19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Wedding Dress: 1860s cotton ruffles

Last week you LOVED the 1950’s  festive party frock.  I’ve never seen so many 10/10 in one post!  Alas, just enough of you were party poopers to make our frock miss out on a perfect belle of the ball rating, but it still managed a very popular 9.3 out of 10.

Since I’m focusing on wedding dresses this week on the blog, what better way to celebrate it than by rating a wedding dress?  Not one from 1911 though – we’ve done quite a few frocks from that era lately, and the focus on 1911 dresses might taint your vote.  So instead I’ve picked an 1860s froock.

This dress from the Met is the epitome of wedding dresses.  It’s WHITE, it’s BIG, it’s RUFFLY.  It’s even got a faux-pannier effect (do you remember being little and drawing wedding dresses and they always had split fronts with panniered poofs?) If ever a 1940s costume designer wanted inspiration for an 1860s wedding dress, it would have been their holy grail.

Wedding dress, French, 1864, Metropolitan Museum of Art

It’s not all typical bridal froth though.  The dress has almost no train, no lace, and it is made of cotton, rather than silk, mixing complete bridal over-the-top ness with a form of restraint in materials and design.

How do you feel about the dress, its puffs, its ruffles, its girth, the combination of design maximalism and bridal minimalism?  Too much, too little? And any chance that you would wear it as your wedding dress?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10


  1. Courtney F. says


    I adore this. It’s frilly and feminine, but it manages to do that without being fussy or over-done. Gorgeous!

  2. Jenny Wren says

    I wouldn’t wear it myself, but I love white frothiness. 7.5.

  3. Oooo… it’s so pretty! I agree that the skirt seems like a regular summer dress, but the bodice for some reason says “bride” to me. I think that this is one of the best skirt shapes of the mid-19th century, much nicer than the dome shape.

  4. fidelio says

    So pretty–and really, restrained in a period when clothes tended to accumulate a lot of extra trimmings. Is it really a period wedding dress, though, or a ball dress? I was under the impression that wedding dresses, at this point in tmie, being classed as day dresses, tended to have more than this one does in the way of sleeves, while evening dress (and there wasn’t a big push for evening weddings–in fact, in the UK, they were not generally legal) tended to the shorter sleeve forms.

    • Stella says

      My understanding is that wedding dresses were made with two bodices – a day bodice for the ceremony and an evening bodice so the dress could be worn on other occasions. Maybe that’s what happened here. It does look a lot like a ball dress.

    • I’m not sure about this one, but I do know of a couple of 1860s examples where the wedding dress had long sleeves and a guimpe attached for the wedding, and then was used for evening after without them. Or, as Stella said, it may have had an evening and day bodice.

    • fidelio says

      Oh, and 7 out of 10, mostly because I’m pretty much over this look, what with living in the southern US and geting tired of seeing re-enactors moving about in these things like parade floats.

      I’d heard about the two-bodices stunt, which makes perfect sense given how much fabric gets eaten up by the skirt–there’s half your clothing budget gone in just one dress!

      It’s interesting, though, how programmed we are at this point to see an elaborate white dress and think “wedding gown”–I realized at a vintage clothing sales site that a lot of the long white dresses were probably debutante gowns–talk about a vanished concept!

  5. I LOVE that dress! I want it–maybe one day they will give it up and I can snatch it for my own collection…I wish… 😉 I really like the cotton–it’s so lightweight and summer-y. I feel like you could cover up with it and make a nice bed comforter. Not only are the 1860s one of my favorite eras ever, but this gown is also positively lovely in every respect.

    Ten out of Ten.

  6. Stella says

    Normally ruffles are one of my least favourite things, but I like this dress. 8/10

  7. Natalie says

    I love how light it looks. I think that must be hard to achieve in the era of hoop skirts. Kinda reminds me of the famous bbq dress from Gone With the Wind.

    Not sure it feels very wedding dress to me but then I have to remind myself that what a woman of today would consider a wedding dress to be and a woman back then are two very different things.

    10/10 for its airy beauty.

  8. Hmmmm. This dress is… a bit much. To me it looks a bit like a toddler’s birthday party dress blown up to adult size. I think it is just a bit too ruffly. I mean, there isn’t anything I dislike about the dress in particular, but I just think that on the whole the effect is just too much. It feels very young to me – I really can’t imagine it on anyone over the age of 16, and I certainly would never wear it myself.


  9. I love this dress like crazy. I would wear it in a heartbeat, for just about any reason. There is nothing I do not adore about this: the perfect puffiness, the not-overdone ruffles, the neckline, the “pannier” effect, the understated fabric… I’m going to drool at this picture for awhile.


    I would rate it higher if I could!!

  10. Oh! I love it! It seems perfect for a summer wedding. I love that it was made with cotton instead of regular silk.

    Also if you look up close on the dress, the trim is absolutely fantastic, I love it.



  11. I like it. I think you would feel so girly, fresh, and happy in it. perfect for a wedding day 🙂

    9/10, because the fabric seems a little too thin, like it’s a petticoat, and not a real dress. But it’s still a fun outfit.

  12. I love it too. In fact,…drumroll…I made it in the 80’s! It was dupion silk and the skirt was the other way around and a couple of other minor differences but yup, pretty much the same! I am a big fan of laceless dresses, I love it when people use fabric to create detail and texture, so creative, and much cheaper too and I quite like the ingenuity of that.
    BTW I blame Disney’s Cinderella for the pannier dress syndrome. I have made that dress too, though, and I think it is to this day still my all time favourite dress.
    Anyway, I give this a 9 because it’s just a few LED’s under the skirt away from being a Big Fat Gypsy Wedding Dress, and so I feel I have to withhold a point on principle. You can take that any way you like 😉

  13. Lynne says

    9/10 – I’m with Mrs C. The Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is hovering in the wings!
    But I really love the way that the person who made it used what they had and what they could afford, probably, to produce the most opulent dress possible! If what you have is fine white cotton, frills are the way to achieve this, and my! have they gone for frills! Bravo! Pretty shape, well balanced. The top is elaborate enough to balance the skirt.

  14. Daniel says

    It’s gorgeous, light and bouffant, and pretty much perfect. I can’t see a single thing to cavil about, apart from a personal opinion that I’ve seen a couple even more perfect white muslin dresses, so bearing that in mind, I would have to say 9.5/10.

    Are you going to the Te Papa wedding dress exhibition from the V&A… Would love to know your opinion on the show. (but then, I’m biased…)

  15. I love it! Personally, I would tone some of the ruffles down if I was to wear it, especially on the bodice and sleeves, but it’s not too much on the skirt. I love the sheer cotton though! It keeps it from looking too porcelain-doll-ish.

  16. No. Pretty much nope. I don’t like the ruffles. I dislike the faux-panier. I particularly react to the awkwardly draped bodice. I hate to say it, but…I hate it. I could make frosting, toilet paper, or other obvious jokes about all the fluffy white, but I’ll stick with my initial impression–this looks like frousty, ruffly Great Aunt curtains.

    I do love the fabric–looks so sheer and crisp that I could roll around in it. But I think I’d rather see it crafted into just about anything else. Including frousty Great Aunt curtains.

    Sorry–a sad 3/10.

  17. I ADORE the shape of it! I’ve been falling in love with huge ballgowns lately and this one fits the bill! I do have to say that I wouldn’t wear it as my own gown, though. The reason? Too many ruffles. I can hear you now, “Bite your tongue!” but that’s just me! I would go with one, maybe two, rows around the bottom and just one trimming the pannier, but not more than that. The fabric usage doesn’t bother me at all, and I think it’s funny, but if there wasn’t a hoop skirt under the dress, you WOULD have a train. XD

  18. *drool*
    It’s like so ruffly and awesome at the same time. Most cookie-cutter wedding dresses with tons of ruffles have nothing on this dress.

  19. Well, it definitely looks like a bridal gown. At the same time, since it’s cotton it would probably have been easy to have dyed it a different color after the ceremony, if the bride wanted to wear it as a ball gown.

    On the other hand, I don’t particularly like ruffles. And a ruffled skirt as wide as this one reminds me of one of those horrible Barbie cakes. Sorry! 6 of 10.

  20. Kawaii says

    Oooh! So pretty. I’d give it a 10/10, also, because I am planning something similar for my own wedding. *titters*

  21. I like the shape of this dress…but there is something that is off for me. Maybe I’d like it better if there were no panniers and the ruffles went all the way to the top of the skirt. I don’t know. 5/10

  22. It is perfect in every way. I love it. 10/10. I never had a “real” wedding dress since we married in the courthouse, but we are planning on a vow renewal ceremony at 10 yrs. (4 years to go!) and now I know exactly what dress I want to make to wear for that. This one!

  23. Natalie says

    Weeeeeeellll, here in the South we’ve seen that sort of dress an awful lot, often in fake fabrics and often in pepto-bismol pink or Tums green, and well, it just makes me nervous. This region is a complex place and that sort of ueber-ruffly crinoline dress can carry a lot of baggage.

    That said, the design is pretty darn good. I love self trims and these are nicely scaled. The fake panniers bug me; I’d have made them real and have drawn them back just a hair on each side with a button or bow, and think the effect would have been handsomer, not to mention floatier in a dance.

    Does anyone know if that fabric is tarletan?

    It’s likely there was originally a sash…the mid-later 60s often featured sashes. That also would change the look a bit.

    Because of the nervous factor, 7 out of 10.

    • Interesting how politics and culture have altered your perception of this type of dress so much. I’ve been meaning to do some write-ups on historical examples of dresses with political connotations.

      I don’t know if that particular dress is tarlatan, thought it certainly looks like it may be. I do know of a few museum dresses that are. Should I do a terminology post on tarlatan?

      • fidelio says

        Yes, you should, because it’s a fabric we never see any more, so it’s hard to walk into a store and ask to see a bolt, so we’ll know what it’s like.

        Natalie is right about the politics of this style, in the southern US. The people wearing these as tour guides and so forth may not be consciously aware of this, because in many ways it’s the elephant in the room. I can sum it up easily for anyone who needs it: Just who were the maids doing the ironing?

  24. Mm, absolutely delicious! I have been pining after a dress of this sort for maybe a month now–formal, but with layers and layers of cotton instead of less, more expensive fabric. The ruffles, ruching, and subtle trimming on the skirt are breathtaking in the zoom view of the Met site. I still prefer the off-the-shoulders ballgown cut for the neckline, but this bodice is still quite lovely. It would be interesting to see without the apparent top layer (the little pelerine-type thing) on the bodice.
    It looks so floaty and ethereal, and is from my ultimate favorite era of both history and fashion–I say 10/10!

    … ahhh still can’t stop drooling! 😀

  25. I am an Apostolic And this has perfect clothing from what i can see … i am going to see if my nana will make nme one like it for my wedding.

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