the trim, the asymmetrical aspect, the shape of the dress, and especially the back view. Gorgeous! 9.5/10 – the half-point demerit is because of the oddly rumpled look of the skirt.

  17. Katherine says

    The front was so-so, but that back!! Totally makes this dress a 10 out of 10!

  18. Fiona says

    The colour is sumptous and I don’t mind the front. I imagine the ruffles would have been more poofy when new and time has squished them. The train is great. 9.5

  19. Daniel says

    Elise! Yay! I do find Elise very intriguing – even if the house is unfortunately associated with the Song of the Shirt/the Ghost in the Looking Glass scandal… But yes, she was probably the first major London-based couture house to gain lasting name recognition of her own in rival to Worth and the Parisians.

    But the dress is GORGEOUS. Absolutely sold on the ruby velvet, loving the richness and texture and loveliness, the sumptuousness, the sheer splendour. You can see why she was the dressmaker of choice for Princess Alexandra of Wales. 10/10.

  20. I LOVE this dress. Maybe I’m not such a huge fan of pure, primary red, but the fabric, contrast fabric, embellishment, and everything about this dress is incredible. 10/10!!!

  21. Stella says

    I love the colour, the black on red detailing, and the train. From the front, there’s something about the way the skirt hangs that’s not quite doing it for me, but overall very nice. 8/10

  22. I give this a 9. I think it is fabulous overall: especially the silhouette in front compared to the immense bustle and train in back. I really love the back. The reason it gets only a 9 out of 10 is because the diagonal scrunching and trim on the front skirt just doesn’t quite impress me as the back does.

  23. I love the back. I don’t quite love the front, I think the bow/flounce/whatever at the neckline is a little too much and, just like Quinn before me, I’m not quite fond of the scrunching. I am fond of the diagonality, though. 9/10

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