19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Purple & bows in the 1860s

Sorry dear readers, I haven’t had time to add up the numbers from last week – I’ll try to get to that soon!

UPDATE:  The Callot Soeurs dress with its layers of sheers in nude and sea blue found APPROVAL in capitol letters from most of you, but those who didn’t like it, really didn’t like it.  I rather agreed with Geoffwah that the dress suffered from much-ness, but this opinion was in the minority, and the dress still managed a 7.8 out of 10

This three-part frock from the MFA Boston is a dress for a woman with a definite opinion, and a somewhat limited purse.  You’d have to really like purple to wear this dress, especially since you would be wearing it day, and evening.

Dress (afternoon bodice), 1860s Jessie Benton Fremont, American, MFA Boston

Dress (evening bodice), 1860s Jessie Benton Fremont, American, MFA Boston

What do you think?  Does either bodice work?  Is one more effective than the other?  Would you give them different ratings?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10


  1. I love the style, I’m good with the color. I think both bodices work….but those huge black lace panels with the bows kill it a bit for me (as does the bluish trim on the ball bodice). A 7.

  2. 8/10 – I really like purple. The day bodice looks clumsy – it must have been worn with some non-present enhancements, and the elegant evening bodice doesn’t quite meld with the skirt. But the color, the color. Swoon.

  3. 6/1o I like the evening bodice best, the other one is just too heavy looking. I have always disliked the sloping shoulder look of the 1860’s, they always look so confining. I like the Ninon dress in a previous post and it has something of the same look. The baroque seems more elegant in its natural, earthy extravagance.

  4. The evening bodice is more interesting, but does not go with the skirt so well… The day version is, even with the colour, a fairly average dress for its time. Overall, probably 6/10?

    • Elise says

      Can’t agree more. The evening bodice is out-of-place. Was it a last-minute for a ball, Cinderella-style? Well, Cinderella with no Fairy Godmother.

      I don’t like the black lapels, either, although I appreciate the effort to soften them with bows.


  5. Black Tulip says

    There is something distinctly out of kilter in the day bodice – it just doesn’t lie well at the top. It may just be the way it has been put on the dummy though.

    The lace edgings on the day bodice are lovely, and I like the evening bodice, but there’s nothing really making me go “Wow”. There again, there’s nothing making me go “Bleugh”, either.

    A respectable but not stunning 6/10

  6. Lisa F. says

    I like the color and the evening look is much better than the day look. There seems to be so much fabric for the bodice that it makes it look uncomfortable to wear. I rate it 7 out of 10.

  7. I do love the evening bodice–the pale trim works better IMO than the black. It’s a very pretty shade of purple, and the fabric sheen is quite enticing. But for either ensemble, rip the bows off first. The skirt detail is quite interesting enough without the weirdsies bows cluttering it up. 7/10

  8. Lynne says

    You are quite right – you get a lot of bang for your buck with this outfit. I think it is rather good. The evening version is my favourite – the colour would look so well with pale skin, and the cream lace is very softening. The cuffs on the day bodice are great – wonderfully impractical – just right for a delicate afternoon tea that someone else had made. I think the bows are fine.

    I get the feeling this woman was coming out of her blacks with a flourish!

    8 out of 10.

  9. The color is lovely. I prefer the day bodice more because it suits the skirt better and I would have used black bands of fabric instead of black lace. However it’s great to see a very practical dress survive to this day.

  10. Not normally a fan of the bouffant 60s, I like this dress. The lines of dark with the bows nicely break up the front, and the evening bodice is handsome.

    The day bodice is rather average, but that decade seemed to do few variations on day bodices. The trim closest to the neck is somewhat clumsy, but the entire bodice would look better when worn with a pretty, lacy jabot crossed in front, or at least a light-colored bow. That would tie the bodice better with its sleeves. Often it’s the accessories that make the dress.

    7 of 10.

  11. I prefer the evening bodice, the day one screams “Puritan” at me for some reason. I’d give the whole thing a 6/10

  12. I looked at this and thought “maybe it was a half-mourning ensemble?” since half-mourning colors were black and lavender. But then I remembered mauveine – the first aniline chemical dye, and a huge fashion hit at the time. And the cost/hipness of an early mauveine dress would make you want to wear it day and night.

    Giving it 8 out of 10.

  13. 6 of 10. only because i like the evening bodice. the daytime look is fugly, i really hate the bodice.

  14. I like it, but then I am a fan of that shade of purple. I actually like the detailing on the skirt, and I think it looks nice with the afternoon bodice. I actually like the evening bodice better, but it does not go as well with that skirt (too much cream in the bodice, or not enough on the skirt). Still, I like it, so…


  15. It’s quite the purplicious ensemble. I like the idea of multitasking the voluminous skirt with different bodice looks. 8/10 for me.

  16. I like this set, very pretty and useful on many levels, I just don’t *love* it. SOOOOOOO 7.5/10

  17. wandabvictorian says

    Likey! Purple is yummy. Great dress for an older woman. I think the blue on the evening bodice is faded or discolored from a mauve. 10/10

  18. I agree with Emily – purple dye was a big deal in that time, so this would have been a much-coveted, eye-catching number.

    I do prefer the evening bodice (I think the trim has probably faded too, and would have blended better when it was new). It definitely deserves points for the thriftiness of interchangeable bodices.

    I’m going with 7/10.

  19. karenb says

    I love it because when I was a kid I would draw frocks just like this for my paper dolls. I think I would be happy to wear it now, no idea where though. 10/10

  20. fidelio says
  21. Geoffwah says

    The idea is good and practical and economical. The execution dreadful. Which is painful because I love purple. The daytime look is far too matchy-matchy, with nowhere up top to interest the eye. I’m VERY intrigued by the other fabric used in the skirt. Very pretty. The collar and top are very poorly made and look to be ill-fitting.

    The evening look is better. Again, I like the idea, even the shape is nice. More construction problems here and the purple ribbon (?) doesn’t look like it ever matched (though it may have done at the time, I’m no expert). I would’ve gone for the more plummy color found in the skirt for that accent.

    For an economical look, the bows on the skirt make this look…sadly comical. I feel bad for her and would’ve gladly loaned her the sheckles needed to go to a better dressmaker.


  22. Daniel says

    That day bodice is a bit of a mess, as Geoffwah points out. The top part is indeed very badly made or at least fits poorly. The interest in this dress is in who wore it more so than its style, i would say, and the wearer/maker sounds like a great lady. Evening dress is better overall, though again it’s not the most wondrous example of its era. I’d say 4/10 for the day look because the neck and shoulders are just to poorly done and 7/10 for the evening look as its nice but not setting any Atlantas on fire.

  23. The Mad Purple Chicken says

    I love the evening bodice, but the afternoon bodice, not so much.
    The skirt panels would be perfect if they didn’t have all those stupid bows on them.
    It also loses points for the colour, I like purple fine I just don’t like PURPLE!!! And this dress is most definitely PURPLE!!!


  24. The Mad Purple Chicken says

    I love the evening bodice, but the afternoon bodice, not so much.
    The skirt panels would be perfect if they didn’t have all those stupid bows on them.
    It also loses points for the colour, I like purple fine, I just don’t like PURPLE!!! And this dress is most definitely PURPLE!!!


  25. The Mad Purple Chicken says

    Oh darn, my comment posted twice. How did that happen?

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