19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: yellow and blue for a little girl

Whenever I post a late Renaissance/Elizabethan garment with a ruff, I know I’m running a risk.  Historically (as in, historically on this blog) ruffs have not been popular.  So I really wondered what you would make of Christina of Denmark (?) in her metal lace encrusted dress.  You have to admit, the look had a lot working against it: the terrible perspective issues of the painting, the ruff, the crazy upper-sleeves and even crazier lower sleeves.  And yet, you managed to look past the weird, crazy portrait, see the dress as it might have been in actual fabric on an actual person, and rated it a respectable (particularly for the era) out 7.3 of 10.  As Rowena said, it’s “the best Muppet costume I have ever seen.”

This week we go from status and bling to sweetness with a  little girl’s dress from the MFA Boston is made in the sweetest pastel yellow and blue taffeta.

Girl’s dress in two parts, about 1880, silk taffeta, American (Boston MA), MFA Boston

The colours remind me of a Beatrix Potter illustration, and the large pockets seem like a good idea for a child who might collect leaves and trading cards and the occasional frog.  I’m not so sure about the child-friendlyness of the rest of the design, which echoes the slim ‘natural-form’ silhouette fashionable in adult women’s clothes, with its emphasis on sculptural decoration around them hem and cuffs.

What do you think?  Does the dress work on an aesthetic level?  What about as a kid’s garment?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10



  1. Hmm, I really like this! Of course, this not playground compatible at all, but very cute, especially the colors and the bows. The big pockets are surely a bonus.

    The wearer will probably have looked a bit like a bowling pin on legs, but hey, kids can get away with everything!

    A point off, for not being able to climb trees in this, so I guess it’s a 9/10.

  2. Cheyene says


    Yellow isn’t my favorite color, but I think this dress is adorable.
    If I had a daughter, I would definitely force her to wear it. No, actually, I would have warped her so much about historical clothing, that she would be begging to wear it. Yes.

  3. This is just too sweet. I imagine that some carefully curled ringlets and buttoned-up boots were the accessories for this dress. Obviously the mother who picked out this dress wasn’t doing the laundry for the household, or she would have chosen something more sensible, but who says all kids clothes have to be sensible all the time? 10/10

  4. Elise says

    Good for standing, but not good for playing. Still, adorable while being the best opposite of twee. 8/10

  5. As a special occasion dress, I realy like it. The colours are great and the trim is interestnig without being overdone. It is pretty without being twee. It’d make a terrible everyday dress though. However, because of it’s state of preservation I’m assuming it wasn’t worn everyday and was for special occasions, so, assuming it’s a special occasion dress, 10/10. I decided to give it the full 10 because of those excellent pockets.

  6. I think the color scheme is very pretty, and the swags and ribbons are just right. But the style reminds me too much of men’s late 18th century dress! That thought makes it hard for me to imagine this dress on a little girl. Otherwise, I love it. So 8 of 10, let’s ay.

    • Zach says

      I though the exact same thing about the style!

      When I look at the dress alone, it seem almost too simple to me; everything just looks so plain. The hem is plain; while there are a lot of bows and ribbons, the rest of the coat-like upper half is plain. The only thing that is as elaborate and extravagant as my taste is the decoration on the sleeves. With all that floating around in my mind though, I imagined a cute little girl actually wearing that dress. I then thought, “I love it!” In my opinion, at least, the simpleness (is that a word?) of the dress wouldn’t distract from the girl, but instead just enhance her beauty…

      With that I give it a ten out of ten!

  7. Laura says

    I love this. It would have been amongst my favorites as a child. Total 10.

  8. I seem to be the lone dissenter so far. This is about the ugliest thing I’ve seen in a Rate the Dress. The color is insipid and the blue ribbons and pleated cuff thingies are far too wide for a child’s trim. (Would be good for a sash, though) Are they sure this is a girl’s dress, and not one for a young boy? The cut is very masculine.

    .5 / 10 The half point is because the basic lines are good. The execution (please, please execute it!) is a fail, though.

    • wikipaintings.orgwikipaintings.orgThe BMFA lists it as a girls dress, and based on the proportions it looks like it is made for a slightly older child – too old for a boy to be dressed the same as a girl. Compare it to Renoir’s slightly earlier ‘Girl with a Watering Can’

      • flickr.comOf course I don’t mind, I put them up on Flickr specifically to make them available not only to family but to anyone who might find inspiration there in any form. The Rate-the-Dress does look more like the picture you found, which I do believe is the same girl but despite having several childhood photos of her, I do not know her name. I suspect it is one of my great-great-grandfather’s three sisters, of whom I am only familiar with one, Lydia, but this other girl bears a striking resemblance and her photo is found in the same album as photos of Lydia. It’s likely either Matt (Martha) or Kitty (Catharine), who were born in 1861 and 1863, respectively, so if the dresses in my photos and the Rate-the-Dress are related, mine would have to be plainer predecessors. I wonder how quickly children’s styles changed back then?

        Completely unrelated: I have always wanted to recreate this photograph of my great-great-great-grandmother, Jenny Burns (married Overington), if I ever were to venture into historical costuming: http://www.flickr.com/photos/60027918@N02/5932561801/

        There are several others I would like to do but hers is my absolute favorite! It’s special to me because it’s the only picture I have of her where she isn’t wearing all black – she became a widow at forty and spent the next half-century wearing mourning dress.

        • You have excellent taste! As soon as you mentioned which one you really wanted to recreate I knew which it was. That picture struck me so much, and I wondered if it would be naughty if I recreated it!

          • Oh you absolutely could, you’d do a much better job of it than I would!

  9. When I first saw it I didn’t see the whole thing and it looked like a gentleman’s frock-coat. I’m really not sure about it for a girl, it just seems too plain somehow, yet at the same time impossible to play in.

  10. This would be magnificent as a true form-fitting adult dress, and I even think I saw a similar fashion plate somewhere.
    As it is, it’s a bit off proportionally, I think, and trying too hard to turn a child’s body into a fashion statement. And just like Rachelle, I first thought it was a frock-coat. But still, it’s lovely. 6/10.

  11. Lynne says

    I wonder if it is an outfit made of an adult’s outfit? The frills on the sleeves, and the pockets, and just something about it looks slightly out of proportion. It may be just the way it is sitting, but something odd is going on with the side seam of the coat just under the pocket on the right hand side of the photo.

    I do think the colours are very pretty – I see the Potter resemblance.

    7 out of 10.

  12. As a party dress or a Sunday goin’ to Meetin’ dress. Perfect. Wouldn’t change a thing. 10

  13. fidelio says

    I like this as a very-special-dress-up dress–I can’t imagine it as anything else. I wonder if this was made-over from one of her mother’s dresses, as Lynne suggests. 9/10.

  14. The Mad Purple Chicken says

    Ick, it looks like a bloated duckling. The cuffs are okay, but I hate the rest of it, the random bits of ribbon stuck here and there, the chokingly small collar, the perfectly smooth front.

    Besides being ugly, it’s not a practical outfit for a little kid to play in.


    • Elise says

      Hahahahhahahahaha! While I still love the dress, youre description….hahahahahahahahaha!

  15. Black Tulip says

    Very pretty. Nice colours, and interesting detailing without being over the top. I love the helter-skelter effect ribbons down the front, and the way that the bows are on alternate sides.


  16. TRacy says

    I love this for a very proper girl at tea…not so much for playing though. The colors are nice and the bows are not too overpowering for my taste. 8.5 out of 10.

  17. Daniel says

    4/10. It’s very cute, but I’m not keen on the sort of pale sugary yellow, like undyed buttercream or sponge-cake batter, combined with what’s probably a quite nice blue, but which looks a bit grey. The design’s nice, there are design elements I like such as the alternating directional bows. Plus, the proportions just don’t look right – plus, I think bracelet sleeves on a child just look horrid. There are no pleats/allowances in the body of the dress either so it doesn’t look like the kid could do anything other than stand still or walk sedately. I’d even query whether she could sit down without causing nasty creases/folds in the fabric, a la Princess Diana’s wedding dress, some dresses of this date have a swagged/draped sash or drape right where the dress would crease when the wearer sat down, whereas this one doesn’t and it just strikes me as a touch impractical. It’s the sort of dress that runs the risk of looking crumpled and messy after a hour’s wear, and isn’t aesthetic enough in itself to get away with being impractical. The more I think about it. the more the score slips – I started out with 7, now I’m down to 3/10 – and I think that’s about right.

    • Daniel says

      I see I accidentally put 2 scores – I’m gonna say 3/10 is my final verdict.

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